By John Vogel and Tom J. Bechman
The next big thing in agriculture is 'Big Data.' In layman's terms, it means turning inputs from millions of sensors into compiled data that reveals trends and points to improved methods.
Temple Rhodes, Centreville, Md., is a confessed data farmer. Working with Willard Agri-Service and HighQ precision ag tech support, he's already netting substantial benefits with computerized data generated by harnessing grid-mapped field data on soil type, soil fertility information, soil maps, yields, corn hybrid traits and more.
Here's just how much it's changing his outlook. Rhodes spotted a field of solar panels during a road trip and decided to try a "solar" 10-acre corn trial. He installed a divider in each central-fill planter box so he could plant four rows of four hybrids in each pass. He plants shorter to taller plants on east-west rows to maximize sunlight interception. Plant height staged down on the return pass.
Corn planted in the staged up and staged down solar orientation yielded 15% more over two years than planting one height. This year he and his agribusiness-supporters will try twin rows on an irrigated "solar" field.
There is precedence for trying the theory. Fred Welch at the University of Illinois installed lights in a corn field plot in the early 1980s to show that more light would increase yield. Several farmers experimented with alternating strips of corn and soybeans to get more light to the corn. It worked, but soybean yields often suffered.
Dave Nanda, author of Breeder's Journal and Corn Illustrated in Farm Progress magazines, and director of Genetics and Technology for Seed Consultants, Inc., theorized nearly 20 years ago that equidistant planting and corn plants shaped more like Christmas trees would help intercept more sunlight and increase yields.
Stay tuned to see how Rhodes' trial works out this year. Odds are he's on the right track if he can make the physical aspects work in a manageable system.
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