Gary Wolf farms 500 acres near Verona, Mo., and continues to adopt precision farming equipment in his strip-till operation. But with that adoption, comes the challenge to cost-justify precision equipment upgrades.
His fields have up to 5 soil types, but they are predominantly red clay soils that are sticky when wet and become rock-hard in dry weather.
“Strip-tillage helps us manage the soil better and we apply Humate, which helps change the chemical structure in the soil so nutrients are more available to plants,” Wolf says.
He reports, after 5 years of strip-till and Humate application, the soils are mellower and have twice the organic matter of conventionally managed fields. “We soil test twice a year so we know what the nutrient use has been and if we need to apply more.”
Typically, he practices a corn, cover crop, corn, wheat and double-cropped soybean rotation. His precision farming equipment centers around a Raven Cruizer II guidance system they use for their strip-till, planting and spraying passes.
“We use the guidance system to first set up the strip-till passes, but find that it’s easy to follow the strip-tilled ground to guide the planter,” Wolf says. “But as we upgrade from a 6 row White planter to a John Deere 12 row planter, we will need to improve our guidance system because our Maverick strip-till rig with Yetter high-residue units is only 6 rows.”
Point of Pain: Low-Tech Signal, High-Tech Need
The rub for the precision equipment upgrade comes two ways for Wolf. First, the RTK signal in his area is spotty and unreliable. Second, upgrading to precision a guidance system that will reliably make the two passes of the 6 row strip-till unit match the one pass of the 12 row planter could be an expensive proposition.
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“My challenge this winter is to identify a system that will give me greater accuracy that won’t cost too much,” Wolf says. “I would love to go with auto-steering, but that gets pricey.”
Field size also affects precision accuracy. Most of Wolf’s fields are 20-40 acres and they consider a 70 acre field to be a big field.
“Moving equipment up and down the road is a big problem for us,” he says.
Once Wolf identifies the equipment he’ll need, he will look to his son, Zach, who runs the family’s custom crop-spraying business, to install and calibrate the equipment.
“He understands the equipment and can talk technically about it,” Wolf says. “He’s understands this equipment. He even calibrates our wheat seeder to precision levels so we can achieve high production.
Wolf says they are looking at possibly purchasing a Raven Envizio Pro to achieve greater accuracy. The unit could also provide variable-rate fertilizer application, something that Wolf would like to explore but hasn’t.
“We presently apply fertilizer for the best soils across the whole field with the strip-till unit and then come back and sidedress nitrogen when the corn is shoulder-high with an Apache 790 or 850 sprayer with drop nozzles, dribbling 28% between the rows,” he says. “We like to try different things. We are innovative, but we have to look at the cost of the technology closely to make sure it makes sense for us.”