Ricky Atkinson a Lee County SC farmer left discusses onfarm data management with Steve Valencsin president and CEO of Growers during the SC AgriBiz amp Farm Expo in Florence SC

Ricky Atkinson, a Lee County, S.C. farmer, left, discusses on-farm data management with Steve Valencsin, president and CEO of Growers, during the SC AgriBiz & Farm Expo in Florence, S.C.

Field data: It’s tough to handle and use, but now often vital

Steve Valencsin, the CEO and founder of Growers, a farm data management company based in Raleigh, N.C., said it is vital for famers to capture and use soil data, fertility data and yield data.

Steve Valencsin acknowledges that managing all the data on the farm and  using that data to improve the bottom line is a daunting task, but he emphasizes that the job  is all the more important in difficult years like 2016.

Speaking at a seminar on data-driven farming at the SC AgriBiz & Farm Expo in Florence Jan. 14, Valencsin, the CEO and founder of Growers, a farm data management company based in Raleigh, N.C., said it is vital for famers to capture and use soil data, fertility data and yield data.

In addition to running Growers, Valencsin also farms in Guilford County, N.C. and grew up on a farm in Washington State. After serving in the U.S. Navy, Valencsin started North Carolina’s first private soil testing laboratory while he was an agronomy student at North Carolina State University.

Valencsin explains that Growers helps its clients calibrate equipment, manage soil and variable rate planting and troubleshoot hardware and software issues. “Growers helps to implement and simplify the complicated process of farming so farmers can operate their equipment more efficiently and manage their businesses more effectively,” Valencsin said.

An important job, Valencsin stressed, is to manage soil variability. He encourages farmers to soil test every year. “I have looked at a lot of data and to date I haven’t seen a field that doesn’t have soil variability. What we like to do is identify that variability and then manage it,” Valencsin said.

Precisely pinpoint the variable rate

Growers uses instruments that can read soil texture, organic matter, slope and curve to identify soil variability in each field. “We like to find the variability and find a way to manage around it,” Valencsin said. This is vital for determining how soil impacts yield.

Growers then uses that information to help farmers create management zones with each zone managed as its own field. Soil test data is then used to create variable rate fertilizer recommendations for each zone. It’s important to soil test every year because soil test values change every year, Valencsin stressed.

When soil sampling is done based on zones, farmers can find out the nutrient status in each zone and then come up with a fertility prescription using the soil test data and an equation based on yield goals to apply the right amount of fertilizer.

“Use the information from the yield data and use the information from the soil test data and then determine what actual pH is working best for your farm in those specific areas,” Valencsin said. “Variable rate fertility programs are highly advantageous for farmers because they allow you to reallocate fertilizer dollars to the right area where you are going to see return on investment.  It’s all about a better allocation of your fertilizer dollar.”

Valencsin also encourages farmers to use variable rate planting to make sure no seed is wasted. Variable rate planting helps farmers make sure that the right amount of seed is applied in the right areas to hopefully achieve yield uniformity, he noted.

“I’m probably the world’s biggest advocate for variable rate planting because I’ve seen it work so well in so many different situations.  It’s an easy win for a guy who has a variable rate equipped planter to change the rate of seed on a given spot of land to maximize yield opportunity.”

Today’s combines are well equipped to perform yield mapping at a relatively low cost, and Valencsin said is important to capture yield data so farmers will know how each crop performs year in and year out.

“The reason I think capturing yield data is really important is because as a farmer you’re probably going to plant 40 to 50 crops in your entire life. With a corn, wheat and soybean rotation, that means each field is only go to have 12 to 18 corn crops on it. That’s only 12 to 18 chances to grow a good corn crop,” he said.

Yield mapping provides a snapshot image for how each field each year. “If you go and harvest that crop this year and lose that yield data, that’s a whole year of information that’s gone forever.  You can’t take that data and learn anything from it and apply it to next year,” he said. “Capturing yield data is one of the most important things you can do if you have the ability to do it.” 

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