Friday Feature:  Weed-Killing Robots

Friday Feature: Weed-Killing Robots

This week’s featured video was produced by ecoRobotix to show how their autonomous robots control weeds in crop fields with micro-doses of herbicides.  Their self-propelled robots are solar powered, and use a plant-recognition camera to guide targeted, and precise applications of herbicides to the weeds detected amongst the crop plants. Thanks to Dr. Pete Vergot for sending in this video to be shared.

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If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video, or a new product innovation related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo

 

Financial Assistance for Farmers Who Implement BMPs

Financial Assistance for Farmers Who Implement BMPs

Producers in the Florida Panhandle can receive financial assistance from multiple agencies to defer the cost of implementing Best Management Practices on-farm, such as improving irrigation efficiency. Photo credit: Ethan Carter.

 

Farmers and ranchers have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) that maintain or improve water quality, quantity and soil conditions on their lands for many years. Although BMPs are designed to be technically feasible and economically viable, implementing BMPs can be expensive for producers, and some practices may not be financially viable for all. Multiple agencies in our region recognize this and offer financial assistance to defer the cost of implementing BMPs.

In most areas of the Panhandle, implementation of BMPs is still voluntary, but for producers in an area with a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), such as the Jackson Blue Springs/Merritts Mill Pond Basin, BMP implementation and verification is required.

Financial Assistance to Implement BMPs

The following agencies continually offer financial assistance for producers in our region to implement agricultural BMPs.

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

NRCS offers financial assistance for farmers through two programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Staff at NRCS work with farmers and ranchers to develop a conservation plan to address particular on-farm resource concerns. Depending on the objectives of the farmer, these plans can include ways to reduce erosion and improve soil conditions, improve nutrient management and water quality, increase water-use efficiency and/or improve wildlife habitat.

The conservation plan outlines activities or practices to reach these objectives and NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help carry out these practices.  For example, NRCS will provide financial assistance for exclusion fences for cattle around streams or wetlands as well as assistance for alternative watering systems, such as watering tanks, pipelines and solar wells. Other examples of what they help finance include cross-fencing for improved grazing management, soil sampling for improved nutrient management, irrigation retrofits, waste storage facilities for dairies, tree planting and forest stand improvement, and nesting boxes for wildlife. These are just a few examples – there are many more!

Financial assistance is provided at a flat rate for a particular practice (for example, per foot for fencing, per acre for weed treatment, per item for a well or a nesting box, etc.). In general, they do not offer financial assistance to purchase equipment.

Contact information:

For more information on available NRCS funding and how to apply, contact your local NRCS office. In the Panhandle, these contacts are found on the Florida Area 1 Directory.   Applications for financial assistance are accepted year-round with batching deadlines in November.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)

FDACS also offers cost-share funds to producers so that they can effectively implement BMPs on-farm. Unlike NRCS, funding is largely (but not exclusively) for equipment purchases. They will fund up to 75% of the cost of equipment, which they then reimburse the producer once an item is purchased.

Funding falls under three broad BMP categories: (1) nutrient management, (2) irrigation management and (3) water resources protection. Examples of equipment and other items that FDACS will cost share include no-till grain drills and GPS guidance systems to reduce soil loss and improve nutrient management. To improve irrigation efficiency they provide funding for irrigation retrofits, nozzle packages, smart irrigation control panels and soil moisture sensors. To protect water resources, they, like NRCS, provide financial assistance for cattle exclusion fences and solar wells so ranchers can have alternative water sources for their animals.  These are just a few examples of the equipment that can be purchased through the FDACS  cost-share program.  It is important for producers to work with their local FDACS field technician to determine which BMP practices are feasible on their operation. To receive cost-share funds, producers have to have been in production for at least one year and they must be enrolled in the BMP Program.

Contact information:

Contact your local FDACS field technician for more information on available cost-share funding and how to apply. Applications are accepted year-round.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD)

The NWFWMD’s cost-share program for producers is focused on improving water quality and increasing water-use efficiency in the Jackson Blue Springs Basin. To be eligible for funding, farming operations have to be located within the spring basin and producers must be enrolled in the FDACS BMP Program. Under the current BMP grant program, the district is accepting cost-share applications year-round, through September 2019.

