Spraying Doesn’t Have to be All or Nothing

By Robert Saik, Agri-Trend Inc.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to connect the technology dots to make a difference in agriculture and, more specifically, for individual farmers.

In this column I’d like to highlight the connection between data acquisition, agronomics and machinery technology. It’s a perfect illustration of how we can leverage technology to grow better crops, while better protecting the environment.

To spray or not to spray? This is one of the most agonizing decisions farmers make. Knowing whether or not to apply fungicide is especially vital, if weather conditions are borderline for disease, or if commodity prices are on the low side.

Typically, it’s a yes-or-no choice—but what if there was a third option? What if a farmer could decide to spray every field, but not the entire field? By harnessing the power of in-season imagery, together with the sectional shut-off on sprayers, farmers are now achieving this. At Agri-Trend, we have been working on a program we call Precise Spray™, which allows farmers to apply fungicides (or other foliar technology) where it is needed the most.

For this to work, we must capture an in-season bio-vegetative image of the field. There are many ways to achieve this, with the key considerations being refresh rates (how often do we get an image), resolution (how detailed is the image), cloud-free (in most cases we cannot see through clouds) and of cost (the system has to be economical).

Images used to generate field maps can come from many sources. We can use macro-satellites, micro-satellites, sensors mounted on fixed-wing planes, UAVs, machinery-mounted sensors and on-the-ground data capture by a human. Each has its pros and cons; and with this many choices, we increase the odds of getting an image that works.

The first thing we need to do is set up a notification system tied to your fields that will alert you when a cloud-free image is available. Alternatively, you can order a specific image to be captured by an airplane or UAV.

Once we have obtained an image, we can determine the bio-vegetative variability within the field.

We start with the basic image, then move toward zone creation, ultimately aiming to develop and ON/OFF map that can be uploaded into a farmer’s sprayer to automatically shut off spray as you pass over areas of low crop or no crop (such as drown out areas).

As an example — On July 1, 2014, 25% of the field would not receive any spray. Maps can be generated which can slice and dice the field in any number of zone combinations. The prescription is loaded into your controller and the sprayer magic happens!

If, for example, the applied price of fungicide is $20/ac and you could save 25%, you would reduce your input cost on this field by $1,047.05 (this is without considering lower re-filling times and the benefit to the environment!).

In these example fields, the red areas would receive zero fungicide, resulting in a significant savings as well as a net economic benefit.

The Precise Spray program will range between $1.50 to $3.50/ac depending on the method of image acquisition and the amount of direct on-farm support. So based on the crop, the cost of fungicides and the cost of image acquisition, you can make a decision on the economics of using the Precise Spray program.

One of the keys to making this work is connecting with a team of precision specialists who can help you with the image acquisition, interpretation and zone generation. You might also consider the in-field support of a specialist to help load the controller cards and get your sprayer set up to make this work for you.

Terry Aberhart, Agri-Coach® with Aberhart Farms has a couple of cool videos loaded on YouTube for your reference. You can check them out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwFonTOi-zQ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQxzyScVsJg

If you are interested in learning more about Precise Spray, please check out agritrend.com, we will be happy to connect you to an Agri-Trend Coach who can make this work on your farm.
Saik is the founder and CEO of Agri-Trend Inc., a Canadian agricultural coaching network that includes agronomic, grain marketing, business, technology, carbon offset and land management services. He holds a BSc in Agriculture from the University of Alberta, is a Professional Agrologist and Certified Agricultural Consultant.

He owned and operated a farm in northeastern Alberta, founded and subsequently sold two fertilizer companies, and is currently a partner in a Calgary marketing and design firm. Saik an active professional speaker, entertaining and educating audiences around the world on strategic business planning, technology integration and social media in agriculture.

He can be reached at rsaik@agritrend.com.
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