Winfield Solutions, the seed and crop protection products arm of Land O’Lakes, introduces a new Web-based precision planning tool that allows farmers to get a start in variable-rate seeding and fertility programs.

The R7 Tool uses satellite imagery as a stand-in for actual yield and soil test data. Working with retailer agronomists, farmers used the tool to develop crop plans on millions of acres scheduled for planting in 2012.

“This is an easy, low-cost way for farmers to see if precision ag makes a difference in their fields,” says Todd Peterson, precision farming information lead for Winfield. “The success has been extraordinary.”

The R7 Tool does not replace sophisticated precision ag software, Peterson says. Instead, it is a tool for farmers without extensive yield and grid soil sampling records to use to get started in precision ag. It also improves Winfield’s ability to convey information about crop genetics it gathers from its 200 Answer Plot locations across the U.S.

An R7 Tool planning session first identifies a field in Google Earth. This initiates a search of 20 years of satellite imagery to retrieve a preplant bare soil image, a USDA soil survey map, plus four crop images from two recent wet and dry years. In the Corn Belt, crop images typically are from August, when the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which measures biomass, is at its maximum and is highly correlated with yield, Peterson says.

Simultaneously, R7 Tool software crunches data from the bare soil and maximum NDVI images to create a composite that identifies management zones. The management zone map then can be used to build variable-rate seeding and fertilizer prescriptions.

A second part of the R7 Tool links to performance data on hybrids and varieties available from Winfield, as well as competitive seed choices. Search options include top performers by location and soil type. The tool also links to in-season photos to help agronomists and farmers visually assess performance.

“Part of the challenge with precision agriculture is to use genetic differences to optimize a farming operation,” Peterson says. “Being able to easily access crop genetics information helps make that possible.”

Farmers in a variety of situations have found the R7 Tool useful. These include farmers with new ground without field histories, silage producers without grain yield records and crop producers who can’t justify grid soil sampling.

Use of the R7 Tool to establish management zones and identify top-performing genetics is free. Retailers charge to develop variable-rate planting and fertilizer prescriptions. Rates are set by individual retailers. More information is available from participating retailers.