BELLWOOD — On a patch of ground west of Bellwood, Central Valley Agriculture’s researchers have a living laboratory where they test how variables such as seed hybrids, nitrogen application, soil quality and weather influence crop yields.
“This isn’t where we showcase the gold standard 350-bushel corn,” said CVA researcher Keith Byerly. “Instead, it shows how they adapted to weather conditions these guys across the road have to face.”
At the rural Bellwood site, CVA held the first in a series of programs to educate producers about the company's innovations in hybrid seeds and nitrogen application and its new cropping system, a precision ag application called MZB.
Byerly, in his MZB presentation, said that while the ag industry has been collecting mapping data for cropping systems, it's fallen short in combining that information into one platform.
The data is supposed to help farmers make smart decisions, but that's difficult when the information is stored on separate systems.
“If anything, it’s made it harder because it didn’t provide clarity,” said Byerly.
One issue was with technology.
“It really comes down to the tools and the computer power that existed to handle one thing,” Byerly said. “It’s been difficult to get a program that does the different data sets and does it well.”
Now technology is improving exponentially, allowing data sets to be combined to paint a more complex and full picture of what’s happening in a field.
“I’m more excited with what we can do with precision agriculture than I’ve been in years,” said Glen Franzluebbers, CVA’s director of precision ag services. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer.”
Using MZB, the team planted a row of hybrid corn, according to soil and historic yield data. In theory, matching seeds to the soil should help farmers get the best bang for their buck. But if the plants sprout or tassel at different times or have different moisture levels, it can cause headaches for farmers.
“It’s one thing to look at a seed catalog and read about a seed,” said Byerly. “Experience and Nebraska weather add some variables that change what the book says.”
In another station, Mike Zwingman jumped into a pit with exposed corn roots to demonstrate how different models of nitrogen application impact root structure. Zwingman said it’s good to consult a variety of sources, such as the models, tissue samples, soil samples and weather, before making a decision about applying fertilizer.
“What that gives us is the ability to make better decisions all the time,” he said.
CVA is not the only group discussing fertilizer application. Next week the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is giving a demonstration in Schuyler as part of its Project SENSE, which is also focused on nitrogen application.
Zwingman said this interest has grown partly because fertilizer is one of a producer’s largest line items and also because of increased groundwater scrutiny.
“It isn’t that growers are doing anything wrong, but there’s iterations of better,” he said.
That pressure can eventually affect a producer's bottom line. Zwingman said retail stores may take up the cause in order the keep their customers.
“It’s not going to come from the federal government,” he said. “It’s going to come from consumers who want to know how their crops are raised.”