Precision Agriculture is currently the new buzzword in crop production, and while only in its infancy, will offer tremendous advancement opportunities in production yields and cost efficiencies. The foundation of the 'precision' aspect is site-specific Management Zones. There is an ever–increasing availability of new Precision Ag technologies, the adoption of which have given producers the capability of harnessing new and previously unattainable yield and profit potential.
The multi-hybrid planting system was recently unveiled and should be considered a cost-efficient production tool for many producers. Kinze and Precision Planting have both developed metering systems that have the capability of switching between two different varieties 'on-the-go' through the same furrow opener. There are other companies utilizing twin row configurations and planting single rows but switch back and forth between openers as the planter moves across the field.
Precision technology gives producers the ability to match the variety best suited to a particular Management Zone. For example, a grower could use a hybrid with offensive traits for rich, high-yielding zones and a defensive hybrid for the lower-yielding zones of the field that are more stress-prone. All this, in the same field! This allows the grower to take advantage of the individual hybrid’s genetic package to extract the maximum yield for the existing field conditions. In each zone, Variable Rate Seeding (VRS) can also be implemented to capitalize on the hybrid’s density tolerances.
The idea of site-specific zones is not a new concept. Researchers have published numerous papers on Management Zones, Variable Rate Application (VRA) fertilizer and populations. The take-home message is clear, the greater the variability within fields, the quicker and greater the return on investment in this technology will be realized.
Both public and private researchers are trying to address the major field and agronomic characteristics associated with yield variability. Research by Shanahan et al. 2004 found that elevation (topography) plays a major role in determining Management Zones. Soil formation, and in particular, moisture holding capacity and erosion over time are also influencing factors when determining Management Zones. AgReliant Genetics has partnered with public researchers to acquire the use of patent-protected technologies that can create functional soil maps. This mapping technology will provide producers with a critical tool to determine Management Zones, based on recorded topographic characteristics, using current GPS mapping equipment.
Prescription farming is at a new level with the use of mapping technology and multi-hybrid planting units. The ability to precisely place a hybrid in a particular zone, and manage its population for maximum return is truly exciting. Because the technology is in relative infancy, peer-reviewed data is very limited. The private sector claims they have been able to attain a 4.5 bu/ac and 9.5 bu/ac yield advantage for high and low yielding environments respectively. There are still hurdles, but the continued work within the agronomy industry will advance this technology to further improve overall Management Zones.
One could question whether these Management Zones are stable and will consistently react (yield) the same through different growing seasons. This will influence how we manage from season to season. Another factor is the knowledge needed to characterize hybrids for specific Management Zones. This will require very detailed information on each hybrid within the PRIDE Seeds product portfolio.
As with any new technology, there will be challenges, but Precision Agriculture in Ontario is here to stay. The seed industry will rise to the challenge of developing hybrids to meet the needs of new technology-driven farming methods.