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March 13, 2014 Volume 35, No. 23

Collaboration with MU offers new model in predictive farm management

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Collaboration of the entities could improve soil quality on farm fields through more accurate soil mapping, said CAFNR professor Brent Myers, shown examining sod from a Missouri farm field. Photo by Kyle Spradley.

DuPont, the University of Missouri and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) have announced they will collaborate in soil-mapping resources, predictive technologies and expertise to help growers improve crop yields through better nitrogen application management and other field input planning.

The collaboration aims to enhance sustainable crop production through field and crop modeling that targets the specific soil, climatic, watershed and production conditions within producers’ fields with real-time information.

The three-year agreement among DuPont Pioneer, the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), and USDA-ARS will bring together the respective strengths of each party in the development of precision agriculture sensors and soil-mapping, including the characterization of soil types, topography and watersheds, said Brent Myers, assistant professor of plant sciences at CAFNR and MU Extension corn specialist.

Through a unique computerized process that uses the latest technology, the collaboration will result in more accurate soil mapping units than ever before, those involved in the collaboration said. Higher-resolution soil information will enable improved placement and management of crop inputs such as nitrogen fertilizer.

The enhanced soil maps build on public soil survey data to help crop producers make timely decisions to more sustainably improve yields and per-acre income. Soil analysis procedures will better identify unique land areas called Environmental Response Units (ERUs). These ERUs can be used to develop a variety of management zones.

MU and USDA-ARS will provide the improved soil mapping resolution.

“Management decisions strongly depend on how crops respond to the soil and landscape,” Myers said. “Public soil maps are very valuable, but we can now track differences in fields at a much higher resolution than previously available. ERUs identify smaller areas within fields that can be similarly managed. This collaboration provides opportunities for connecting innovative soil and landscape science with decision-making for millions of acres in the U.S.”

Although nitrogen is one of the most important crop inputs, it is also among the most complex and uncertain aspects of modern agricultural production. In addition to being susceptible to environmental losses, its effectiveness is impacted by soil type and day-by-day weather conditions, Myers said.

By using high-resolution elevation data and landscape watershed information, producers can better determine water and nitrogen movement on the section and county levels, Myers said. Together with soil and productivity information, growers can more accurately plan, place and manage nitrogen applications on a real-time basis.

— Kyle Spradley