Wise investing requires careful planning – how quickly will the benefits outweigh the initial costs? In the process of raising a crop, in-season analytical tools such as drones, sensors, software and analytics have a lot to offer in terms of agronomic and operational insights, but when can crop managers expect to see a return on investment (ROI)?

From maintaining plant health to the best strategies for battling weeds or other pests, growers face difficult decisions at every turn – decisions that have the potential to make or break a season. With Sentera solutions and analytics, growers and their advisors can effectively manage inputs, predict yields and maximize profit per acre, turning an investment in technology into a powerful and profitable tool.

Measuring Crop Health for Better Management Decisions

Many variables affect plant health and, by the season’s end, can have an impact on yield and profitability.

Two measures of overall crop health that can guide these decisions include Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Normalized Difference Red Edge (NDRE). While each measure offers something a little different, both are important indictors of plant health. (Learn more about the difference between NDVI and NDRE here.)

NDVI and NDRE analytics enable users to identify plant health issues, even before those issues are visible to the naked eye and can reveal if action is required to curb yield-robbing issues. NDVI and NDRE can:

  • Identify areas of potential water stress or weather-induced issues, such as lodging or green snap
  • Assess available nitrogen status
  • Pinpoint areas of potential pest or disease pressures

NDVI/NDRE can also validate the effectiveness of previous treatments to support in-season decision-making.

The $30-per-acre cost of most fungicides can be challenging to justify – but not using fungicides to treat severe disease is costly, as well. Ryan Hutchinson, integrated solutions manager at South Country Equipment in Saskatchewan, Canada, said Sentera NDVI/NDRE imagery, delivered via its FieldAgent® software platform, allowed him to prescribe a targeted approach to fungicide application.

“Sentera’s products enable whole field data collection services that include NDVI crop health and problem resolution imagery,” Hutchinson said. “One grower estimated that he saved 35-40% on fungicide application by using imagery to identify drought-affected areas that weren’t pressured by disease.”

Informing Replant Decisions with Data

Deciding to replant, or not, can be a costly decision. Non-uniform corn emergence can reduce yield potential by as much as 10%, impacting an entire season of profits. Profits can be negatively impacted  by an excess of $50 per acre for moderate stand conditions and more than $100 per acre for very weak stand conditions.

Stand counts are the first indication of yield potential and help inform replant decisions. Capturing stand count data allows growers and their advisors to obtain whole-field, acre-by-acre data to help them make holistic replant decisions.

But does investing in this technology or service to gather stand count data provide an adequate ROI? Colby Woods, founder and owner of Woods Ag Services in Elkhorn, Nebraska, said Sentera technologies helped him differentiate his business and provide valuable advice to his customers.

“Sentera has elevated my customers’ perception of Woods Ag Services, Channel Seed and Climate,” Woods said.

Woods also said Sentera’s solution helped a farmer decide to replant – and the replanted corn performed better than previously planted corn.

“Last year, our area experienced a lot of flooding and a hail event,” Woods said. “We flew to get stand count data, which helped us capture areas of poor stand. The farmer made the decision to replant part of the field, and the replanted corn performed 8-10 bushels per acre better than the previously planted corn, providing a return of $70-80 more per acre than if the farmer would have done nothing.”

Applying Herbicides with Precision

Weeds rob plants of much-needed water and nutrients, hinder crop health and decrease yield potential, causing upward of 52% yield loss in corn and 49% yield loss in soybeans, if left unmanaged.

Identifying weed location through ground truthing alone is difficult and time consuming. Flying to map weed density, however, is quicker and more accurate. Growers can implement better-informed weed management plans, using data and imagery to pinpoint where weeds are present. From this data, growers can utilize variable rate spraying to save on herbicide costs through targeted application – and avoiding potential yield loss due to weed pressure.

Woods said Sentera technologies prove valuable in helping advisors and crop managers pinpoint weeds before they impact yield and profit.

“Sentera helped us prioritize what fields needed to be sprayed and when,” Woods said. “The impact of weed pressure can cause some farmers to lose nearly eight bushels per acre, which is about a $60 per acre profit loss. By prioritizing fields, we were able to catch weed problems before they negatively impacted yield and profits.”

Estimating Accurate Yields for a Crop Marketing Edge

Growers who take advantage of pre-buy scenarios need to have accurate late-season yield estimation data. Estimating yields manually is challenging and can lead to inaccurate numbers for marketing purposes.

FieldAgent tassel count analytics from Sentera support critical management decisions, including fungicide application or determining underperforming areas in a field. In addition, tassel count and late-season stand data combined with manual ear samples is a recipe for gathering accurate and reliable information to better forecast crop yields prior to harvest.

“We’re enabling agronomists and other dealer-partners to provide growers with data for a more accurate harvest prediction – with 100% coverage of their field,” said Brian Grundtner, director of product management at Sentera. “This allows our clients to provide their growers with vital information, giving them more confidence in selling their grain and about what they have in the field.”

Assess Weather Damage to Submit Claims

It’s difficult to quantify the extent of storm damage with a boots-on-the-ground approach. And when it comes to submitting insurance claims, growers could be missing out on much-needed coverage if crop damage isn’t captured accurately.

Post-storm flights help determine the extent of crop damage, such as green snap, and manage the insurance claim process. Users gain a holistic view of damage to improve insurance compensation accuracy. In addition, with better knowledge and data, growers can make informed decisions to get the most out of a damaged crop.

“Farmers can share with insurance agents the data we gather using Sentera technology,” Woods said. “When insurance agents walk a field, that might not provide a full picture – but the maps FieldAgent  provides make it easy to see the impact of weather events.”

Justifying ROI from Multiple Perspectives

As growers and their advisors consider various Sentera solutions, there are many indices and analytics that can improve profitability, including NDVI/NDRE, weed management, stand count, tassel count and weather maps.

“Our technologies help users gain deeper, more intelligent insights to help them be more successful,” said John Hudson, Sentera’s chief operating officer. “They utilize time and resources more efficiently with tangible benefits exceeding the cost of the investment.”