Farming 101: How Farmers Use GPS and VRT Technology To Plant Efficiently

As the weather continues to warm up and spring arrives, farmers all across the nation will begin to plant their 2014 crops.  Have you ever wondered how a planter works?  While the basic mechanics of a planter are relatively simple, the increased use of modern computer controls help make planters themselves more precise every year.

cropped-2012-04-17_18-51-16_2071.jpg

Through the use of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and VRT (Variable Rate Technology) farmers are able to plant seeds in more precise ways than ever before.  Today, farmers can program their planters to plant precisely the correct amount of seed in specific parts of their fields as determined by factors such as changing soil types, changing elevations, as well as past yield history from a specific field

So how does precision planting work?

For the purposes of this post, I will use one of our fields called “Home Place East” (HPE) and use the last few years of Yield Mapping Data we collected as our main variable.  This field covers 160 acres.

To understand how this method of planting works, we first we need to understand what Yield Mapping is and how yield maps are created.  Yield Mapping is done in the fall as we harvest our crops.  Our combine has an integrated GPS computer system which senses the amount of grain coming into the combine as we are harvesting, references its current location in the field as well as other data, such as grain moisture, elevation and which Variety we are harvesting in that said location every few seconds.  As you may imagine, this creates a huge amount of data.  I have a short video on Yield Mapping on YouTube that can be viewed by clicking here.

After the field is completely harvested I then download the data from the combine and upload it into my laptop.  After uploading, the data is formed into a map similar to how a radar map looks, as shown below. 

The Yield Map for HPE for Corn Harvest 2013

The Yield Map for HPE for Corn Harvest 2013


These maps show the areas in the field where yields were higher (Greens) and where they were lower (Reds)

In order to make a quality planting plan for 2014, I incorporate data from Yield Maps like this one from multiple years.  In this case I will combine data from the years of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2103

Multiple Years of Yield Mapping Data

Multiple Years of Yield Mapping Data

These maps reflect the yield results from 2 years of drought as well as an high yielding year and an average year which will make a very nice representation of what the field is capable of producing.  From this point, I create a Composite Map which groups these four yield maps together and averages them into one map, shown below:

A Composite Yield Map of 2010-2013 Yields from HPE

A Composite Yield Map of 2010-2013 Yields from HPE

This map helps show the areas in the field that have consistently produced higher yields (Greens), areas that have had consistently lower yields (Reds) as well as everything in between (Yellows and Oranges)

Up until this point, we are simply viewing the data, but now we can apply this accurate data to our planting plans for 2014.

I set the maps up to have  15 statistical ranges, each with their own color in the above map.  For planting purposes I will assign a planting population for the 2014 soybean crop.  When planting soybeans off of maps like these, the best producing areas will receive less seeds per acre while the lower yielding areas will receive more seeds per acre.  Doing so helps to best utilize the soybean’s and plant’s potential without stressing either.  Here is an example:

Assigning Planting Populations based off of the composite map

Assigning Planting Populations based off of the composite map

The resulting map looks like this:

Resulting Planting Prescription Map for Soybean Planting 2014 on HPE

Resulting Planting Prescription Map for Soybean Planting 2014 on HPE

As you may notice in the summary below the map, the average planting rate is just over 129,000 seeds per acre with this map.  If we decided not to use this map, we would plant 145,000 seeds per acre on a flat rate across the entire farm.

So lets do some quick math:

145,000 seeds per acre * 160 acres = 23,200,000 Total Seeds Needed

129000 seeds per acre *160 acres = 20,640,000 Total Seeds Needed

This equates to a savings of around 2,560,000 Seeds, the equivalent of 18 bags of seed costing $55 each.

Total Cost Savings = $990 for this 160 acre field.

By using this map for planting, we not only place the correct amount of seeds precisely where they will yield the most in the field but we lower our needed amount of seeds and our input costs as well.


The map below shows our final planting prescription for 2014 Soybean Planting for this field.  I will take this map data and upload it into the planters computer rate controller and prep it for planting the field.

Screenshot 2014-04-10 09.30.22

This spring, as #plant14 rolls on, each of our fields will have a map like this uploaded into the planters controllers.  As I drive across the field with the planter, the planter will know where to place precise amount of seeds using VRT.  As I drive from a green to yellow area on this map, the planter will automatically increase the seeds population and decrease populations when driving from yellows to greens.

I hope this answers a few questions you may have had, but if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments or email me at boucherfarmsil@yahoo.com

I also highly encourage you to follow along as farmers from all across the world plant their crops by using the #plant14 hashtag on twitter.

Thank you and God Bless

Matt Boucher

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8 thoughts on “Farming 101: How Farmers Use GPS and VRT Technology To Plant Efficiently

  1. Now that things have gotten easier in agricultural sector bt the thing is, those technologies are too costy for rural farmers or small holder farmers to afford..

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    • I’ll have to respectfully disagree. Yes certain inputs are more expensive to purchase up front but they also usually come with a cost savings and or an increased ROI in the end. Meaning farmers are usually profitable on that investment. If they weren’t no one would buy that input

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  2. Pingback: Experience #plant14 via a #GoPro! | The Farmer's Story

  3. Pingback: Daily Essentials | 15 April 2014 | REALFOOD.ORG

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