Farmer in wheat field

Not all fields are alike. Many different variables affect how your crop performs in a single field, so blanket-treatment of an entire field for one limiting factor might not be the best way to manage resources or boost productivity.

Management zones offer a solution by isolating different problem areas and mapping them out in a single field. By more precisely identifying high- and low-yielding areas, management zoning helps farmers give the right attention to the right problems.

How it works

Mapping out management zones involves collecting and then analyzing a great deal of information. Brad Mathson, Senior Precision Ag Program Planner at Southern States Cooperative, explains that anything that can have an effect on yield is examined. "Management zones are a correlation of variables, taken from calculations involving a lot of information that is then managed accordingly."

Yield data, soil types, different types of imagery, topographic information, and producer experience are all data used to isolate yield areas in a field. Because each field has variability, several zones are mapped out per field in order to help better manage inputs.

The zones identify a field's soil fertility and water-holding capacity to better determine its potential yield. From there, action can be taken, such as variable rate fertilizing and seeding, irrigation solutions, pest control, or lime needs. "With management zones, pretty much whatever needs fixing can be handled more precisely," Mathson says.


Management zone map

Putting it into practice

After mapping out the zones of a field, experts stress the importance of ground-truthing, or following up and examining what problems exist. Instead of relying solely on a map to indicate higher or lower production, it takes close observation and hands-on evaluation by farmers or agronomists to determine why the areas perform the way they do.

Mathson advises growers to look at management farming as getting a better picture of their fields. "We ask ourselves first of all, 'What is the problem? Can we fix it? If not, how do we manage it?'"

Although many farmers have practiced management zoning for years, its popularity has grown as of late. Often times, growers have no problem collecting the data needed for zoning, but face difficulty in analyzing and using the data to determine the best solution. Mathson noted that Southern States helps their growers make sense of the combined variables, leading to more informed decisions in an operation.

"Our goals for our customers in management zoning are first, to simplify a complex situation, and second, to make the best use of a farmer's resources, thereby enhancing yields and maximizing returns," Mathson says.

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