Kim Ellington is an old hand at using computers and satellite technology in his farming operation.
Now, the Chicot County, AR, farmer is working with the University of Arkansas to find new ways to tap into precision agriculture.
Ellington enrolled a 72.5 acre field in the Soybean Research Verification Program (SRVP), an on-farm project run by the U of A Cooperative Extension Service. His is one of several fields where scientists are studying precision ag, with funding from the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and the United Soybean Board.
Ellington's field is certainly the most unique of the verification fields. "It goes from a Herbert silt loam to a concrete-clay mixture to Perry Clay," said the farmer.
The concrete-clay mixture, which he calls "Portland clay," is a remnant of World War II. The field, which is near Jerome, was once part of a relocation camp for Japanese-Americans. The field also has gravel from what was once a parking lot and a smokestack that was part of the camp's physical plant.
Ellington said, "The guy who bought the land from the government after the war moved the buildings out and left the concrete slabs. In the late 1970s, my uncle got a bulldozer, dug a hole an pushed in the slabs."
Ellington and the Extension team began their precision ag project in 1997. Dwayne Beaty, an Extension agronomist and area SRVP coordinator, said, "We took soil samples on a 2.5-acre grid. We also looked at plant populations, measured soil moisture and collected tissue samples and nematode samples on the grid. At harvest, we recorded plant heights on the grid."
Beaty said, "Ellington is ahead of the game in precision ag. He uses the data and does his own maps."
Ellington said, "The main thing I do with grid sampling is fertilizing. I have a hand-held computer that generates a map. I don't have a variable rate controller on my fertilizer buggy, but with the map and GPS on the tractor, I can set the rate and put out fertilizer where it is needed.
"We use the 2.5-acre grid on the research verification field, but I usually use a five-acre grid. I do grid sampling across my entire farm."
He said his precision ag equipment has saved enough on fertilizer to pay for itself.
Ellington has been using a yield monitor on his combine since 1996. While he harvests, he also marks the location of "certain weeds that tend to be in the same part of the field year after year. I make a map. Then, when I plant that crop again, I use the map and only spray that part of the field."
He said the SRVP team keeps him informed about what other farmers are doing. Like border irrigation. In 2000, Ellington's precision ag verification field was border irrigated using polypipe and closable gates. The U of A's irrigation scheduling computer program was also used.
Chicot County Extension Agent Carl Hayden said the Soybean Research Verification Program is a proving ground for precision ag practices.
"Right now," noted Hayden, "we are evaluating whether farmers should be putting their resources into precision ag work, such as grid sampling and yield monitoring. Or should they be putting their money into something else?
"I think precision ag has its place, but it is not for every farmer right now," he said.