When Scouting Makes Dollars — and Sense

Angela Knuth - Knuth Farms - Mead, Nebraska

Angela Knuth, Knuth Farms, Mead, Nebraska

Angela Knuth started scouting fields soon after she married her farmer- husband, Kerry, and became an integral part of the family’s eastern Nebraska corn-and-soybean operation, Knuth Farms.

“Kerry and his dad were focused on equipment and getting the field work done in a timely manner,” says Knuth. “I saw the need to bring the agronomic aspects of farming into focus so I concentrated on that area. I also had some computer skills and wanted to use them.”

After exploring QuickBooks, early versions of FarmWorks and a few other software packages, she realized technology was limited in creating spatial analysis information and sharing it across the various components of a growing season.

“I was looking for ways to bring the different variables together — field applications and dates, weather, growth stage, diseases, insects and weeds — as georeferenced data,” she says. “I wanted to understand relationships, patterns and trends over time as well as compare data from year to year. But this was back in 2003 and you pretty much had to just use paper and a pencil.”

Since she was raising two little boys and didn’t have a lot of time to go to meetings, Knuth conducted most of her research online. MapShots software sounded robust and exciting, so she purchased it and taught herself how to use it.

“We began using MapShots software to store all of our harvest information but evolved into using it to manage our field operations,” explains Knuth. “Now, when we go out to plant, spray or harvest the fields, I download the information from the tractor, sprayer or combine to my MapShots database. I also utilize the user analysis tools.”

Scouting for Problems

As far as scouting, Knuth particularly likes the GIS capability of the MapShots AgStudio FARM platform. The software allows georeferenced note-taking for mapping weed, disease and insect pressure in the field and access to as-applied variable rate seeding (VRS), variable rate application (VRA), and variable rate irrigation (VRI) data for ground proofing.

“AgStudio allows us to see what we did in those particular spots,” she adds. “We can answer questions like: Why is this field under-producing? Did we actually apply fertilizer heavier there or did something else happen?”

For example, Knuth noticed that yields in a particular 25-acre area of a soybean field “just tanked” last year. “We took our spray map and layered it over our yield map,” she continues. “By using AgStudio’s in-field application maps, we could see there was a definite line where the rate changed in our pre-emergence spray. It correlated to the line on the yield map where yields drop.”

That rate change affected the Knuth’s beans to the point where their first five nodes were gone in that particular field. “Nature is definitely not a straight line, so we knew it was a man-made problem,” she notes. ” A chemical we hadn’t previously used in our pre-emerge program was negatively affecting growth development. We never would have seen that issue without a yield map.”

Making Prescriptions in AgStudio

This year, Knuth plans to make the farm’s variable-rate prescriptions for seeding in AgStudio. In addition, she will build the farm’s plans for spraying applications in AgStudio, including products, rates, tank mixes and all other variables during the growing season.

“It will all be in AgStudio — then we’ll just upload it to our sprayer,” she notes. “We build the scripts ourselves, but we always consult with the suppliers. And we have an agronomy consultant we sit down with before the season to discuss our chemical and fertilizer program. He then comes around every two to three weeks during the season to help assess plant health and address any weed escape or disease issues.”

Knuth plans to use AgStudio SELECT this year so she can view database information from her iPad while in the field. After using the software for so many years, Knuth has confidence in MapShots. “They are the repository for our farm’s information, and we trust them to safeguard it and to use it as our data agreement outlines,” she adds.

From her early days on the family farm, Knuth has found her niche and developed into a precision agriculture specialist for the operation.

“I love the challenge of farming,” says Knuth. “It reminds me a lot of playing sports when growing up. I loved the competitiveness of games and working hard for that winning season. But I always kept mental notes of what I needed to improve in the off season, when you developed your skills and improved your game.

“Farming is a lot like that. You can have a great year and be a champion or you can really stink. But then you always have the off season to get better. Every year is a new year.”