Crop measurement or modeling: which is better?

A lot has been in the press in the past few years about crop modeling. Using algorithms to define outcomes based on millions of data points from weather, soil, yield history and other factors that play into farming.

But with all that predicting, there is bound to be some error. That’s where the importance of measurement comes in—to give you an accurate picture of what is actually happening in your field.

That’s the message from Gregg Sauder, the founder of 360 Yield Center, a company that makes nitrogen management products. Last week the company gave farmers and media a preview of two new products designed to measure the nutrients in your soil so that you know, without guessing, how much more nitrogen your crop needs at any given time throughout the season.

Call it a little mid-season ground-truthing.

“Last year, I took the stage at the winter conference and said, ‘We are going to model from a distance and tell you what you need to do,” Sauder says. “I am telling you, after a year of working in modeling., it is a tough game to play. And I am becoming a doubter as a corn grower.”

He says with farming, there are just so many variables to predict, and not all of those predictions end up to be  accurate.

“Look at how it is hard to get rainfall right,” Sauder says. “It literally drove me nuts. In Commander (the company’s data analytics package), we use six different weather services. You name them, we’ve got them”.

“And a farmer will call and say, Gregg, you we’d get 8/10th of an inch and it was 1-8/10. So as I watch the satellites from space and gather this information, I am telling you that Gregg Sauder, as a grower, am not willing to risk modeling as my only choice for information. I’m going to add measurement to it to get actual facts.

This year, his company is coming out with two new products that put measurement back in the mix. One of the products is a free field app called 360 Yield Patrol that maps out where in a field to pull soil samples. It is an iPhone app works is conjunction with a portable soil lab called 360 SoilScan that analyzes soil to determine nutrient content. The results are used in a formula that calculates how much nitrogen, if any, still needs to be applied to produce the highest crop yields. This year, SoilScan has been redesigned to make it capable of reading phosphorus levels, too, so that P and K are not overapplied.

The other new measuring tool, still a prototype verson, is the 360 CrossCut Power Sampler, a product retrofit on chain saws that uses the blade to grab and collect a sample of soil 10 times faster than using for a soil probe, the company claims.

You can learn more about both of these products in our September issue.

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