You are a producer who has decided to invest in precision agriculture as a way to reduce farm chemical inputs and, ultimately, operating costs.
What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, providing you have the right equipment — and, most important of all, that this equipment is adjusted and operating correctly.
Speaking at the Precision Agriculture and Field Crops Conference in Atmore, Dec. 8, Randy Taylor, an Extension machinery specialist at Oklahoma State University, says a key consideration for producers adopting precision farming methods is to ensure optimal use of their equipment.
This bit of advice holds especially true for liquid applicators — sprayers and related types of equipment, Taylor says.
"It's critical to make sure these things are adjusted right and are capable of applying the range of rates that we want to apply," he says.
To a significant degree, uniformity is still the default calibration on many farm equipment accessories — a reality that can prove costly to farmers, especially relative newcomers to precision farm practices.
"Most rate controllers, for example, are set up to put out a uniform rate," Taylor says. "So, even when you try to vary that rate, a lot of them will react so slowly that they never reach your desired rate."
"We may think we're doing a good job, but in reality, the rate controller is not doing anything close to what we want it to do."
Taylor has gotten first hand insight into these challenges through his work at Oklahoma State helping to introduced sensor-based precision farming methods among the state's cotton producers.
"With the older, map-based variable rate systems, spray controllers are given a new rate every 350 feet — or even longer than that in some cases," Taylor says.
However, with sensor-based systems, these controllers receive a new rate every second.
"In sensor-based systems, the controller gets a new rate every second," Taylor says. "It's updating constantly. It's getting that rate all the time and it never gets a chance to stabilize."
To put the speed associated with sensor systems into perspective, Taylor explains that an 8-gallon-per-acre application could increase to 12-gallon per acres in only a couple of seconds.
This accounts for why using accessories not set up to provide this type of optimal performance presents a critical challenge to a producer's success with precision farming.
"In some cases, we're still set up to be stable in an environment where we want to get the spray out very fast," Taylor says.
He says a big factor in one's success within precision farming involves assessing your equipment and determining whether it is capable of providing the levels of accuracy essential for deriving the best results.
"That's the key — to understand what you've got, what its capabilities and limitations are and then setting it up to do what you want it do to," Taylor says.