Ben Vardaman

Ben Vardaman farms near Clarinda in Page County, Iowa. In recent years he has started working with Farmers Edge to make decisions based on satellite imagery and other precision agriculture tools. 

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

Ben Vardaman, who farms 1,500 acres with his father near Clarinda in Page County, has 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. If the map doesn’t show you have any problems, there’s really not any reason to go scouting,” he says. “If the maps shows a red spot in the corner of a field, then it can save you some time and you can just scout that part of the field and see what is going on.”

They can save time by going directly to the fields they know are hurting, instead of walking a field that is 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, who also raises 35 head of cattle, said one of the major issues he and his father had before choosing to work with precision ag company Farmer’s Edge three years ago was gathering all the 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.”

His work with newer technology opened their eyes to how to better utilize satellite imagery, and seeing growing maps at different stages of the season as opposed to seeing the end product.

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

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

The tools in the Farmers Edge package analyze the image compared to the past 14 days and show 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 high amounts of biomass would be classified as positive, while 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 that Vardaman didn’t expect to gain was additional coverage for some of his damaged crops.

He noted that he uses LibertyLink soybeans, while some of his neighbors use dicamba products, and drift has been an issue in his field.

“We’ve had two cases now. 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,” Vardaman says. “We showed that it yielded less in that area and we asked them to compensate that amount.”

After switching to this technology, Vardaman 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, and seeing what profit he can gain.

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

“It takes a confrontation and makes it a conversation,” Vardaman 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.”

In the end, Denbow said the key to utilizing technology is making sure 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,” Denbow said. “This is just taking the goal of a farmer and making their decisions data-based and essentially smarter.”

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