It isn't news to emphasise that one of our key current challenges is the well publicised yield plateau. Whenever the next thumping crop yield is announced we all want to know how it was grown and then, when we do know, we sit back and assume we could never achieve it. Often the soil type was better than ours or the nitrogen rate was extraordinarily high, along with a multitude of other reasons to explain why that method wouldn't work for us.
However, the one approach that helps improve yields beyond doubt is timeliness. In our heart of hearts we all know it and whether we adhere to it obsessively or not is a matter of choice. There is no doubt though that the farms that are consistent with achieving high yields are very good when it comes to being timely.
So, beyond getting into the field at the right time and in the right conditions, how can we help ourselves to be more timely in a digital context?
Preparation is key
The most significant change any farmer can make to help timeliness is preparation. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail" and, although he said it some 250 years ago, it is as true now as it ever was. Digital technology is fast becoming an inherent part of many field operations and so preparing in this area is as important as any other.
Let me draw a parallel – many of us cut our agricultural teeth working as a farm student. I can remember the reaction I got when I didn't fuel the tractor at the end of the day, leaving it until the morning instead. Or the time the quad bike engine ceased – strange, as the oil level should have been checked only hours earlier. Then there was the day I arrived at the combine only to realise the trailer had a soggy tyre! All of these were examples of poor (or no) preparation. It is no coincidence that machinery dealers offer us winter servicing for tractors and an out-of-season overhaul for the combine. If we prepare for the tasks ahead and get everything in good working order, only then can we be timely.
This begs the questions - why do we not treat our digital components in the same way? Why do we leave it until we want to fertilise, drill or harvest before getting the application files, yield mapping and software versions checked and set up? Why do we not test all the components together to make sure they work when it's raining, not in the field when we want to make the proverbial hay?
The tools available within MyFarm allow for last minute production or amendments to application files but these should be the exception, not the rule. Just like the tractor, prepare the digital part of your operations in advance. To help, here are some top tips:
- Arrange your soil sampling well in advance of harvest to make sure it is carried out promptly – that means the valuable information will be back in good time for you to use in your preparation
- As soon as we know cropping and where any biosolid or farmyard manure applications are going, request your variable rate nutrient application files
- Put together variable rate seed plans in the spring for autumn drilling (while you won't know the Thousand Grain Weight (TGW), you can use a standard figure such as 45. When you do have an accurate number, you can amend it later)
- Once you have calculated the above, tell your seed supplier you need this amount of seed based upon a TGW of 45 and ask them to amend it when more accurate figures are available
- Check that your equipment all works ahead of time – testing a GPS control box is no different to checking that the engine works
- If in doubt, ask. Your Frontier contacts have a wealth of expertise coupled with the knowledge and humility to find the information and support when they don't know it. Don't be shy.
So, while it's important to continue preparing the hardware that has tyres, don't neglect the bits you can't kick. The application files, the latest software versions and the electronic tools will move us ever closer to the holy grail of better timeliness.