, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 47-61

Interdisciplinary Irrigated Precision Farming Research

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The USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Colorado State University are conducting an interdisciplinary study that focuses on developing a clearer scientific understanding of the causes of yield variability. Two years of data have been collected from two commercial center pivot irrigated fields (72 and 52 ha). Cooperating farmers manage all farming operations for crop production and provide yield maps of the maize grown on the fields. The farmers apply sufficient inputs to minimize risk of yield loss. The important variables for crop production have been sampled at a grid spacing of 76 m for two seasons. A spatial auto-regressive model was fitted to the data to determine the critical factors affecting yield variability. Thirty one layers of data were included in the analysis, and a total of over 140,000 models were examined. Up to five predictors were used in each model. Variability in water application, nitrate nitrogen, organic matter, phosphorus, topology, percent silt and soil electrical conductivity were significant in explaining the yield variability for Field 1. Variability in water application, ammonium, nematodes, percent clay, insects, potassium, soil electrical conductivity, and topology were significant in explaining the yield variability for Field 2. The tentative conclusion is that the potential economic benefit of site specific management is small where the farmer's management tolerance for risk is low. The potential of site specific management is in reducing the cost of inputs and environmental impact, but could increase risk.