CLARINDA, Iowa – The adoption of new technology can bring a host of benefits. One farmer in southwest Iowa is utilizing tools available to him to save a precious resource – time.

Ben Vardaman farms 1,500 acres with his father near Clarinda in Page County. He’s been utilizing satellite imagery combined with other programs to help determine where he needs to focus his attention.

“You can use the maps to look for scouting,” he said. “If the map doesn’t show you have any problems, there’s really not any reason to go scouting. If the map shows a red spot in the corner of a field, then it can save you some time. You can just scout that part of the field and see what’s going on.”

He said he saves time by going directly to the fields he knows are hurting, instead of walking a field that’s perfectly healthy.

“You might walk a field before and you might not find anything, but you spent a lot of time doing it,” he said.

Vardaman also raises 35 head of cattle. He said one of the major issues he and his father previously faced was gathering all necessary information.

“The problem was that he had a combine and I had a combine,” Vardaman said. “To try and combine all the data was cumbersome and difficult to do.”

Then three years ago they chose to work with precision-agriculture company Farmer’s Edge. The work with newer technology opened their eyes to how to better utilize satellite imagery, and how to see growing maps at different stages of the season as opposed to seeing the end product.

The tools take into account numerous aspects of soil and environment to help growers piece together pictures of their land throughout the season, said Jamie Denbow, director of business development at Farmers Edge.

“We have imagery coming in for every arable acre in the world, essentially, down to a 3-meter resolution,” he said. “And on average we get a usable image every day and a half.”

The tools in the Farmers Edge package analyze the image compared to the past 14 days, showing areas where problems may be developing. When evaluating the conditions the tools will separate the data into two categories – positive crop health and negative crop health. Having good weed management or areas showing large amounts of biomass would be classified as positive. Negative classification can be triggered by missing a spot with fertilizer, or insect and disease issues.

Knowing the specific spots in the field where insects are present can alter the way a producer attacks the issue.

“When you find an insect you spray the field – the whole field,” Denbow said. “Are we spraying the crop or the insect? That’s what these tools are built for. How can we put the right amount of the right product on at the right time, while minimizing the amount of product we put on that isn’t required?”

One benefit Vardaman said he didn’t expect to gain was additional coverage for some of his damaged crops. He uses LibertyLink soybeans, while some of his neighbors use dicamba products. Drift has been an issue in his field.

“We’ve had two cases now,” he said. “The first case we were actually able to show the data in the field of where the dicamba actually hit according to the vegetation maps, and then correlate that back to the yield of the field as well. We showed that it yielded less in that area, and we asked them to compensate that amount.”

After switching to the technology he said making decisions has been easier for him and his father. The next step in the plan is to utilize the soil-testing aspect of the technology to gain a better idea of how they can improve soil health and maximize yield. They want to calculate what profit they can gain.

Vardaman said for farmers who rent their ground, it can be a useful tool when discussing cost with landowners.

“It takes a confrontation and (instead) makes it a conversation,” he said. “It helps you evaluate the land. And you can explain why maybe you can’t pay more rent or why rent needs to stay where it is.”

Denbow said the key to utilizing technology is ensuring it stays in line with the most basic of farmer priorities – productivity.

“Farmers have always wanted to produce the most possible, in the most efficient means possible, with minimal impacts on the environment,” he said. “This is just taking the goal of farmers and making their decisions data-based and essentially smarter.”

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Aaron Viner writes for the Iowa Farmer Today, a sister publication of Agri-View.