Management zone maps of little use to corn growers, study finds

Nicolas Martin standing in front of a stand of corn
Nicolas Martin

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A multiyear analysis tested whether management zone maps based on soil conditions, topography or other landscape features can reliably predict which parts of a cornfield will respond best to higher rates of seeding or nitrogen application. The study found that – contrary to common assumptions – crop-plot responses to the same inputs vary significantly from year to year. The most unpredictable factor – the weather – seemed to have the biggest impact on how the crops responded to these inputs.

The new findings are reported in the Agronomy Journal. 

Management zone mapping grew out of a surge in interest in digital agriculture – the use of new data-gathering and analysis technologies to better understand the interplay of factors that contribute to crop yields, said University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign crop sciences professor Nicolas Martin, who conducted the analysis with former U. of I. postdoctoral researcher Carlos Agustin Alesso. Such approaches use field-based sensors, satellite data and other digital tools to track how crops respond to local conditions, fertilizer, seed rates and other inputs. The goal is to minimize wasteful or destructive practices while maximizing yield, Martin said. 

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