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How to Create and Use Zone Maps to Make Better Fertigation Management Decisions

Fertigation, a revolutionary agricultural practice, involves precisely applying fertilizers through irrigation systems. When coupled with the invaluable insights provided by zone maps, this dynamic duo can be a game-changer for modern agriculture, offering farmers a way to optimize resource use, reduce environmental impact, and boost crop yields.

Zone Maps in Fertigation

So, what exactly are zone maps, and how do they work in the context of fertigation?

Zone maps provide a detailed, spatial breakdown of a field's characteristics, such as yield, soil properties, and environmental factors. These maps draw from data like yields, soil electrical conductivity (EC), elevation, slope, and soil organic matter (OM).

To effectively apply fertigation at a zone level, precision equipment like variable rate pumps and Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) systems at the zone and nozzle levels are used. These tools enable farmers to respond to the unique needs of different zones within their fields.

How Do You Create Zone Maps for Fertigation?

To make a zone map, you’ll need to gather and analyze various data sources. And accurate data is essential.

The technology used for zone mapping is continuously evolving. For example, automation and machine learning are vital components of modern zone mapping. Automation streamlines data collection and processing, while machine learning empowers zoning algorithms. Unsupervised learning, where artificial intelligence tools “learn” directly from data, is often employed to create these maps.

Challenges and limitations can arise, particularly regarding data accuracy. However, effective data management and accurate record-keeping can help overcome these issues.

It is essential to have georeferenced data to create accurate zone maps. For example, soil sample data used to generate zone maps need to associate individual data points with the locations in the field where the samples were collected. Yield data needs to be collected spatially and saved digitally in addition to summary reports. The same goes for soil electrical conductivity. It is also important to note that relative values are more important than actual values to creating accurate zones. Zones generally do not predict actual yield well, but they do predict spatial trends in crop productivity well.

At Sentinel, we use pie-shaped sectors within fields to tailor fertigation recommendations to zone-specific crop needs.We are also developing zone control prescriptions, and are utilizing a management zoning tool that will use either imagery, uploaded data, or a combination of both to create zones to better manage fertigation applications.

How Zone Maps Can Optimize Fertigation

Zone maps are a powerful tool and can help uncover the nuances of farmers’ landscapes. By understanding the variability within a field, farmers can make more informed decisions about where and how to apply fertilizers. Some benefits of using zone maps within your fertigation management plan include:

1. Targeted fertilization: Zone maps identify zones where crops and soil are more or less likely to respond to nitrogen. This helps farmers tailor fertilization strategies to each zone, which optimizes nutrient delivery.

2. Resource efficiency and money savings: By using zone maps, farmers can apply fertilizers only where they are necessary. This helps reduce input costs and minimize waste.

3. Environmental impact reduction and sustainability: Precision fertigation guided by zone maps minimizes the risk of over-fertilization, which can lead to environmental contamination. This approach promotes soil health and long-term sustainability.

4. Real-time adjustments: Modern technology, like N-Time, allows for real-time adjustments based on zone-specific data. This is crucial for responsive, sustainable fertigation management. Real-time adjustments have the potential to further enhance yields and crop quality by precisely addressing crop needs when they require it the most.

The Bottom Line

Zone maps play a crucial role in optimizing fertigation management decisions. By harnessing the power of data-driven precision, farmers can enhance crop yields, save money, and reduce their environmental impact. By leveraging tools like N-Time and embracing the evolving technology in zone mapping, agriculture can continue to advance toward a more sustainable and productive future.

Reach out to our team at Sentinel if you have any questions or need additional information or help with fertigation zone mapping.

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