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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbia, Missouri » Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #174377


item Kitchen, Newell
item Sudduth, Kenneth - Ken
item MASSEY, R - U OF MO
item Sadler, Edward
item Lerch, Robert
item Hummel, John
item PALM, H - U OF MO

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/30/2005
Publication Date: 11/1/2005
Citation: Kitchen, N.R., Sudduth, K.A., Myers, D.B., Massey, R.E., Sadler, E.J., Lerch, R.N., Hummel, J.W., Palm, H.L. 2005. Development of a conservation-oriented precision agriculture system: Crop production assessment and plan implementation. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 60(6):421-430.

Interpretive Summary: Precision farming has been called "farming of the future" because it uses innovative sensors and computers for gathering information about differences in soils and crops within fields, so that fields can be managed to account for those differences. For over a decade we used precision agriculture technologies to intensely monitor crop, soil, and water quality information on a typical claypan-soil field in Missouri. We found many field properties varied greatly within this somewhat flat, uniform-looking field, including grain yield, soil fertility, topsoil depth, ground water nitrates, and soil herbicide persistence. We used maps of these and many other field characteristics in developing a crop management plan for the future that addresses site-specific problems in the field. For example, we found that growing corn in areas of the field where topsoil depth was shallow was not only unprofitable, but that these same areas likely contributed the most to herbicide contamination in surface runoff. In 2004, we began managing this field using precision agriculture information collected from 1991-2003. Our Precision Agriculture System (PAS) has multiple objectives addressing both production and conservation concerns. Within the plan, the intensive database was used to provide direction for what production and conservation measures were needed, and where they should be placed. For example, in PAS, the shallow topsoil areas of the field will no longer be planted with corn nor will soil-applied herbicides be used there. Instead, wheat and a cover crop of clover (usually using no herbicides) will be planted in these areas. The essence of PAS will be to manage sub-field areas based on information from multiple, intensive datasets, with the goal of improving profitability and protecting soil and water resources. Farmers benefit by using precision agriculture technologies because they improve efficiency, and thus increase their profits. The general public benefits because practices and inputs are targeted to sub-field areas, reducing over-application of agrichemicals and situations where exc

Technical Abstract: Precision agriculture technologies and methods should be promoted if they improve production profitability and facilitate soil and water conservation better than whole-field management practices, but few studies have been conducted to determine whether these management strategies meet this high expectation. Using site-specific crop and soil information collected from a Missouri claypan soil field for over a decade (1993-2003), we implemented a Precision Agriculture System (PAS) in 2004 with a goal to manage this field site-specifically to improve farming profitability and conserve soil and water resources. The objectives of this paper are 1) to show how precision information was used in a historical assessment of crop production and profitability for this study field, and 2) to describe the PAS plan developed from that assessment. The study field was uniformly managed from 1991-2003. During the period, variability in soil type, soil nutrients, soil electrical conductivity, landscape parameters, and yield were measured, and causes of yield variation were determined. Yield maps and production input data were used to create profitability maps. Our long-term monitoring showed that erosion of topsoil has degraded the soil on shoulder and side slope positions of major portions of this field. As a result, corn grown on these eroded field areas have rarely been profitable. These findings (along with water and soil quality results summarized in a companion paper) were prioritized for developing the PAS plan. The plan calls for: 1) adoption of a no-till or modified no-till system for the whole field; 2) removal of corn (and soil-active herbicides) from the northern half of the field; 3) using crops that provide winter cover in severely eroded areas of the field; 4) inclusion of perennial crops to promote soil carbon and structure, leading to improved infiltration; 5) variable-rate applications of lime, P, and K based on grid soil sampling; and 6) variable-rate N application based on plant need, assessed by in-season crop reflectance measurements. PAS will be evaluated against conventional, uniform management by comparing past assessment (1991-2003) with future findings under PAS management. This case study of the value of integrating production and conservation using precision information is unique and will have national and international application.