Precision Farming

Madison Ranches has been on the forefront of modern farming techniques and water conservation, including no-till, laser-guided land leveling, GPS-controlled field monitoring and neutron probe soil moisture monitoring. We also believe in conservation; five miles of riparian fencing protects streambeds and ditches and fence rows and field perimeters have been planted to grass for wildlife habitat. We apply municipal bio-solids to help stabilize sensitive range land areas and irrigate with reuse water from a local food processor for organic fertilizer benefits.

Our soil varies greatly and many areas have a low level of organic material, so we have always been keenly interested interested in soil sampling and how fertility relates to yield. We hoped that by investigating and implementing some of these emerging techniques, we could maximize the farm’s productivity.

In 1994, we purchased yield monitors and mounted them inside the cab of the combine. It had a 4×4 inch LCD display that reflected yields in pounds per acre in real time, changing constantly as we rolled over a field. A year later we bought a Data-Trak unit that could read and write to one megabite PCMCIA card and a 5-channel, L1, C/A-code, Eagle AccuNav Sport handheld GPS unit. We fed the GPS data into the Data-Trak using an accessory cable supplied by Eagle. The Grain-Trak and Data-Trak units then worked with Eagle to keep track of the spatial variations in yield.

The third year, we decided to plunge a little deeper into the technology, hoping to improve the results and eliminate some frustration. In 1996, we added differential corrections.

About this time, we began doing variable-rate fertility work. The farm hired an independent fertilizer dealer, which sampled its soil to determine how closely the farm’s soil variance matched its yield variation. Although the farm had been analyzing its soils for the past 25 years, we usually pulled composite samples from 25 sites on a 125-acre field. Then, we’d place all the samples in one bag and ship it off for analysis. To gain site-specific information the dealer pulled samples from various spots throughout the field on 5-acre grids, thus creating 25 samples per field and mapping the source of each sample using GPS.

After harvesting each field, we downloaded the geo-referenced yield data to a GIS software package running on the farm’s computer. Then, we could view a color-coded yield map onscreen. We can create a yield layer, a moisture layer, a fertility layer, a topography layer, or infra-red photo layers.  With soil layers, we can create a layer for every element tested, such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, boron, copper, manganese, and more.

Thanks to new technologies, we have been able to produce more with less and hopefully will continue to improve the farm’s profitability while maintaining a balance with nature.