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Practical answers on precision tech – Part 2

Variable-rate has been a cornerstone of Hiebert’s family grain and asparagus operation. Along with strip-till and a homemade Y-drop nutrient application system, they now use a home-built planter with Delta Force and Furrow Force, as well as vSet and VDrive, to achieve very uniform planting depth populations.

Precision agriculture technology does not come one-size-fits-all. Limitations, specific on-farm needs, and overall goals all dictate what makes good business sense. With this in mind, four North American farmers share how they make precision pay. In Part 2: Justin Hiebert, from Ontario.

Home-built planter

Variable-rate has been a cornerstone of Hiebert’s family grain and asparagus operation. Along with strip-till and a homemade Y-drop nutrient application system, they now use a home-built planter with Delta Force and Furrow Force, as well as vSet and VDrive, to achieve very uniform planting depth populations.

“Every row is electronically controlled. When you go around a corner, the inside slows and the outside speeds up so your populations remains the same. Every row shuts off,” says Hiebert. With this system, the stand-count in his family’s corn test plots were “perfect” this year.

SmartFirmer sensors

He also says SmartFirmer sensors – tools measuring the furrow as it is firming each seed into the bottom of the trench – have been a valuable addition to their planting setup.

You can prescription variable rate a field you’ve never been in before

“You can base your corn population, fertiliser rates, all change as you drive through the field,” he says. “You can prescription variable rate a field you’ve never been in before.”

Hiebert has been variable-rating corn populations for six years. However, he cautions the technology does not always work when it comes to corn, particularly on more productive soil. But in places where productivity is low, such as in very sandy or highly variable soil, it does.

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Justin Hiebert: “One difficulty with variable rate is checking to know what you did was right. Sometimes it just makes it easier, and there’s value in that too.” - Photo: Justin Hiebert
Justin Hiebert: “One difficulty with variable rate is checking to know what you did was right. Sometimes it just makes it easier, and there’s value in that too.” - Photo: Justin Hiebert

Reduce white mould pressure

In future, Hiebert and his family hope to try variable rate in beans to reduce white mould pressure. They also hope to find a profitable way of incorporating it into fungicide and lime applications, as well as asparagus planting. Through it all, they find sectional control for input application extremely valuable.

“We’re not wasting and we’re not overapplying,” he says, later reiterating they typically don’t save money on variable rate seeding, though they do “make more money on seed where it counts.”

Good data analysis is critical

Critical to making these and other efforts work is good data analysis, and taking the time to develop a plan before driving into the field. This takes more time, thus requiring greater patience, but not doing so increases the likelihood your precision equipment will not bring benefits.

Sometimes tech fails. Losing data doesn’t help you

“One difficulty with variable rate is checking to know what you did was right. Sometimes it just makes it easier, and there’s value in that too.”

Hiebert stresses data is only useful if it can be read, and in order to read it, you need to not lose it. The need to regularly backup files is one he learned the hard way. “Sometimes tech fails. Losing data doesn’t help you.”

Profile

Farmer: Justin Hiebert, 30
Location: Port Rowan, Ontario
Total cultivation area: 2000 acres
Farmer age: 30
Main crops: Corn, soybeans, winter wheat, asparagus.
Main farm implements: Almost entirely older Case IH fleet, plus 7230 Case IH combine and John Deere 1770NT corn planter customised with Precision Planting parts. His family is also a Precision Planting Premier dealer.

In Part 1 of this series, Clinton Monchuk from Saskatchewan explains what precision farming technology works for him, and what doesn‘t.

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