Funding is available to cost share up to 75% of BMPs such as irrigation system retrofits, pump upgrades (high to low pressure), remote control systems for irrigation, control panel upgrades, endgun controls, fertigation systems, and other precision agriculture tools.

Contact information:

For more information about the NWFWMD’s cost share program, please contact Linda Chaisson by phone at (850) 539-5999 or by email at Linda.Chaisson@nwfwater.com. To find out if your farming operation falls within the Jackson Blue Springs Basin, the district’s BMP website provides links to a street view map and an aerial view map of the basin, as well as additional information about the BMP program.

The three agencies listed above are not the only entities offering financial assistance for BMP implementation in our region. Interested producers can also receive cost-share funds from the FDACS’s Office of Energy to improve energy efficiency on-farm. Other organizations may also receive grants to help producers defer the costs of BMPs, and as we at UF/IFAS Extension hear about these opportunities, we will work to get that information out to you.

 

Friday Feature:  Autonomous Drone Scouting

Friday Feature: Autonomous Drone Scouting

This week’s featured video was produced by American Robotics to introduce ScoutTM, a fully-automated drone system for farmers.  Scout features season-long automated crop scouting that is autonomous, or pre-programmed for launch, flight, imaging, landing, charging, data management, and drone storage with no piloting required.

To improve agricultural decision-making, optimize inputs, and maximize yields,  automation must be delivered in a reliable industrial solution.  Scout delivers this automation in a turn-key package consisting of an autonomous drone with visual and multispectral cameras and a weatherproof drone station which handles housing, charging, data processing and data transfer. Once installed within a farmer’s field, it requires no manual intervention to plan, fly and manage the drone operations. Health reports and analysis are seamlessly sent to the farmer.   Source:  American Robotics

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If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo

 

 

 

Determining Optimal Plant Populations for Your Variable Rate Planter

Determining Optimal Plant Populations for Your Variable Rate Planter

You’ve spent good money on precision ag, GPS guided equipment.  Your rows are planted straight, your pesticide sprays are very precise, and you have improved harvest efficiency.  You’re set up for variable rate planting and you have a yield monitor, but aren’t quite sure what else to do with them?  Here are some ideas to use your existing technology to further increase the efficiency of your farm.

Let’s say you’ve always planted a certain crop population (# of plants / acre) like the guidelines for 36″ rows in the chart below, but you know that some areas of your field are more productive than others.  It makes sense to plant the more productive areas with a higher population, and the weaker areas with a lower population.  The problem is you really don’t know the ideal plant populations for these different areas of your field?Mulvaney Plant Pop ChartStart with a map of your field.  I recommend choosing a field with large variability, because your return will be greater.  Pencil in the areas of high and low productivity. (There are other ways to delimit your field, such as by soil type or zone mapping.)  Your map might look something like this:

Figure 1. Divide your field into zones. This example map is based on experience with zones of high, low, and medium productivity. Zones could be by soil type, zone mapping, or grid sampling.

Figure 1. Divide your field into zones. This example map is based on experience with zones of high, low, and medium productivity. Zones could be by soil type, zone mapping, or grid sampling.

Now choose some rates that you’d like to try.  Suppose your usual population is 34,000 plants/ac.  You want to choose some higher populations and lower populations.  Let’s say 30k, 36k, 42k and 48k plants/ac.  You want to select populations that will give yield loss at both ends of the extreme so that you can find the sweet spot in the middle.

You need to repeat each of those populations in each zone so that we can get a good average yield for each zone.  In this example, you’ll repeat four times.  So you have four populations repeated four times in each zone, for 16 ‘plots’ in a zone.  Randomize the populations across each zone.

Now it’s time to fit those plots on the map.  It’s best to have larger plots so we can see the data on the yield monitor; 100’ x 100’ plots are a good size, but just a suggestion.  If you have a 4-row planter on 36” rows, eight passes will make a 96’ wide plot.  So we’ll make our plots 96’ wide by 100’ long out of convenience.  So now our map looks something like this:

Figure 2. Four populations repeated four times in each zone. Bring this map to your dealer with a USB drive. Note that the lower number in each plot is the population. You’ll also note that we could not fit four replications in the ‘medium’ zone, but we’ve fit in what we could.

