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Record Keeping for Crop and Field


Careful planning is critical to maximizing yields in modern agriculture.

A farmer checks his records on his laptop computer while seated in the cab of his tractor.Number crunching and paperwork typically aren't growers' favorite chores, but meticulous record keeping and setting measurable, achievable goals is critical for success in a large farming operation.

With detailed records that track production history for a field—including data on weather, pest problems, past yields and rotational crops—agronomists can make more precise recommendations for growers to help them meet their yield goals. As agribusiness becomes more data-driven, good records also aid in creating a sound nutrient management plan.

Higher Productivity

As the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. If they haven't already, growers should aim to develop a systematic method of recording and tracking field data. Some farmers develop their own systems, and land-grant universities and private companies also offer a variety of software to assist in field record keeping.

Regardless of the method you select, it's important to be disciplined. The better your records are, the more likely your agronomist will be able to provide the best recommendations. Not only should your records be detailed, they should also be accessible—make sure you have an organizational system that allows you to look back and find the information you need.

So what kinds of things should you track? At a minimum, for each field, you should be able to identify:

  • Crops grown
  • Tillage system used
  • Irrigation records
  • Fertilizer applications
  • Aglime applications
  • Past planting times
  • Historical weather patterns
  • Past pest problems: weeds, disease and insects
  • Yield and quality data

Nutrient Management Planning

Careful record keeping is also an important part of developing a nutrient management plan. Building soil fertility and structure is a significant capital investment, especially with the high costs of fertilizer and other nutrients. It only stands to reason you would want good data to assist in making better application decisions.

A sound nutrient management plan not only reduces environmental risk, but it also helps you maximize your investment by avoiding waste and maximizing yields. In each field, yields can potentially increase with the addition of nutrients until reaching a yield plateau. That plateau is the yield goal for that given crop in that given field. Unfavorable weather, poor management and lack of nutrients are the major limiting factors to reaching that goal.

It all starts with a field map and soil tests to set a baseline for current conditions. From there, at a minimum, growers should be able to track the following:

  • Production history: past yields in the field for different crops
  • Soil productivity
  • Management level: Better management can increase the yield to limitation factors outside of your control, such as weather.
  • Yield limitations: This includes climate, varieties grown and pest conditions.

Use crop nutrient requirements, rotational history and soil tests to determine crop nutrient needs. You can find more information about a particular crop's nutrient requirements and uptake patterns by consulting with Extension resources or agronomists.

Crop rotation is one of the most important factors to consider. Growers should aim to provide nutrients for a field based on the rotation, rather than focusing on the individual crops. For example, if a crop follows a legume such as soybean, then the nitrogen needs of the crop following the legume may be reduced. Conversely, if a crop follows a small grain, then nitrogen needs may be increased.

For more information on setting up a field record keeping system or a nutrient management plan, consult with your local Southern States agronomist or local Extension resources.


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