Modeling Yield Success

Crop simulation models are computerized tools that integrate agronomic knowledge and can be used to answer questions farmers have about their field: How much water is in the ground? Does the field have enough nitrogen? What are yields going to look like? Crop modeling systems can help farmers predict those answers.

A new, web-based modeling tool developed by Iowa State University agronomists provides real-time information on weather, water, nitrogen, crops and staging. Sotirios Archontoulis, assistant professor, and Mark Licht, assistant professor and extension cropping systems agronomist, in collaboration with other faculty and staff, created the Forecast and Assessment of Cropping sysTemS (FACTS) web platform to assist growers with management decisions.

“The ability of the models to address practical problems is growing rapidly,” says Archontoulis. “The next challenge to model application across different regions and cropping systems is to determine their prediction accuracy and improve the science behind the models.”

Licht says while modeling is widely available and has been reliably tested by both private companies and research institutions like Iowa State, the use of models is just now gaining traction among farmers, like Rod Pierce of Boone County.

“Crop modeling helps me monitor soil water availability and nitrates in the soil to determine the amount and depth of the nitrates. It also shows when the nitrogen
is taken up and at what rate per day. This helps me plan my nitrogen applications as close to the plant needs as possible to limit losses,” Pierce says. “The yield prediction model through FACTS is a big help in determining how many bushels I have to sell during the April through June time period. This strategy has allowed me to lock in some of the higher prices for the year. This amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra crop revenue.”

Researchers are getting closer to being able to implement specific field management changes during the season thanks
to information provided by crop models. Monitoring and controlling the application of nitrogen onto the field can help control
the amount of nutrients lost from those fields.

“We have an idea of how much nitrogen a plant has taken up, how much the soil has mineralized and how much is still available,” says Licht. “We can get out into the field with additional side dress applications if we think we are going to be short on nitrogen. We are on the cusp of getting
to that point of in-season adaptive management. The same thing can also be done with water management.”