Digging Deep into Precision Agriculture

Trey Koger, Senior Agronomist, Silent Shade Planting Co., Belzoni, Miss.
Trey Koger, senior agronomist, Silent Shade Planting Co., Belzoni, Miss.

Silent Shade Planting Company has only scratched the surface when it comes to using precision agriculture in its 12,000-acre operation.

“Even though we’ve embraced precision agriculture technology for more than 15 years, there’s so much more we can do with it,” says Trey Koger, senior agronomist for the 35-year-old company, based in Belzoni, Miss. “This is an exciting time to be in agriculture.”

Owners Willard and Laura Lee Jack are committed to innovative farming techniques. The family-run business includes their daughter, Stacie Koger (Trey’s wife), son Jeremy and his wife, Elizabeth. They use GPS auto steer, grid sampling, aerial imagery and yield monitors to maximize yields.

With corn, soybeans, rice, cotton, peanuts, and wheat in production, Silent Shade applies precision agriculture to almost every facet of its growing program, from soil testing to fertility to seeding rates to crop protection inputs. “Anything we can handle by variable rate, we are either already doing it or looking into it,” adds Koger.

Perhaps the company’s most progressive variable-rate (VR) usage is for chicken litter. Since Mississippi is one of the top poultry producers in the nation, the state is a goldmine for farmers looking to spread organic fertilizer on their ground.

Variable Rate Chicken Litter

“Chickens produce a lot of poop! But chicken litter includes anything that gets cleaned out of the poultry house — feathers, bedding material and organic material, as well as manure,” says Koger, who holds a Ph.D. in weed science from Mississippi State University. “It’s put into a pile and brought to our farm, where we load it into our trucks and spread it in the fall just like inorganic fertilizer.”

Typically, Silent Shade spreads chicken litter on sandier soils that need more organic matter, in addition to magnesium, calcium and iron. But the operation is as strategic in chicken litter application as it is with any other crop input.

“We always sample the litter before application so we know what the nutrient levels are,” notes Koger. “Through grid-mapping, we know our field-specific needs and apply accordingly. Chicken litter is a sustainable tool and less expensive than inorganic fertilizers. Plus, there is a variation you get from organic matter that you don’t get with inorganic fertilizers.”

Behind the Scenes with MapShots

Silent Shade depends on MapShots AgStudio® software for most of its precision agriculture needs. “We store our data in AgStudio and rely on it to plan our program each year,” says Koger. “We use yield maps to help with soil sampling, develop VR seeding and fertilizer prescriptions, and determine various inputs. AgStudio is behind the scenes for all of our planning.”

Koger adopted a new tool within AgStudio this summer and has found it extremely useful. AgStudio SELECT, a web-based browser version of AgStudio, provides a simple, streamlined way to work with precision ag data no matter where you are. It allows mobile access to data in the field through tablet devices.

“I work with it a lot,” says Koger. “With it, I can do anything on my iPad I can do on my desktop. We used it this fall for all of our soil sampling and to identify various different things in the field within our planting blocks, which are georeferenced.”

Validating Prescriptions

Since Silent Shade conducts a good bit of research on-site, Koger uses SELECT to compare prescriptions with the reality of what happened in the field. In addition, he employs the web-based browser to develop validation plots.

“In any given field, there are blocks with different seeding rates,” he adds. “With SELECT we can pull up the seeding rate layer and look at the planting blocks to confirm our prescriptions. It’s a postmortem, but it validates the appropriate seeding rate for that given soil type or management zone. We have no other way of doing that without SELECT.”

With 35 employees and acreage spread across three counties, Silent Shade is a leader in environmental sustainability. The company’s goals include producing high quality fiber and food commodities, as well as providing an ethical, sustainable business model, a safe working environment, excellent land stewardship practices and efficient use of inputs.

“AgStudio supports our sustainability initiative,” remarks Koger. “It drives our determination of inputs and has been an invaluable tool for our operation.”

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