Uncovering soil variability in an Eastern Oregon farm helped its perennial ryegrass crop -- and its profits -- reach higher than ever before.
Hawman Farms, owned by second-generation farmer Mike Hawman, grows a range of seed crops, including Sudan grass, red clover, Australian winter peas, Tillage Radish®, and perennial ryegrass.
It’s a true family-run business, founded by Mike’s parents 50 years ago, and managed today by Mike and his two sons, Alex and Kevin.
A field of perennial ryegrass grew patchily year after year. While the crop flourished and grew tall in some areas, in others the grass visibly struggled to germinate and mature.
Seth Shaw was convinced the answer to the problem was hidden deep within the soil. And as a Simplot SmartFarm precision agriculture manager, he knew SmartFarm’s advanced imaging and sensing technologies could help uncover vital information about soil and subsoil density, composition, drainage, and more.
“It makes sense to look at a field as zones, as it helps me manage my pH and fertility better.”
— Mike Hawman, Hawman Farms
Seth began by running a Veris cart over every inch of the field to capture an electroconductivity (EC) reading. By sending electrical pulses into the ground, he was able to measure differences in soil quality. To confirm the EC readings, soil samples were taken from a number of areas and sent for lab analysis.
By mapping the verified EC data, Seth was able to create a zoned map of the field that clearly identified areas where the soil was denser, more clay-like, and had a much higher pH. In some areas, tests showed a pH higher than 8—far too high to sustain healthy crops. Together, Seth and Mike walked through the field to do a visual check, and were amazed at how accurately the EC map reflected low-yield areas where crops were thin and underdeveloped.
With clear, accurate information on the soil quality, Seth was able to prescribe a variable-rate application of fertilizer and pH-amendment products such as lime and elemental sulphur. Different blends were applied to specific field zones to ensure a consistent pH range of 6.5 to 7 across the field. Rather than purchase new variable-rate equipment, Mike hired a commercial spreader operator to treat the field.
A variable-rate application of amendments and nutrients produced results that were both instant and dramatic. A month after the first application, the vigor of the crop in specific problem areas was visibly improved, and by harvest time, Mike Hawman saw his overall yield triple. By accurately pinpointing the problem and prescribing the right solution, SmartFarm’s advanced technologies helped Mike turn a single year of smart, targeted treatment into two additional years of profit.
Hawman Farms has continued to use SmartFarm solutions for a second and third year, and sees improved yields each time.