Using a variable-rate fertilization program, Box Elder Ranch Inc. reduced input costs and saw higher yields for their corn, soybean, and sunflower crops.
Box Elder Ranch Inc. is a family-run operation that includes cattle feeding, dairy heifer development, and hay production, as well as custom farming and application. Set on the Great Plains near Wray, Colorado, the farm includes about 1,500 acres of irrigated row crops and 5000 acres of dry land crops such as corn, wheat, sunflowers, and millet.
Since 2004, the grower has worked closely with Simplot SmartFarm to understand, manage, and improve uneven yields across their fields.
Conventional, flat-rate fertilization techniques were producing unsatisfactory results for this grower’s row crops. Applying the same amount of fertilizer across highly variable soil meant some areas lacked adequate support, while areas of richer soil were being wastefully over-fertilized.
Simplot Grower Solutions crop advisor Bryan Dickson and SmartFarm precision agriculture specialist Caleb Schultz conducted an analysis of the diverse soil conditions throughout the farm.
Based on the results, they developed a targeted, variable-rate management system that increased nutrients to areas that could sustain higher yields and reduced inputs to areas with limited yield potential.
“We believe that with the growing costs of inputs that agriculture continues to face, Simplot's SmartFarm program is a very good way to help manage those costs as well as increase yields.”
— Alex Rock, Co-Owner Box Elder Ranch Inc
Using GPS imaging and topographical mapping, Dickson and Schultz created a data library that tracked growth and yield results for multiple years. This gave them valuable information on current yield patterns and how they related to topographic conditions. In particular, they were able to identify areas of high elevation where past yields had been particularly poor. The multi-year data also helped them establish a baseline against which to measure future yields.
By running an EM (electromagnetic) sled over the fields selected for treatment, Dickson and Schultz captured data that helped them measure differences in soil quality and density across a wide area. Soil samples were then collected from representative areas and lab-analyzed to confirm the EM data. The EM readings and soil analysis revealed that low-yield areas were affected by a high pH.
Schultz combined the harvest, topography and soil data to create a zoned map. This map assigned areas with different pH levels to one of several treatment zones, and provided a guide for variable-rate management of the area.
By identifying the limitations of their low-yield areas and providing the right nutrient supports to those areas with greater potential, Box Elder Ranch Inc. has seen a yield increase of at least 5% for their irrigated corn, soybean, and sunflower row crops.
And the benefits don’t end there: by varying the rate of fertilization and reducing inputs for areas that can’t sustain higher yields, the grower is able to save about 16% on fertilizer inputs on a pound-for-pound basis compared to their flat-rate program.
Box Elder Ranch Inc. continues to work with SmartFarm to monitor soil composition and crop health, analyze yield data, and grow their profits season after season.