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Systems Research Looks for Key Yield Factors / October 16, 2000 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Photo: Agricultural engineer Gerald Buchleiter collects electromagnetic conductivity data to assess water and nitrogen levels in soil. Link to photo information

More: details on this research in Agricultural Research.

Systems Research Looks for Key Yield Factors

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
October 16, 2000

Results of a study now in progress should help farmers determine which variables limit their yields and whether precision agriculture techniques could improve their profitability.

Agricultural Research Service scientists in Ft. Collins, Colo., are measuring all possible environmental conditions and farming practices that could affect yields on two commercial farms. Previously, researchers typically modified just one or two variables--rather than looking at all components of an agricultural system simultaneously. Their goal: to find the most significant elements.

The researchers also scrutinize inputs like water, fertilizer and pesticides. They’re evaluating whether intensive management techniques like variable-rate application are beneficial to the environment and financially feasible for the farmer. So far, about half-way through the study, they’ve found that the farmers were overwatering with their center-pivot irrigation systems. Now the farmers apply less.

Colorado State University, several state and federal agencies and six private companies also participate in the research. The multidisciplinary team plans to develop a decision-support tool based on the project results, to help farmers implement precision technologies and decide whether precision farming would be beneficial.

The team is also analyzing techniques that measure large areas of the field economically, such as remote sensing, in order to reduce the cost of precision farming.

More details on this research appear in the October issue of Agricultural Research, the agency’s monthly magazine.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Dale F. Heermann, ARS Water Management Research Unit, Ft. Collins, Colo., phone (970) 491-8511, fax (970) 491-8247, heermann@wmu.aerc.colostate.edu.

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