Precision Ag Tools Influence Conservation

Precision agriculture equipment and business tools are ways ag leaders are looking to help farmers determine what conservation practices to use on their farms.

In Illinois, the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) is leading the Precision Conservation Management project with 30 partners.

“We are trying to get farmers to define sustainability,” said Jeff Jarobe, a corn and soybean farmer in Loda in Eastern Illinois.

Farmers participating in the project will use Farm Business Farm Management tools and the Field to Market Fieldprint Calculator in determining which practices to use, said Jarobe, the ICGA president who farms in Iroquois County.

The Fieldprint calculator is complicated and time-consuming to use initially, he said, but with project assistance, more farmers will be able to work with it.

The tool, which enables farmers to input variables about their field, such as slope, soil characteristics, nutrient and pest management, tillage practices and conservation practices to calculate impact on water quality, is still being improved to make it more effective and easier to use.

“It takes facts and figures and lets farmers know how practices affect their bottom line,” Jarobe said.

The project is designed to increase on-farm conservation work and make conservation an integral part of daily farm management.

Details are being worked on now, and farmers are likely to start applying to participate in June, said Laura Gentry, ICGA director of water quality science and University of Illinois professor.

The $5.3 million RCPP grant for the Precision Conservation Management will be directed to farmers to introduce conservation practices, she said. Another $10 million is coming from private partners.

The goal of the program is to tie financial information with best management practices, said Justin Durdan, an ICGA director and farmer in Streator.

Participating farmers work on detailed assessments of the farms, target the area where there is the most critical need for conservation practices — for example high nitrates near water sources — and have access to recommendations and funding help to correct those problems, Gentry said.

Farmers will be using the financial assistance for nutrient management practices such as cover crops and reduced tillage and other efforts to reduce erosion, she said.

Another program in Iowa is working to integrate conservation into private-sector precision ag and business planning tools, according to Ben Gleason, Iowa Corn sustainable program manager. One of the private sector partners is Winfield Solutions.

Todd Peterson, Winfield Solutions stewardship lead, said they want to encourage conservation planning as a part of discussions about field management.

In some fields, that might mean putting in conservation practices or not farming unprofitable parts of a field. He said that could help farmers earn more and reach environmental goals at the same time.

Precision agriculture equipment can help with record keeping and help farmers see results of what works and does not work.

In addition, Peterson said incorporating precision ag into conservation means farmers can show they are working to make improvements. It can help set benchmarks.

Conservation practices help farmers continue to have a social license to farm, he said.

Additional reporting by Tim Hoskins.

Source: Phyllis Coulter, Iowa Farmer Today

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