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The benefits of collecting good yield data

The sound of locusts in the evening and back-to-school advertisements on TV are a sure sign that August has arrived and summer is quickly coming to an end. Before you know it, corn and soybeans will be changing color and it will be time for harvest. During harvest, most farmers don’t think twice about making sure that their combine settings are fine-tuned. For example, if the sieves aren’t set correctly, there will either be grain left in the field or discounts at the elevator for grain that’s not clean. There is a clear gain in profitability by taking the time to set your combine correctly. The benefit of yield monitors and the maps they produce however can be more obscure, but are also important. Here are three ways that well-calibrated yield data can help make you more profitable.

1. Recordkeeping: Once harvest and fall fieldwork tasks are completed, the season of paperwork and planning will be in full swing. The ability to reference yield maps as you evaluate field performance can be extremely helpful. Even if you carefully document every scale ticket, yield maps can serve as a nice double check of the number of bushels that came off each field. Yield data is also a quick way to look back on yields in the future. Three years from now, if you want to see how a field performed in 2016, it will be a lot easier to find and look at a yield map than sort out and calculate yield from old scale tickets.

2. Variability: Yield maps are especially helpful in understanding not just how many bushels came from each field, but where in the field they came from. Which parts of the field yielded the most? Which yielded the least? More importantly, why? You may not need a yield map to tell you that the sand ridges yielded less one year because it was a dry summer. The real value comes in combining the colors of the map with your knowledge of the field to answer the “why” question. Look for patterns that surprise you and ask yourself what happened to cause those patterns.

Yield map variability can also be helpful documentation when dealing with partners, landlords, and/or family members. For example, being able to document a 20% yield reduction due to poor drainage can help you to make a case for adding tile. Likewise, showing the yield difference between normal and low pH levels can help justify a lime investment. Did you try a new variety of seed this year, apply nitrogen at different rates, or leave a test strip from a fungicide application? If you can pair these changes with an as-applied map, a yield map could help you understand how the different practices performed. A well-calibrated yield monitor can also save you the time and effort of weighing individual loads if you are doing some of your own on-farm research.

3. Variable-Rate Technology: More and more farms now have planters or applicators capable of variable-rate application. Yield maps can be one of the best sources of data for defining management zones within a field. In Beck’s multi-hybrid planting trials in 2015, there was a substantially higher return-on-investment for farmers who used multiple years of yield data compared to those who used soil types to define their planting zones.

Even if you don’t have variable-rate technology now, it’s very possible that you might have it in the future. And, the farmers who have the most success with variable-rate applications are those who have multiple years of yield maps to use. Collecting yield data is not just a one-year benefit; it’s an investment in the future.

Saving time with recordkeeping, understanding variability, making adjustments, and using data for variable-rate applications are just a few of the many ways yield data can improve your bottom line. But it’s only helpful if you are collecting good data with a well-calibrated monitor. Your user manual can help you with calibrations, and Ohio State also has helpful information at: http://agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter/2015-29/yield-monitor-tips-2015-harvest. Properly setting and using your yield monitor is no different than adjusting combine settings; doing it right pays off.

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