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Field Notes: A versatile solution for a variety of fields

After being tested through 14 on-farm research trials during the 2019-2021 growing seasons, Sentinel’s trademarked N-Time™ Fertigation Management System was made commercially available for the first time in 2022. Our flagship fertigation scheduling solution is currently being utilized on dozens of farming operations across Nebraska and Kansas. In this three-part series called Field Notes, we’ll examine how N-Time™ is currently helping producers manage confidently and profit sustainably.

In our first entry, we’ll explore how Sentinel’s versatile system is being implemented on farming operations of diverse topography, varying sizes, multiple soil types and differing levels of existing operational technology.

Our N-Time™ Fertigation Management System, which uses data and imagery to deliver fertigation scheduling recommendations, is currently being used on just under 8,000 acres spread across 69 fields in Nebraska and northern Kansas. We service farming operations with more than 1,000 acres enrolled in our program and some with as few as 60 acres.

And not a single field in the Sentinel footprint — or even an acre for that matter — is the exact same.

We service terraced fields on hilly terrain in southeast Nebraska and northern Kansas where soils are heavier and typically contain more organic matter. We're used in fields in central Nebraska with varied soil types covering a mix of flatlands and rolling hills. In western Nebraska stretching toward the Colorado border, we service farmland covering variable terrain that receives significantly less average annual rainfall than farms farther east. And in northeastern Nebraska, we’re used on fields with rolling topography and elevation changes that cause high in-field variability.

“Really, every farm is unique,” said Jackson Stansell, Sentinel Fertigation’s founder & CEO.

A map of Nebraska and Kansas with icons spread out showing where Sentinel Fertigation is being used by farming operations.
Sentinels N-Time™ FMS is being utilized on nearly 70 fields across Nebraska and Kansas during the 2022 growing season. All of the acres are commercial corn, but Sentinel is being tested in several soybean plots this year as well.

We account for variability from field to field and even within a single field by establishing "indicator blocks" in the field before the growing season. These blocks are paired plots, one of which is nitrogen poor and the other nitrogen rich. The indicator blocks are placed based on the spatial variability in the field, with elevation, slope, electrical conductivity, soil surveys, yield data and more all being added into the equation.

Over the last few years, Sentinel has largely automated the process of establishing indicator blocks. What used to take hours now takes a matter of minutes — as long as we have a few pieces of key information provided by the producer.

The indicator blocks are used to calibrate our N-Time™ FMS, which delivers fertigation scheduling recommendations to farmers when they're needed throughout the growing season.

“By looking at how the corn is doing with more nitrogen, less nitrogen and with the current amount of nitrogen it has, our algorithm can quantify the status of the crop in regard to nitrogen and form a predictive outlook on where that crop will be in terms of nitrogen status heading into the next week,” Jackson said.

Unlike some other precision ag technologies, our N-Time™ system focuses on when to apply nitrogen instead of how much to apply.

“Our timing can really shine on those flat, uniform fields as well as variable fields where different parts of the crop might need nitrogen at different times,” - Jackson Stansell, Sentinel's Founder & CEO

That allows us to deliver superb results on different field types.

“Our timing can really shine on those flat, uniform fields as well as variable fields where different parts of the crop might need nitrogen at different times,” Jackson said.

Not only is our N-Time™ FMS versatile enough to be implemented in various field types, but it can also be adapted to the existing technology on a farming operation – whether it’s high-tech, low-tech or somewhere in between.

“As long as somebody has an irrigation system and a constant rate fertigation pump, which anybody who is fertigating would already have, then we can apply our solution and still generate overall nitrogen use efficiency benefits,” Jackson said. “We can integrate into any sort of technology you have on your farm.”

That prevents our producers from having to make costly infrastructure purchases to use our system. Our N-Time™ solution has been implemented on farms with decades old, standard center pivots with little to no modern technology. On the opposite end of the spectrum, our system is also designed to be integrated to work with center pivots with remote pivot monitoring and variable rate fertigation pumps.

"We can integrate into any sort of technology you have on your farm." - Jackson Stansell, Sentinel's Founder & CEO

To request a demo to see how Sentinel's N-Time™ FMS can be implemented in your operation, click here.

Sentinel was able to scale up our technology more than 10 times this growing season largely due to our transition from using imagery captured by UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) to imagery provided via satellite. We’ll talk more about how we use satellite imagery to provide fertigation scheduling recommendations in the next installment in the Field Notes blog series.

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