Smart farmers

Background last update:23 Oct 2018

‘Ag Leader ticks all the boxes’

Precision farming has many benefits, including the ability to record how a crop is planted.

Danie Bester farms Rietbult Estates, near Balfour in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. He grows 980ha of crops with the remainder of the farm supporting a beef herd. The main crops are maize and soybean and occasionally sunflower.

Harvesting is done with a Case IH Axial Flow combine equipped with an Ag Leader InCommand display for yield mapping, using RTK correction. He also uses a DJI Phantom 4 drone for crop monitoring and ‘field inspections’.

Maps created using Ag Leader’s SMS Advanced software

Danie creates his own prescription maps using Ag Leader’s SMS Advanced software and loads them into the Ag Leader InCommand 1200 display to control variable rate application of liquid fertiliser on the planter as well as the granular fertiliser spread with a Vicon GeoSpread, which is ISObus controlled, also by an InCommand 1200 display. Lime is used for controlling acidity (pH correction) and granular fertiliser is applied before planting and for top-dressing. He also uses chicken litter and cattle manure.

The biggest game changer was to start doing zone fertilisation

Crop spraying

Crop spraying is done with a Hardi Ranger, which has section control and variable rate application controlled by Ag Leader Direct Liquid. The tractor fleet is John Deere with models from the 6400 (100hp) up to the 8330 (330hp). A mainly No-Till regime is employed, cultivating only to incorporate lime or break up compaction. A system of traffic control is also used where possible.

Danie Bester in a soybean crop. - Photos & graphics: Danie Bester
Danie Bester in a soybean crop. - Photos & graphics: Danie Bester

We asked Danie to describe the benefits he can ascribe to his methods of fertilisation and cultivation and he said, “The biggest game changer was to start doing zone fertilisation in which I use multi-year yield data layered onto soil type data to create management zones. That eliminated the over and under fertilisation of different yield potential zones. Every zone now gets the correct amount of fertiliser and by doing that soil acidity levels have started to stabilise more and the yield per zone has started to increase significantly.”

Field map showing the different maize yield potential of various zones.
Field map showing the different maize yield potential of various zones.

Changing to NoTill also started to build soil health and dampen the effect of dryer times during the growing season. “I’m catching more water after a rain event than with conventional tillage. With the sprayers and spreaders running SwathControl, the over application is eliminated, saving on inputs because of precise application.”

Precision Planting v-set units

Danie plants with two locally manufactured DBX planters, fitted with Precision Planting v-set units. These planters can handle any amount of crop residue and emergence is very even. The maize planter is a 12-row with 910mm row spacing, fitted with variable rate seed and fertiliser drives as well as clutches that can switch off rows as required so as not to overplant already planted areas. Ag Leader’s Seed Monitoring takes care of the planting rate. The other DBX planter, for soybeans and sunflowers, has 10-rows set at 760mm spacing and is also kitted out with Ag Leader Seed Monitoring.

DBX 12-row maize planter.
DBX 12-row maize planter.

We asked for Danie’s opinion of the equipment currently available in South Africa and he said, “There is a great variety of machinery available, which I think fits almost any condition and ticks all the boxes. Locally built planters are as good, if not better than imported ones in my opinion. There is a tool for every job from land preparation through to harvest.”

For me, Ag Leader is the most complete system

As for Precision Farming he said, “For me, Ag Leader is the most complete system, from guidance and planting to data collection and most importantly, software to analyse the data and assist in making decisions on what to do with the data collected. Compared with other brands that I have tried it is much more ‘user friendly’. It is also a ‘colourblind’ package, compatible with various machinery brands.

The value of data recording

Danie related the following story to illustrate the value of data recording .“Last year we had a very difficult start to the season, rain was late and conditions were colder than usual, so planting was delayed by a few weeks. We eventually got started after some rain and planted for a week before being rained off. Two weeks later we resumed planting and as we finished I noticed that the emergence of one specific cultivar that we had planted in the first week wasn’t looking good at all, so I brought it to the attention of my seed rep. After I had finished all the planting, the rep and I, together with the seed company’s agronomist, went to inspect the field to see what the problem was.”

Agfiniti Mobile used for scouting in the field; the various colours show different hybrids planted.
Agfiniti Mobile used for scouting in the field; the various colours show different hybrids planted.

“The agronomist says that he thinks the problem lies with the planter. He thinks the stand was poor due to irregular planting and that we should consider better metering units! I took out my iPad and opened my Agfiniti application (Ag Leader’s mobile app) showing the map of the field we were scouting. I showed him the EXACT spacing, stand, singulation and everything else that my planter had logged ‘real-time’ on the spot. So, his excuse didn’t cut it.”

We checked the logged data on Agfiniti with what we were seeing, and it was spot on!

“After he argued a bit about the accuracy of the data we went to a field where another cultivar had been planted. We checked the logged data on Agfiniti with what we were seeing, and it was spot on! I was able to show him precisely what my planter had planted and logged so he could no longer blame the metering or placement for the poor performance of his seed!”

Graphs and Data displayed on the InCommand 1200 during planting, showing singulation, skips, doubles, spacing etc.
Graphs and Data displayed on the InCommand 1200 during planting, showing singulation, skips, doubles, spacing etc.

“I started collecting data on an Ag Leader PFAdvantage yield monitor in 2006. In 2012 I converted my lime spreader to be able to do variable rate application. It was fitted with Directcommand kit from Ag Leader (which is still working faultlessly) and a Versa Display running an uncorrected signal. I did 1ha grid samples and applied lime as needed. The system paid for itself in the first year.”