Figure 2. Four populations repeated four times in each zone. Bring this map to your dealer with a USB drive. Note that the lower number in each plot is the population. You’ll also note that we could not fit four replications in the ‘medium’ zone, but we’ve fit in what we could.

Now bring this map to your dealer, who should be happy to help write the prescription for you using the right software package for your planter.  Bring a USB drive with your field on it.  Ideally, they should be able to work with your map, hand it back to you when it’s ready (they may need some time), so you can plug it into your display, and the planter will know what to do.  The dealer may need to visit your field to mark out boundaries.  Regardless, the map they give you would look something like this:

Figure 3. An example of the prescription map you’ll get back from the dealer. This information will be on the USB drive, so your planter will automatically plant the correct populations in each area.

Figure 3. An example of the prescription map you’ll get back from the dealer. This information will be on the USB drive, so your planter will automatically plant the correct populations in each area.

Prior to harvest, make sure your yield monitor is calibrated, or all your work will be for nothing.  After harvest, overlay your yield map with your plant populations, and average each population within a zone.  The data for each zone might look like this (this data is fictitious):

Figure 4. We have identified the optimal plant population range in this example zone for that year.

Figure 4. We have identified the optimal plant population range in this example zone for that year.

The solid blue line are the actual data, which would lead us to think that 36,000 plants/ac is the best population for this zone.  If you enter the data into Excel, it can generate a curve on the graph (the dotted line). To determine the optimal population for this zone, you can find the maximum yield on the curve and draw a line down to the population, which is about 40,000 plants/ac (solid arrow line), which corresponds to a little over 250 bu/ac.

You will now know, for that year, that your optimal plant population in that zone was 36,000 to 40,000 plants/ac.  Repeat this for at least three years to get a good idea of what your populations should be for each zone.

If you want assistance setting this type of on-farm trial, contact your county extension agent, so they can set up an appointment with me to develop something that will work for your farm.

 

Fertilizer Spreader Evaluation

Last week we checked out this spreader with Brad Thompson and with a few adjustments it is spreading evenly and doing a good job. We put out containers to catch fertilizer behind the spreader and put grates in them to keep bouncing out down to a minimum and then later poured them into vials so that we could line them up and see if there were problems.

Last week we checked out this spreader, and with a few adjustments it is spreading evenly and doing a good job. We put out containers to catch fertilizer behind the spreader with grates in them to prevent the granules from bouncing out.

Source:  Seminole Crop E News
Rome Etrhedge, UGA Seminole County Coordinator

As farmers prepare for crop planting, its important to calibrate dry fertilizer spreaders to make sure you are getting a good pattern in the field.  Most newer spreaders calculate the rate per acre for you, in other words, you may know how many pounds of material you are putting out per acre, but  you should also check to make sure the spreader applies evenly.  You want an even spread with no heavy or light streaks.

Checking out the levels in the vials to see how even the spread was.

Afterwards we emptied the catch-pans into vials so that we could line them up to see how even the spread was.

The University of Georgia has a publication that describes how to calibrate a fertilizer spreader:

UGA Calibration of Bulk Dry Fertilizer Applicators

The following are just a few key points from this publication.

Spreader Calibration Kit

Calibration checks for solid fertilizer equipment should show the type of spread pattern (including the degree of uniformity obtained across the swath), the effective swath width and the rate of application. Carry out these checks to determine any necessary adjustments to maintain or improve the characteristics of the applicator.  One practical method of calibrating fertilizer and lime spreaders requires the following supplies:

  1. Nine to 15 collecting trays or pans with a grid baffle in the bottom of each (this prevents the material from bouncing out)
  2. Nine to 15 test tubes (use the same amount as for #1, above)
  3. Test tube rack
  4. Funnel
  5. 10-foot measuring tape

Make sure the sizes of the test tubes are in proportion to the rates of application being checked. All trays must be of identical size and shape. Trays should be shallow (2.5 to 4 inches deep) with a collecting area of 1.25 to 3 square feet each. The following table can be used to determine the rate of application from any size collecting tray:Fertilizer Spreader chartA field layout of collecting trays showing extra clearance on each side of center trays for spreader wheels. All trays are placed at 5-foot intervals except for trays 7 and 9, which are placed 6 feet from the center tray (number 8). The collecting tray area should be 1.25 to 1.3 square feet with grid baffles in the trays to prevent fertilizer from bouncing out.