Deeper Look

Technology helps improve production, maximize profit potential

Published online: Jun 27, 2017 Articles, Irrigation Lindsay Irrigation
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This article appears in Potato Grower's July 2017 Smart Irrigation Month issue.

Silver Reef Organic Farms—a 2,300-acre operation in Wellington, Colo.—prides itself on utilizing the latest technology to get a more complete picture of the operation.

“I remember hearing my parents and grandparents talk about fields and crops like they were people—understanding each part’s characteristics and personalities,” says Silver Reef’s Amanda McGee. “As they built their knowledge base year after year, they began to understand their farm better. They knew the intricacies of each field: how much water to put on, when to turn it off, what crops did the best in what areas, when to plant and when to harvest. With the new technology we’re using on our farm today, we are able to do the same thing as my family did with a lot smaller turnaround time.”

McGee says they use FieldNET by Lindsay to monitor water use in order to have a better estimate the amount of water they will need to rent or purchase the following season. They also use variable rate irrigation and drone technology to improve production.

“All of our fields have electromagnetic profiles, which show extreme variables in soil types,” McGee says. “Variable rate irrigation allows us to manage each soil type individually and adjust to reflect holding capacities and runoff potential. [Today’s technology] allows us to make these changes quickly based on our weekly field health monitoring system.”

Silver Reef’s weekly system includes both on-the-ground and bird’s-eye views of their fields.

“Walking the fields is effective to find trouble areas but inefficient to cover every acre, every week,” says McGee. “Our drone uses near-infrared imagery to give us a ‘green index’ of our crops—showing us where there are areas of concern or areas that are growing well.”

With the help of this technology, the growers at Silver Reef have been able make one of their “trouble fields” more profitable.

“The field has significant changes in slope and elevation as well as extreme variations in soil types,” says McGee. “In 2016, the bottom half of this field was planted to corn silage. Our first drone flight showed that we had some significant areas of crop health. At that time, our water schedule was a baseline 1” without changes in variable rate. WE found that in the areas of lower holding capacity, this rate was effective. But in areas of higher holding capacity, this rate was too much, and it was causing the roots to drown.”

A VRI prescription with necessary adjustments was designed for the field and within a few weeks, the crop health profile became more uniform.

“Due to the extreme variations in soil profiles, this field has historically only produced no more than 16 tons of organic corn silage per year,” McGee says. “Because we were able to use VRI through FieldNET, we produced 25 tons of organic corn silage, which equated to about $500 per acre more in gross revenue.”

Owner Greg Schreiner says he and his staff will continue to implement new technologies as part of their commitment to being good stewards of the land.

“We want to be the best farmers we can be with what we have. We’ll use technology with our equipment, tractors, irrigation and data to become the best,” he says. “The data that we receive helps us better understand our farm’s capabilities so that we can make informed decisions to maximize profit potential.”