I am an agronomist for a large agricultural holding company that is responsible for over 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) in the eastern part of Europe with crops consisting primarily of sugar beet, rapeseed, and maize. I left Canada to work for the company in the beginning of 2010, where I was put in charge of implementing new technologies and standardizing their business processes. I often travel between Ukraine and Russia.
Managing farms for land cultivation companies
Our company researched and then selected three systems of farm management for testing in 2012. All three were purchased and installed on various farms ranging from ten-to-twelve thousand acres (4500-5000 hectares) apiece, with enough historical documentation on each to allow us to compare each system’s results in the 2012-2013 season against historical yields.
The system we chose at the end of the process was Cropio, a system of farm management that uses satellite technology that gave us an increase of 15% in major crops’ yield. This system has a number of advantages competitively that measurably lengthens the functionality of the system.
Historical pattern of vegetation and analysis of yield
Our company looked at the productivity of each of the fields in the past and compared it with that of fields in the same category. The Cropio system gives vegetation history in a period of up to ten years. We split all fields with permanent vegetation and yields with below-average results into two groups: one with specific relief and another with all of the other fields. Specific-relief fields were correlated with the exercise described as follows.
We used the option offered by Cropio to have a very specific slope map on the specific-relief fields, and we chose those with slopes greater than five degrees to leave fallow.
For the slopes of five degrees or less, we did not show winter crops on those fields or areas, seeking to avoid the erosion caused by snow melt. We also used spring wheat with longer roots, or slope-adopted varieites, where rotation of crops was permitted. Although no particular preparations were made to prevent erosion, a seeder was used on every slope to avoid a need for ditches and to retain water, both of which were noticeably helpful.
Analysis of crop varieties.
Our companie studied various crops cultivated in one group of fields and measured the differences between the yield of each crop variety to the average land unit (group of fields). Only the two highest-performing varieties of each crop remained, with the addition of a slope-adopted variety of spring wheat as mentioned previously
Analysis of the condition of winter crop.
Cropio’s system of farm management offers frequent updates on the conditions of crops in the fields provided by low-resolution satellite images daily, and high-resolution images weekly (weather permitting). In this way we knew the overall conditions of the winter crops before we physically went out to the fields. As we received the high-resolution images, we provided them to the farmers so that they could actually see the damage to the fields. A number of those fields were reseeded with spring crops immediately, while the rest were left for observation. In the second application of fertilizer, additional nitrogen was added.
Management of failing zones and fields performing poorly.
Users of Cropio’s farm management system can receive notifications when any area of field vegetation falls below 15% compared with the rest of the same field. In all honesty, we did not succeed in using this function well. Generally, those notifications tend to come in during the middle of another process and those conditions may very well have changed by the time a user is able to attend to the notifications.
For this reason, we established a weekly review of all fields that were performing poorly. Analysts were assigned to put together a scouting report or review for each agronomist every week. Those agronomists then visited each of the non-performing fields, located detailed reasons for the poor results, and detailed the necessary steps to achieve improvement in those results. Lists of tasks were then assembled by the analysts, who then checked up on the progress of every field that needed more direct intervention. This process contributed greatly to our increase in productivity, because we knew right away which fields had abnormal vegetation and we were able to respond appropriately.
Cropio’s system also allows users to make VRA field maps with respect to the application of nitrogen, using current satellite images and nitrogen deficit. We were unable to test this function for several reasons, the primary of which was a lack of suitable equipment. However, we did check the amount of recommended nitrogen in Cropio’s system against another, with a recommended result 13% lower. In future seasons, we will attempt to utilize that margin too.
Harvest planner function.
The harvest planner function in Cropio was used to begin from the fields which were driest and then which ones were allowing wet grain to remain on the field. Cropio’s recommendations were not always able to be followed, but overall we were able to structure our harvesting efforts efficiently, keeping the dry grain separated from the grain that needed more processing.
In summary, we were highly satisfied:
– Each system resulted in higher productivity, with a range from 2-18%, which varied based on the crops and their varieties;
– The best system resulted in an increase of 13-18% in yields for the crops and varieties we compared but at the same cost per acre, which was of absolute importance;
– The experiments we conducted help us to discover several drawbacks with respect to the technologies we were already using, and thus we were able to make several changes in the methods we now use;
– Next season will provide us with many opportunities to make improvements, such as exact weather for every field, VRA, and connecting our GPS tracking and farm management systems, along with other features.
Finally, I would like to emphasize one last item of importance: there is no system of farm management that will work miracles. Users must understand any system and make a concerted effort to put the technology to effective use, but it is worth the effort. In my situation, the field agronomists resisted my efforts, as they were accustomed to working in a particular manner and were hesitant to change. Despite the obstacles, we were able to make it work.