Home / 16 Oct, 2019

Case Study: How data is used in zone management


Jamie Blythe, a farm owner from North-West Alabama talks to Chuck Zimmerman and AgDNA about the decisions she makes on a daily basis.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your farm
My name is Jamie Blythe and our farm is Blythe Cotton Company. We farm 3,600 acres in North West Alabama. Our acreage is pretty evenly split between corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat depending on the year and the prices. Only about 10% of it is under irrigation so it’s primarily a dry land operation. We have a huge diversity of soil types, organic matter levels and yield potential within each field, so we rely heavily on zone management in terms of our agronomy.

How do you use AgDNA on your farm?
We rely on zone management and we don’t manage on a field by field basis, we manage zone by zone. Everything that comes off our monitors is transmitted wirelessly to my home computer onto the AgDNA software and that’s where I do all of my data analysis. It keeps track of every penny that goes into every acre and that’s incredibly valuable right now, especially with commodity prices. We try to analyze and do a lot of in-field tests to compare different treatments, fungicides and different planting populations, it’s given me a really good per acre net profit breakdown.

I used to use 3 or 4 different programs to manage our farm. One was used for prescriptions, one was used for soil sampling, one for fertilizing prescriptions. Another I used for record keeping and the I had Microsoft excel spreadsheets to back everything up. I think that taking the whole farm approach to data management is what AgDNA seems to be doing the best at of all the programs I’ve seen. Everything from our fuel usage to every product that goes on our field, even our custom labour, it brings it all together in one.

Describe how you integrate wireless data
I started using wireless data transfers about 3 years ago. At first I didn’t think it would be worth the money, but after the first year of having it, it’s worth every penny you spend on it. You just have this seamless transfer of data from the combine straight to the computer, so I don’t have to run around to all the various equipment monitors on our equipment with a thumb drive. I can have everything instantly. That’s saved me so much time and it helps me make decisions faster. AgDNA allows me to sit here in my office and I’m getting our yield data coming in every day.

What are the kind of decisions that you want to make with data?
We work on our zones based on multi-year yield analysis which takes into account our soil types, so we’re trying to get better at our zone management and that’s going to change as the land changes. With no till we rely heavily on cover crops so our organic matter is changing, our productivity is changing, so our zones aren’t static and need to evolve each year too. Another thing we’re using our data for is difffferent agronomic inputs, so we look at difffferent fungicide treatments and compare it to test strips where we don’t use fungicide. Then we look at are we making a net profit per acre off of that treatment, is it worth the money? If our yield is not meeting expectations I can go back into AgDNA and look for human errors. Was our planter speed too high? Was our population too low? Do we have errors with our sprayers. We can go back and evaluate and control it a little bit better next year.

How has AgDNA caused you to think differently about your business?
Number one it gives me more time to think about the business and it gives me an almost instant awareness where every cent goes on each acre. Right now that is going to be the best way for our farm to survive in this commodity price climate. I can get in the mindset of maximizing yield, but we really need to switch over into chasing that net per acre profit. That’s what is going to keep our business healthy. I think if you want one program that encompasses all aspects of your farm, this is the one to go with. Time is our most valuable input right now. I have a full time job, a special needs child and a home to take care of, so every minute of every day is precious. The less time I sit in my office the better.

Describe the learning curve with AgDNA
The learning curve is mercifully pretty short. Every day I’m learning a new way to utilize this program. We’re only just scratching the surface of it right now. One day I hope to get rid of every Excel spreadsheet on my computer, that would be my ultimate goal [laughs].