The question: How can I make better use of my sprayer as a precision tool? Specifically, how can I collect field data using the sprayer, not just the combine, and how can I use my sprayer for variable rate fertilizer?
For this one, we turn to Terry Aberhard, Agri-Trend Agri-Coach and farmer from Langenburg, Sask. Terry writes:
A sprayer can be used in many ways as a precision tool on your farm. First off, you can collect application data with your sprayer and compare that information to other layers of GIS data that you might collect through the year. If you were to do a fungicide trial and leave a check strip or untreated area, you would be able to layer that application map to yield data or also NVDI images. This information can help you determine the value or return on applications you are putting through your sprayer.
Sprayers can also easily be used for variable rate application of fertilizer or almost any other product that you could put through your machine. In may cases where top dressing or applications of liquid fertilizer are being put on, you can use your sprayer to apply a variable rate prescription from a predetermined variable rate plan. Most newer sprayers are already equipped to handle variable rate prescriptions and are able to adjusts rates as needed with no extra parts or modifications.
With some good in-season imagery, we can use the sprayer to apply variable rate fungicide, herbicides, crop desiccants and so on. If your sprayer is equipped with a boom section shut off control, you can program your variable rate prescription to shut off part of the boom going over an area that does not require treatment while other parts of the boom are spraying the prescribed rate. Now that is just pretty cool stuff.
In the coming years, we’ll see more real time sensors you can equip on your sprayer that will measure differences in the crop real time and adjust rates on the go. GreenSeeker, one example of this kind of system, is already on the market. This system has optical infra-red sensors and creates an NDVI value in real time. It can adjust your application rates as you drive across the field.
In Europe, they already have optical sensors that can recognize different leaf types. Sprayers with this system carry multiple herbicides that are directly injected into the spray stream and can adjust rates and chemical combinations in relation to the weed spectrum the sensors identify. These type of systems are in the beta stages, but this is the type of technology that is going to be coming down the pipe!
Just remember, if working with chemicals and variable rate applications, it is important to work with an agronomist and your chemical rep to make sure that you are staying within label rates and not exposing yourself or others to unnecessary risk or liability. Your sprayer is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to start with precision farming and variable rate.