Autosteer on the planting tractor

“I do a third of the fields every year in rotation for liming and P and K corrections. In 2013 I started to change fertiliser rates on a field by field basis. At the same time, I also installed autosteer on one of my planting tractors which would then mark every other swath for the other planter with its planter markers, which saved a lot of time on the headlands, now that the one planter didn’t have to wait for the other to turn. At that time, I was running 2 John Deere 1750 Max Emerge planters. I also converted my sprayer so that it was controlled by my Ag Leader Versa display.”

Vicon Spreader runscreen on Ag Leader Virtual terminal showing spreader info.
Vicon Spreader runscreen on Ag Leader Virtual terminal showing spreader info.

“I changed to NoTill with a 10 Row DBX planter which has Precision Planting v-Sets as standard equipment, we also installed a Planter Monitoring Kit. I then started to create Management Zones within fields and pre-planted the fertiliser at variable rates on all the soybean and maize fields, planting with a flat rate 2x2 fertiliser and then top dressing granular with a Vicon Geo-Spread spreader, which had an ISObus spreader that worked like a dream with the Integra display I was using at that time.”

12-row DBX planter

“In 2015 I purchased the 12-row DBX planter for planting the maize. It is kitted for variable rate fertiliser and seeding and has clutches for section control. In 2015 I also started doing more data analyses and even further refined the management zones. The ability to use soil type maps, yield maps and soil sampling datasets showed even more improvement in effective fertiliser use and better yields and harvesting more kg grain per mm rain, and better quality grain too!”

11,8% saved on seed costs

“The section control clutches on the planter saved me 11,8% on seed costs, due to the fact that I have very odd shaped fields and contours. The big advantage of the data from the monitoring is that it is real-time accurate data that is displayed in a very ‘readable’ manner on the displays. Being able to check singulation and spacing etc. on the fly and adjust vacuum pressure or planting speed for current conditions or kernel size makes it very easy to make sure planting is going 100%.”

Analysis in SMS Advanced

All the data is logged at planting with the displays, currently two InCommand 1200’s; this is very important to me for analysis in SMS Advanced. I have created multiple Comparison and Correlation analyses, which by the way is one of the most valued features for me in SMS Advanced. It tells me a lot about my planter’s performance, such as the speed in certain soil types at which I am getting the best singulation, or how singulation reacts to different speeds.”

Ag Leader GeoSteer

“I’m running Ag Leader GeoSteer on an RTK correction for steering, with a base station situated at home, which has never had any down time. I apply liquid fertiliser at variable rate from the prescriptions that I have made. All the weed and pest control is done with my Hardi Ranger sprayer. It works like a dream with the swath control and rate control. I run an Integra display on the John Deere 6920. The nice thing about that is that I do a complete spray program setup with rates and everything needed for record keeping and it gives me application reports after each spraying event. The data is also imported into my SMS Advanced software for records and analysis.”

The ability to do prescription scaling in the field on the InCommand 1200 makes it even easier to do an on-the-spot adjustment

“Top dressing granular fertiliser, mainly nitrogen, is still done on prescription but with the added use of ndvi maps and images collected from my drone. The ability to do prescription scaling in the field on the InCommand 1200 makes it even easier to do an on-the-spot adjustment without having to go back to the office computer. My spreader is an ISObus spreader which eliminated the need for another screen in the cab. The InCommand 1200 also controls the rate as well as the section control. I can spread up to 48m in 2 metre sections, which also saves a lot on the odd shaped fields.”

Case IH 6130 Axial flow combine with Geringhoff maize head.
Case IH 6130 Axial flow combine with Geringhoff maize head.

Case IH 6130 combine with Ag Leader yield monitor kit

“For harvesting I’m using a Case IH 6130 combine with an Ag Leader yield monitor kit. It’s deadly accurate. Which is a big plus and a necessity for correct data analysis. When harvesting trials with weigh wagons, the combine is always within 1 to 3%. At the end of the season the recorded total this year was 1.2% below actual for maize. The use of mobile data transfer is also very handy. When the combine stops in the evening, data is seamlessly transferred to my Agfiniti cloud, ready for dissecting in the office.”

“I use SMS Advanced software on my desktop for the data management. It’s a very powerful piece of software, its ability to analyse data, is to me, endless. With the equation-based analysis, if you can think it you can do it. I spend a whole lot of time in the office comparing and analysing data. Multiyear yield analysis coupled with soil type and chemical maps and any data logged is easy to use to create management zones, this is updated yearly. Importing lab results and creating prescriptions is really easy to do.”

The right hybrid for the right soil

“I have recently started doing comparisons of yields by soil type and yields per cultivar by soil type. That is very valuable in selecting the right hybrid for the right soil and is definitely going to improve yields. Checking yield vs singulation on fixed ear and flex ear hybrids, checking yield v planting speed, yield v product rates applied etc. helps in our aim for that next 5% yield increase.”

Example of an Analysis, this one showing yields attained on different soil types in a specific field.
Example of an Analysis, this one showing yields attained on different soil types in a specific field.

“The application of precision farming in my operation has improved yields a lot and it is only possible with the use of reliable, accurate equipment, for which Ag Leader ticks all the boxes. I have attained exceptional yields, even as high as 15t/ha on some of the ‘Class 1’ management zone soils, which I don’t think would have been possible with conventional methods.”

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