Management Zones Help
Precision agriculturemodifying the management within fields by
using information about soil and crop variabilitycan be useful
to farmers. They may use fewer chemicals (which saves them money and
benefits the environment) and at the same time they may increase their
yields. Generally, farmers are interested in targeting their inputs
and labor to where they can get the most return on their dollar and
protect the environment. Precision agriculture methods and technologies
can help them do that.
Agricultural Research Service
(ARS) soil scientist Newell R. Kitchen believes there could be a resurgence
in precision agriculture thanks to the recent Farm Bill and its increased
support for conservation programs.
One method of precision agriculture is to create "management zones" within fieldsspecific areas within a field that respond to management practices in a similar way. There are various ways to create these zones.
One new way is to take mapped soil and/or crop information and let
a computer mathematically find the "most alike" areas of the
field. The computer can take thousands of numbers and find areas that
are alike, cluster them together, and generate a map. Kitchen's research
group has developed a software program called Management Zone Analyst,
or MZA, that does this quickly and easily.
"One may create various management zones for a field, but the
map will likely look different depending on what management practice
is being done," Kitchen explains. For example, a management zone
map for weed management will probably not be the same as one for nitrogen
Kitchen stresses the need for validating the management zone map. "It's
a mathematical approach," he says. "We need to take other
information into account to make sure it's valid."
Newell R. Kitchen is
with the USDA-ARS Cropping
Systems and Water Quality Research Laboratory, University of Missouri,
Agricultural Engineering Building, Room 269, Columbia, MO 65211; phone
(573) 882-1135, fax (573) 882-1115.
"Management Zones Help in Precision Agriculture" was published in the August 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.