AgronomyEquipment and Technology Showcase

Equipment and Technology Showcase


Drain Tile

Precision Land Solutions, based in southern Manitoba, provides a variety of water management services to its customer base, including customized design and installation of tile drainage systems. “We sell the pipe and install it, and the system is individually-designed and engineered for each field. It’s very site-specific,” says owner Chris Unrau

Drain tile systems work by keeping the water table below the root zone in potato fields, allowing excess water in the soil which might otherwise drown the plants to drain away, leaving behind a proper balance of water and oxygen in the soil.

Tile drainage systems are not a new technology, says Unrau, but growers are increasingly finding the cost of installing tile in a field a worthwhile investment when extreme weather events loom on the horizon. “In a lot of cases it makes the difference between having a crop or not,” says Unrau. “The farms with tiled land have been able to significantly reduce their risk of crop losses, while those without it have experienced some devastating losses.”

The tile offers other benefits as well—it keeps fields dry enough that growers can still drive on the fields after a heavy rainfall and spray the crops, if necessary. It also helps prevent surface runoff, soil erosion and nutrient loss. According to Unrau, it also results in increased yields.

“As people have tried it they keep coming back for more,” he says.

Precision Land installing 4” tile with their Wolfe plow.
Precision Land installing 4” tile with their Wolfe plow.

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Controlled Release Nitrogen

Agrium advanced Techologies Inc., a global supplier of agricultural products and fertilizer, offers Environmentally Smart Nitrogen (ESN), a controlled release nitrogen product that aims to manage leaching, volatilization and denitrification across all soil types. According to John Gibson, Agrium sales representative for Western Canada, it’s the only controlled release nitrogen product available in Canada that protects against all three mechanisms for nitrogen loss.

ESN is a polymer-coated urea comprised of 44 per cent nitrogen, with temperature- and moisture-controlled diffusion. “The most rapid release of nitrogen [happens] under ideal growing conditions, but when things are cool and dry or cold and wet and nothing grows, the nitrogen is protected,” says Gibson.

The product works on all soil types, according to Gibson, and offers increased yield, quality and marketable percentage, as well as a higher specific gravity for a greater percentage of their potatoes. “It reduces or eliminates the need for in-season fertigation,” says Gibson.

Variable Rate Technology

Farmers Edge, a western Canadian precision agricultural consulting firm, has developed Precision Edge, a proprietary web-based mapping tool that manages variable rate fertility and crop inputs with an Arc-GIS platform.

“We were using multiple sources of satellite imagery and different software programs to create the zone maps and prescription maps that we provide to our customers to deliver variable rate on their farms,” says Brad Ewankiw, marketing manager for Farmers Edge. “We felt that having it all combined in one system would create efficiency for us as well as for our customers. That was the goal in creating Precision Edge.”

The process begins when Farmers Edge zone maps a field into zones using existing satellite imagery; they then do soil samples and make prescriptions based on the data and the farmer’s yield goals. The system allows producers the ability to then control the volume of fertilizer and pesticide applications in particular growing areas.

The program has a wide range of applications, but has indirect benefits for growers seeking to improve soil fertility on their operations, says Ewankiw. Using Precision Edge, growers are better-equipped to make changes to their fertility regimes because they know more about their fields through satellite imagery and yield maps.

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Organic Mapping

Veris Technologies, based in Salina, Kan., offers a range of soil variability sensors. One of the company’s newest products is their Optic Mapping tool, which uses a dual-wavelength optical sensor to map organic matter in the soil.

“The Optic Mapper is mounted on a planter row unit with downpressure springs and discblades, and the device opens a slot in the soil,” explains Veris Technologies President Eric Lund, “but rather than planting a seed, a little block, an optical shoe, runs through the soil and measures infrared light. Darker soil has more organic matter and lighter soil has less organic matter.”

According to Lund, the tool offers growers another invaluable layer of information which can be combined with soil electroconductivity sensing for precise mapping of soil variability within a particular region.

“Organic matter affects so many things for crop production,” says Lund. “It affects nitrogen. It also relates to soil moisture—higher organic matter soil can hold more water. If you have a field with higher organic matter you can reduce the amount of irrigation you apply.” The device also helps growers judge plant population rates based on available soil organic matter.

The Optic Mapper has an optical sensor mounted within a planter row unit.
The Optic Mapper has an optical sensor mounted within a planter row unit.

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