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SWAT MAPS – calling in the big guns

SWAT MAPS – calling in the big guns

By Andrew Joseph,

Speaking at the 2021 virtual Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase held November 16-18, Wes Anderson, PNG, Vice President of Agronomy with Croptimistic Technologies Inc. discussed how farmers can use precision ag technologies to play into Canada’s plan to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 30 percent in a mere eight years.

Calling it a sensitive topic, Anderson discussed the recent play by the Canadian Federal government—matching similar activities of other countries around the globe—to reduce nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in agriculture by 30 percent by the year 2030.

His presentation discussed just how Canada—ie the Canadian farmer—can get there, as well as some of the issues we as an industry must overcome.

He stated that both economical and practical solutions at the farm level are required to achieve what the government wants farmers to achieve. Although not stated, it was implied that it was up to the farmers and industry itself to discover how best to achieve the GHG emissions reduction.

Of primary concern to Canadian farmers—and farmers, in general—are the aforementioned N2O emissions, but also phosphate runoff; nitrate leaching into water sources; net soil carbon loss; and pesticide runoff causing contamination of lands and water sources that could negatively affect, well, everything from human to beast and crops.

Anderson explained that it is okay for the industry to be told that these are ag-related issues, just as it is okay for the government to recognize that the ag industry also possesses the technology to manage and solve these problems.

Anderson’s company— Croptimistic Technologies—is an international precision agriculture technology company founded in 2018 and based in Naicam, Saskatchewan. It produces a soil-type mapping software and hardware solution known as SWAT (Soil Water And Technology) MAPS.

These SWAT MAPS (different from the also-used precision ag term SWOT—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats—analysis) are high-definition zone maps of a field’s soil potential, and are, according to Anderson, the foundation of all variable-rate fertilizer and seed applications.

SWAT MAPS, said Anderson, allow service providers and growers to better understand the variabilities of a single field up to the bigger-picture of all arable land to realize how to optimize crop inputs and, thus, profitability.

He correctly pointed out that all agricultural landscapes are variable—even within the same field, with some areas being wetter while others spots literally bone dry.

Issues with texture, quality and organic matter—must be taken into account, as it all affects how crops respond to fertilizers or how it can release nitrogen and phosphorous into the atmosphere.  

Emissions will occur if there is too much water in a field, and one prone to saturation is worse.

The key to planning how to tackle these issues, he said, is to map it using SWAT MAPS. Map it, measure it, and manage it—it doesn’t get much more simple than that, explained Anderson.

He explained that once armed with the variable soil mapping, farmers can then plot an appropriate plan of action, such as applying different rates of fertilizer to the differing parts of the field.

Or, he said, farmers could apply two different nitrogen sources—one that works well in dryer conditions and another that performs best in wet, scaling up or down in rates as required to ensure optimal crop yield and minimal GHG emissions release.

He also noted that farmers could also attempt to vary the rate of seed or inject a nitrogen stabilizer in the wettest parts of a field to focus a product where it can do the most good and the least harm.

Yield loss from too much water in the soil could be eliminated by establishing a cover crop that could not only help increase yield but also help sequester carbon emission.

Other solutions mentioned by Anderson include variable-rate herbicides—a soil-based prescription, as well as the same for herbicides.

His point being that once you know what the issues are, there are many different ways in which the problem can be tackled that can increase yield and your financial state of mind.   

Although SWAT MAPS produce the current level of soil health, Anderson noted that nitrogen levels not only change during a growing season but can vary widely on an annual basis—just things to keep in mind.

Listen to the sonorous voice of Anderson in the video below for his full presentation:

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