With among the highest input costs and some of the greatest potential returns of any field crop, potatoes offer the biggest bang for one’s yield mapping and precision management buck.
Yield maps are not just an intellectual exercise in raw data; they actually map dollars and cents. A yield map breaks a field into visible areas of higher and lower productivity. Looking closely at each area, a grower can start to figure out whether good areas can do even better, how limiting factors can be solved, and how inputs can be saved in weaker zones. Together, that translates to more money in a grower’s pocket.
Compared year over year, maps prove even more useful. If you make a management change, yield maps can identify the return on investment or cost of your decision. These clear answers are the reason why, compared to any other precision agriculture technology, yield monitors show the strongest payback.
So what is the holdup to potato yield monitoring adoption?
Many growers skip potato yield mapping because they worry they don’t have the time or the technological skillset to produce reports and/or analyze data. Not so. Yield mapping should be viewed as a financially prudent business necessity. Growers who don’t have the background or comfort to manage their own yield mapping should involve an agricultural expert, much as they would if they were developing a business plan, organizing for succession, or managing their farm finances. An experienced agronomist can be an invaluable asset when it comes to processing data, developing reports and forming crop management plans.
Some producers report being overwhelmed by the concept of precision potato production, assuming that mapping and management must be incredibly complex. In fact, breaking a field into areas based on macro variability offers almost as much bottom line benefit as focusing on the micro. A typical potato field often consists of areas that produce from 30 to 200 per cent more or less yield than the rest of the field. Identifying major yield variability allows one to develop practically sized management zones that can each be managed more or less individually. Most application equipment works in swath widths of 50 feet or more. As such, management zones should be at least several hundred feet wide and long.
Those scared off by the upfront investment of yield monitoring should keep in mind that yield monitors are comparatively inexpensive and cost should be amortized over the technology’s multiyear lifespan. A typical potato yield monitor costs in the range of $8,000, equivalent to annual input costs for about five acres of potatoes, or the value of two typical bulk loads of spuds.