The phrase “precision agriculture” often brings with it the image of a corn, soybean or wheat field, and tools to enhance productivity and profit. Yet in this country, there are more than 450 million acres of pasture and rangeland. What would happen if precision ag-like technology was turned in the direction of all that open ground?
That’s the question answered by LandVisor, a new tool launched recently by Corteva Agriscience. “If not the first, this is one of the first precision tools that pulls together sophisticated imagery and our tech expertise, and provides ranchers a solution on rangeland for very tough-to-control brush species,” says Damon Palmer, pasture and land management business leader, Corteva Agriscience.
Palmer explains that out of the chute, the new tool will focus on mesquite management starting in the Southwest, but there are plans to expand the service to more regions by 2021. And, he adds, this can be a global service. “We are looking for opportunities to expand globally,” he says. “There are needs in other parts of the world. We view this as the tip of the iceberg. This is the start for managing broader grazing lands and increasing pasture productivity.”
Putting the system into use
Charles Hart, market development specialist, Corteva, explains how the service works, noting that it starts with imagery. “We can use aerial imagery, satellite images and images of different resolutions,” he says. “This is precision ag for ranchers. In the case of the ranch and pasture, you’re not talking about things like variable-rate application like you do with fertilizer. There are other factors.”
With the mesquite program, the first step is to determine where the mesquite is on the property, and then determine the most beneficial place to control. Then the producer wants to determine the proper timing of the application. “We know that mesquite control is specific on timing, condition of the plant and environmental conditions.”
The aim is to combine that information into a single decision by providing the information needed at the right time. Palmer adds that Corteva has a long history of pasture and range management products to keep unwanted plants out of grazing areas.
Hart adds that the process involves building a geographic information system for the ranch, which is more than aerial imagery. “There is personal support with individualized consultation out on the ranch that can help us validate where the mesquite is,” he says.
With that information and the aerial imagery, the consultant and rancher can decide on treatment options. “We can see some things through the [aerial] imagery, and make evaluations from that imagery,” Hart explains.
The challenge with mesquite control is timing — when to hit that plant for the best impact of crop protection products to control the woody weed. And Hart adds that for some ranchers, the aim of mesquite control is targeted. “Some want to keep mesquite for shade or other purposes on pasture, but control it in other areas. With this system, we can help manage that,” he explains.
For mesquite control, knowing the vegetative health of the plant — with fully developed leaves dark green in color combined with the right environmental conditions — can be critical to success. “We look at the vigor of the plant, the photosynthesis of the plant from a satellite image,” Hart says.
Adds Palmer: “One interesting thing about mesquite is that it tends to reset, and you want the mesquite controlled at the right condition. Without LandVisor, the rancher or the Corteva adviser has to go out to those pastures four and five times to figure out the optimal time to spray. And with some pastures, you’re talking hundreds or thousands of acres. That’s a really nice aspect of this service.”
Pasture management is easier when you can see all the land from aerial images to make decisions about when and where to treat.
Hart explains that when a farmer signs up for the program and the treatment area is defined, “we go and start monitoring March 1; even if they don’t sign up until May or June, we start monitoring from June 1. We watch the mesquite grow from bud break. We continue to monitor all the way through post-treatment application.”
How it will work
Palmer explains that as the system comes online, Corteva will develop a network of certified LandVisor consultants. These certified consultants will visit with the rancher to discuss land management needs. He adds that this service will work with a range of operations, from the manager running cattle on the ground to the landowner managing the land for wildlife habitat.
“With the LandVisor tool, you can do some scenario planning. We can run some simulations that show where a higher return on investment will be for the grass release,” he says. “We can help determine where you’ll see the best return for the pasture through mesquite control.”
Hart explains that in trials of the service, ranch managers have been impressed with the level of management provided. As the service branches into other species to control, producers will see greater value. The program will start in the Southwest and branch out from there, including addition of more species to monitor. Learn more at rangeandpasture.com, or talk with your Corteva representative about LandVisor.