Finding Your Precision Ag Mindset

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at PrecisionAg.


A precision mindset is the most important requirement for successful precision ag technology adoption.

One of my first VRI (variable rate irrigation) programs was a major failure. The field I implemented it in contained a heavy clay soil with limited infiltration potential and was highly susceptible to runoff. I decided on a standard approach to VRI and built a standard prescription based on my training at that point.

Being an excessively dry year, the grower had called with concerns as he was seeing signs of stress in the crop. My reply was “Trust me. It will be OK.” Wow!! Was that a mistake. We finished out the irrigation season with him trusting me and when I went out to pull the probe, I became sick to my stomach. I was walking through corn only head high (I’m 5’9”). The pivot wheel tracks where only a couple inches deep. (One of the only benefits of this experience.) The ground was so dry not even the weeds could survive. It was going to be a devastating harvest.

Needless to say, the results of this VRI experience were very poor and the mindset of the grower was tremendously affected and he became very skeptical to attempt new practices with this technology or any other. So through this experience I learned three main things:

  1. NEVER tell a farmer “Trust me. It will be OK”.
  2. Precision irrigation solutions are not best when “standardized”.
  3. Mindset and expectations, if not well understood, can be devastating.

In the years since that initial VRI learning experience, I’ve been blessed to help implement and manage several thousand precision irrigation programs (including a program from that experience called RCS — Runoff Control Scripting.) Each one has been successful and uniquely different. However, the real success comes through what I call the Precision Mindset and the confidence it creates in the clients.

Precision Mindset can be defined as a mindset precisely focused on a specific purpose, cause, or objective that will enhance, change, or improve an existing input, product, or service. A Precision Mindset is an intentional creation and cannot just “happen”. Because it requires intentional change, many individuals will stay fixed on traditional mindsets and miss the opportunities Precision Mindset offers. Most often traditional mindsets will keep us looking at production maps and building zones based on yield, imagery, and sampled nutrient levels. While this may work to some level on the non-irrigated acres, under irrigation this mindset is devastating.

Below are three main reasons many irrigated farmers don’t attempt precision technologies:

  • “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”
  • “That may work where you’re from but it won’t work here.”
  • “We’re doing OK by doing what we’ve always done.”

We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.

When I hear this because I always wonder: What didn’t work? What was the objective, purpose, or expectation going into implementation? Was there a “root cause” for the program or was it implemented to “save money” or “make more yield”? While those results are great to strive for, this is where standardization limitations come into place. Precision Mindset goes deeper into the HOW this will happen. It’s an intense focus on a definite purpose that will ABSOLUTELY result in saved money or more yield. You may ask: Is that really possible? On the irrigated acres it is. Why? Because there you have control of the biggest yield liming factor, which is water. You can offset weather affects, and you can focus potential on water availability.

That may work where you’re from but it won’t work here.

This is a true statement. To a certain extent. But on the irrigated acre, with a Precision Mindset this is a non-issue. Soil basics are fixed to any given field. These basics being soil type (sand, silt, clay) and topography. The other variables like OM and pH are variables that can change but only with intensive action and time. Precision Mindsets knows, or rather learns, what the potential is in moisture optimizing each fixed region. Once that is accomplished optimizing or offsetting the weather becomes the highest priority.

The point is regardless where you live, Precision Mindsets are finding ways to use the fixed regional potentials to become more efficient, and more profitable by taking advantage of what doesn’t change. This is an extremely important concept when moving into multi-variety planting on irrigated acres.

We’re doing OK by doing what we’ve always done.

This makes me cringe and yet I completely understand where they’re coming from. When doing things you know work, you have to ask: “Is there a reason to change?” The short answer is yes. Why? Because the world around us is constantly changing and if we don’t change there is no way to fully realize a product’s profit potential unless we’re changing along with it. Let me share two examples.

  1. Seed Companies: Seed companies are always improving seed products. The last 40 years has seen more growth in this industry than all the previous years combined. Insect resistance, chemical resistance, drought tolerance, etc. These traits have given us the potential to do more when used for the right reasons in the right locations.
  2. Equipment Companies: Technology has completely changed the way we’ll view equipment forever. We’ll soon forget the real value of the 4020 or the IH 806 and the simple transformation those tractors brought to the industry. Today’s new equipment contains more technology than most entire households contain. I mean, think about a combine and all the wire harnesses and the number of sensors on that equipment today. It’s mind blowing!

The point is, as fast as technology is changing every input process, into every fixed variable mentioned in point 2, it’s becoming more and more evident that change is, or will be required, to remain profitable. However, change just for the sake of change isn’t always healthy. Changing with a specific focus and objective is the only way to be truly successful. Again, with 17 years experience in precision agriculture, those with Precision Mindsets keep changing and are today preparing for any challenges that come there way.

In summary and in my opinion, Precision Mindsets allow growers, their data specialists, and all employees to stay focused on the core objectives. The one thing we didn’t talk about here is how important Precision Mindsets are for on farm adoption. What does Precision Mindset mean to you and how are you implementing it into your operation today?

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