Farmer Iron

A Different Look at Drought

We have more data available to us than we did in the drought of 1988, what lessons will we really learn this winter?

The 2012 Drought is so top-of-mind for everyone that a wide range of thoughts and ideas keep surfacing as we work our way through this disaster. Whether you're worried about crop insurance payments or what nitrate levels you have in corn you're going to chop, there's plenty to think about. But as combining begins in the Midwest - heck it's fired - we have something else to think about.

Back in the 1988 drought we didn't have yield monitors, grid soil sampling or other data gathering tools. This time we do and boy can we learn something. Even if you have a "failed" crop you plan to harvest, spend the time to calibrate that yield monitor. You want this data layer to be as accurate as possible because chances are you'll still learn plenty about your farm.

Remember a yield map doesn't just measure "yield" it looks at yield variability across a field. When you remove an input - water - you learn about impacts. Were tiled areas better in drought than other areas? How did specific varieties perform? Or as my friend and colleague Tom Bechman points out, just what's going on in your field micro-climate?

Making sure the data you're about to collect is as accurate as you can make it will allow you better understand fields under stress with historic information that could have value in the future. With new traits and technologies coming to the market, you'll want more information about how best to deploy them. This year's yield maps should tell a fascinating story.

So as you check over the combine - or as you read this from the combine seat - keep on calibrating as much as possible. Make that yield data as clear as possible, then sit down with your agronomist. You have pinpoint information to help you determine nutrient removal for a field, you have more information about potential changes to variable rate application maps and you can better understand how your fields really perform under stress.

We've come a long way in 24 years - though it probably doesn't feel like it to those of you who were farming back then. Crops are better built to tolerate stress, but we're still seeing tremendous losses. Understand those losses and how they may impact your fields.

You can share your comments and yield mapping experiences below if you get a chance. And check out to keep up on the 2012 drought.

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