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What’s Holding Up Yield Monitoring?

Compared to other technologies and equipment, yield monitoring is a relatively inexpensive way to get immediately actionable information about a crop field. Yet, uptake of the technology remains fairly low in potato fields. Why aren’t potato growers making use of the technology when it’s such a high value crop, the cost to add a yield monitor to an existing GPS/Steering enabled system is less than $10,000, and there’s plenty of technical and logistical support now available? I really don’t have an answer for that. I can’t see logically, viably or economically anything that would give as much info as quickly and as pertinently as a yield monitor can.

Farmers who haven’t yet bought into yield monitoring often point to the fact that yield monitors pick up dirt and rocks, making measurements inaccurate. While it is human nature to say: ‘If you can’t prove to me that this works absolutely perfectly, I’m not interested,’ I think that’s been used as an excuse. Yes, the results can be skewed by debris. However, the point of a yield monitor is not to measure pound for pound. After all, you’ve got other equipment to do that. Instead, a yield monitor is designed to measure relative differences and the magnitude of those differences across a field. Even without post season adjustments to account for debris, those results are useful.

Some growers shy away from yield monitoring because they feel it will force them into map based, zonal management: a move they worry will have a steep learning curve and end up consuming a lot of time. Remember, technology is intended to support your priorities, not force your direction.

Consider this: Using the IPNI Crop Removal Calculator a 400 cwt/acre potato crop removes 260 lbs of K2O per acre. If that yield were perfectly consistent across the field, a grower should replace the removed K2O by applying fertilizer evenly across the entire field. However, most fields exhibit a variability in what it is actually yielding due to topography, soil type, moisture retention etc. Therefore, the actual crop removal varies too. That 400 CWT average is made up of actual yield values swinging between 100 to 600 CWT. In this case, a uniform application of fertilizer will leave some acres under fertilized and risk unnecessary rates in other. If a grower only uses a yield monitor for a single use – calculating a crop’s actual nutrient removal by area –the investment is recouped in better fertility management.

Ultimately, one can’t continue to do the same things over and over and expect different results. The answer is not different products or just more fertilizer. It’s always a combination of things. Anyone who wants to do a better job agronomically, economically and/or environmentally should consider yield monitoring. Better information opens the opportunity for better management.

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