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Imagery Program Update: Wheat

How to make the most of a precision ag imagery program in wheat

For wheat growers using precision ag solutions to maximize profits, a good imagery program helps to create a road map to future success, says David Swain, Manager of Precision Agriculture at Southern States Cooperative. "Throughout the season, imagery gives us an opportunity to really see what's happening in the field and identify limiting factors."

Southern States offers both satellite imagery and aerial imagery from airplanes. Here's a look at how they are benefiting wheat growers.

Imagery Options

While satellite imagery has limitations on timing and resolution, it does provide wheat growers with a broad look at a field's production trends at a relatively low cost. It helps growers get a better handle on the history of what the field can do and manage the crop beyond soil sampling alone.

Comparatively, aerial imagery from an airplane offers a much higher resolution, allowing growers to see detail down to a quarter meter. "This gives us a little more definition and detail on what the crop is doing," says Swain. "In some cases, this may not fit the farmer's operation, but in some places more detail is needed."

For a wheat crop, this level of detail can play a big role - especially through tillering, Feekes' 3. "Now you have a road map for your nitrogen applications. We can look at bringing weak areas up. And even in good areas, we can look at bringing them up even higher."

Swain adds that aerial imagery can also help growers make a plan for heading and flowering to protect areas of the field where it makes economic sense. "In some cases, we don't have an opportunity to increase the yield in certain areas but we do have an opportunity to preserve what's there. So it may make sense to look at fungicide applications and preventives so we don't run into diseases that are going to kill the crop."


Swain says that every operation is different, but for some wheat growers a combination of satellite and aerial imagery might be best. In this case, a grower would run aerial imagery at tillering at a quarter-meter resolution. In the spring, two to three weeks after nitrogen application, the grower would look at a satellite image to identify stressed areas of the field and see if another aerial image with more detail is needed.

"It all depends on the operation, but you combine imagery with soil testing and scouting to see why problems might be there," he adds. "We're finding that with imagery we are identifying places that scouts may have ordinarily missed, but we're also finding opportunities that you wouldn't see with the naked eye."

Map to Success

When it comes down to it, no matter the method, imagery is a road map, says Swain. "It's a road map for a salesman, a scout, a consultant or whoever it is working for the customer. It's a guide for them to go out and know where to look for problems and look for opportunities to strengthen the crop."

For more information on how Southern States imagery programs can help you get the most out of your wheat crop, talk with your local agronomist.

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