Overlap steals from row croppers’ bottom line
Matt Darr of Iowa State University’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering recently published a paper that discusses how precision farming affects efficiency on rowcrop operations. Of the precision tools available to most farmers, auto guidance and auto section control lead in the costs savings, according to Darr.
“Guidance systems reduce overlap in fields which leads to less passes across the field, less fuel and product use (i.e. seed, fertilizer, and herbicide), and fewer operator hours. These savings can be directly calculated if the amount of overlap is known. Additionally, swath control products reduce seed and chemical overlap into headlands and field boundaries by automatically shutting off planter or boom sections as they cross into headland areas,” reported Darr.
In a study performed in Iowa, Darr and his associates went on-farm with a couple producers who didn’t own any precision systems and fitted planters and spring tillage equipment with high-accuracy RTK GPS systems to record the amount of overlap during field prep and planting.
The study consisted of some 2,500 acres in central Iowa. Averaging the farms’ 16- and 24-row unit planters performance, Darr and company found a 3.3 percent overlap during planting operations.
Some overlap was from point rows and some in overseeding into perpendicular headlands (crisscrossing rows at field’s end). The researchers found an average seven percent overlap for spring tillage when employing a 45-foot field cultivator.
Darr explained calculations to figure cost savings for precision guided field operations: “Given these overlap levels, the return on investment of autosteering and swath control products can be directly measured. For swath control both the cost of seed production and the loss of yield in double-planted headland areas must be considered. Typical cost for corn seed in central Iowa is $113.80 per acre. A conservative estimate for yield loss in double-planted areas is 12 percent based on previous research at Iowa State. For 175 bushel per acre average corn yield with a value of $6 per bushel, this results in a production loss of $7.91 per acre. Based on this analysis the value of precision ag swath control systems in typical Iowa corn production is $7.91 per acre.
Tillage savings when using a lightbar or autosteer system can be calculated in a similar manner. A seven percent reduction in tillage overlap will result in approximately $1 per acre cost savings. The cost savings is less, due to a lack of high cost inputs, but still justifies lightbar systems even on the most basic tillage operations.”