J-Ace Farms, located near Blue Earth, Minn., uses precision farming practices in its 1,300-acre strip-till and no-till operation. Matt Alford, and his father-in-law, Jim Erdahl, typically build strips in the fall for corn the following year using a 16-row Environmental Tillage Systems Soil Warrior strip-till unit, applying prescription-rate phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).
Pulled with a John Deere 9520T tractor, auto-guidance is provided by Trimble Nav 2/262 combo and an Ag Leader Insight unit following an RTK signal from a tower that’s based on the home farm.
At planting, they use a 16-row Kinze 3600 planter outfitted with Precision Planting components, including DeltaForce down pressure system and vDrive seed spacing and depth control. They also utilize Dawn Equipment’s GFX row cleaners and apply a straight rate of 32% urea plus ammonium thiosulfate blend as a 0-inch by 2-inch application at planting.
“We have found the 0-by-2-inch starter fertilizer application makes the most sense, based on findings from our field trials,” says Alford. “We also variable-rate plant, using the electric vDrive units, based on prescription maps developed by Precision Management Service’s Profit Link program.
“They are a local service that does our soil sampling, pools our crop data with other area customers and then develops recommendations that are tailored to our soil types, weather trends and trial results. Having them break down the data is a real time-saver for us. We have no time to do it and it’s one of those things that’s easiest to go with an off-farm resource.”
Alford and Erdahl are also experimenting with cover crops. They flew on cereal rye into standing corn for 2020 soybean ground and also interseeded about half their 2019 corn ground with annual rye, buckwheat and turnips with the same pass as their variable-rate UAN 32% application.
“In 2018, we did an interseeding trial at V3 and V5 corn stages instead of spraying a post-application,” Alford says. “I was spraying a pre-emerge residual herbicide and then coming back with early sidedress and interseeding a mix of annual rye, turnips, radish, rapeseed, buckwheat and cowpeas and not spraying a post at all.
“The theory was that the interseeded covers would outcompete any weeds that would be emerging after that time and I ended up $15.50 ahead in the field where we did that trial.”
At harvest, they use an Ag Leader Insight monitor to capture yield data on their Deere 9770 combine. One challenge Alford has encountered is easily transferring field coordinates between Insight units. “There is no way to transfer them,” he says. “We have to put each field in by hand. It works, but it is tedious.”
Overall, Alford reports few problems with their precision farming systems, outside of a few wear-and-tear replacement items. However, with the wet weather in fall 2018, they couldn’t get to some custom strip-tilling jobs they had planned on.
“When spring came, we needed to get across those fields that were 6 or 7 miles from our base RTK tower, so we had to either set up a remote tower, which would have affected us using the RTK signal on our own ground,” Alford says. “Instead, we used a cellular RTK signal and that worked out well.”