Corn Meets Data: Modern Yield Improvement
Precision Farming in Northern Italy
In some parts of Mantova it feels like time has stood still. But to the observant viewer, progress is visible. Where? Surprise: in the countryside! In this gorgeous province in northern Italy, farming professionals are finding new ways to improve their yields.
Some 15 miles south of beautiful Lake Garda, in the village of Castel Goffredo, we meet Giuseppe Cavazzini. He is the owner of Cavazzini, a contract farming firm established in the late 1960s by his parents. “They were the first generation in our family to do this work. I’m the second and now the third generation is entering the business.”
Mantova is one of northern Italy’s most important areas for corn production. Cavazzini helps the region’s farmers to maximize their harvests. Use of the right technology is key, says Giuseppe Cavazzini. “In the 50 years that we’ve been working, we’ve always tried to adopt innovative technologies that were on the market so we could be at the cutting edge and offer increasingly efficient services to farmers.”
Cavazzini has a keen eye for the business side of farming. “We’ve always focused on profitability. My goal more than ever in recent years has been to help farms make a profit. The most recent choice our firm has made is to support precision farming, essentially linking our machines to satellites to make them smarter.”
To make the right choices, it helps to have the right data.
“Our machines are equipped with assisted steering systems. We decided to do this because the signal we had before – a simple signal – often made errors. Now, with the signal provided by the Topcon RTK steering system, we have an extremely precise signal and therefore a high level of reliability.”
This steering system was installed in tractors first to relieve operators of some of their work as well as a little stress. “Next,” says Cavazzini, “we added these types of systems to harvesting machines so we could see the quantity of product being produced in various parts of the field and try to improve field production.”
So, how does assisted steering work? “We start off with a georeferenced map. After that, we generate a yield map. Then, by overlaying the two maps, we can see the areas where we’ve produced more than before or less than before. Subsequently, these systems enable us to intervene and introduce variable density planting or fertilization using satellite fertilizer spreaders, so that we have more fertilizer where there’s less yield and less fertilizer where there’s more.”
The result is a smarter process. Cavazzini continues, “Where there’s less yield, it is also possible that the soil doesn’t have much potential, so we can decide to leave it for now and enrich the soil so it will have greater potential. These are choices you make. And to make the right choices, it helps to have the right data. That’s what these satellite systems give us.”
There are no more overlaps – because the same strip of land is no longer treated twice, we require less seed.
“We work with the X-TRAC, the X30 monitor, a 350 RTK system, and the YieldTrakk mapping system,” says Cavazzini. “Together, they enable us to obtain data which we overlay on existing data to identify differences in production between various plots of land. As far as yield mapping is concerned, we’re the pioneers here. We were the first in the area to have these kinds of systems working together.”
By working with these systems, Cavazzini saves more seed during planting. “There are no more overlaps – because the same strip of land is no longer treated twice, we require less seed. That is a tangible saving. There are also savings on fertilizer because it only goes where it’s needed.”
“Also, it allows slightly less qualified operators to work with us,” he continues. “The systems are easy to use. You don’t need special qualifications. Young people who are familiar with things like iPhones and iPod Touch pick it up in no time and can handle the technology.”
Cavazzini operator Luciano Viola prefers precision farming to the old way of working. “With the traditional method, you don’t know where you will have more corn growing, or less. You don’t know if the soil is good or not. But this way you know exactly what you’re producing. After I go around one time, I have a map of the field and know how much seed I’m still going to need.”
Asked which steers better, an operator or a system like this, Luciano laughs. “The RTK system stays on a straight line,” he says. “The computer takes care of that. If an operator starts to feel sleepy, he goes off course. You don’t run that risk with the system. It’s a much better way of planting.”