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Published by koosterhuis
Interpreting Yield Maps - "I gotta yield map - now what?"
Interpreting Yield Maps - "I gotta yield map - now what?"

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Published by: koosterhuis on May 30, 2011
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Produced by Communications and Marketing, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009
Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion,age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University,and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Rick D. Rudd, Interim Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, VirginiaTech, Blacksburg; Alma C. Hobbs, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
publication 442-509
Interpreting Yield Maps – “I gotta yield map - now what?”
 Robert “Bobby” Grisso, Extension Engineer, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech Mark Alley, Professor, Crop & Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia TechSteven Phillips, Assistant Professor, Soil Science, Eastern Shore AREC, Virginia TechPhil McClellan, MapTech, Inc., Blacksburg, VA
Yield monitors are the rst step many producers takeinto the age of precision farming. While their cost isreasonable, the commitment of time and resourcesrequired to effectively use this technology is signicant.A yield monitor, combined with Global Positioning Sys
tem (GPS) technology, is simply an electronic tool thatcollects data on crop performance for a given year. Themonitor measures and records information such as cropmass, moisture, area covered, and location. Yield dataare automatically calculated from these variables.
Yield monitors come with various technical designs andfeatures; however, yield monitors alone do not generatemaps (see VCE Publication 442-502, Precision Farm
ing Tools: Yield Monitor). The goal for properly inter
preting yield data is to provide answers to the question;“how can I increase prots on this eld?” Yield datamust be combined with mapping software and posi
tional data to produce a colorful map showing varia
tions in grain yield and moisture.Some considerations to be made when purchasing yield-mapping software include: system specications, soft
ware installation and support, data handling, and mapgeneration quality. The software/data should be com
patible with newer versions or technologies as they aredeveloped. Yield maps of the same eld from differentmapping software companies can look very different.
 However, colorful maps are not knowledge.
If thesemaps are to be of any real value, data generated fromthem must be incorporated into the decision-making,analysis, and overall planning process of the farm opera
tion (see VCE Publication 442-500, Precision Farming:A Comprehensive Approach). The rst step in generat
ing and interpreting a useful yield map is deciding howthe map will be presented.
Presenting Yield Maps
The selection of yield ranges and color schemes to dis
play yield map data and accompanying legends greatlyinuences a map’s aesthetic appeal, quality, and utility.The three most critical aspects for proper presentationof crop yield data include:1. Data aggregation – the method used to group thedata into yield ranges2. Number of ranges – the appropriate number of dataintervals to display on the yield map3. Color scheme – the colors that best distinguish datawithin the yield rangesEach of these factors is explained in detail below:
Data aggregation
- The four main methods of dataaggregation include:1. Equal count - divides the data so each of the dataranges contains approximately the same number of points; however, the width of the ranges will usuallyvary2. Equal interval - ranges are evenly spaced, but thenumber of points in each range will vary3. Standard deviation – creates ranges above and belowthe overall mean in units equal to the standard devia
-tion of the entire data set and the additional ranges
are assigned until all of the data are included in theoutlining data range
24. Natural breaks - creates ranges based on naturalbreaks in the grouping of the yield data points.There are advantages and disadvantages to each of thesemethods. For example, equal count and standard devia
tion aggregation can exaggerate yield patterns whenlittle or no true variation exists. Equal interval aggrega
tion can greatly downplay variation if the yield rangesare not scaled properly, but it is far easier to interpretand compare maps with this method. Natural breaksmake good intuitive sense, but they are subjective andwill rarely be consistent from map to map. Most yield-mapping programs allow the user to select differentaggregation methods. Try several aggregation methodsand see if you have areas that stand out in one methodand not others, then ask why and review the data.
Number of ranges
- In general, choosing too few dataranges for the yields masks real variation while choos
ing too many ranges results in a map that is too busyfor a human observer to visually process. Use betweenfour to ten ranges, with ve being optimum. With velevels, the map will contain two levels of poor perform
ing yields, a section that is average, and two levels thatare above average yields.
Color scheme
- A color scheme is selected to clearly dis
tinguish the data in the different ranges. Using a gradi
ent in shading from light to dark in one color or usinga logical sequence of colors from the visible spectrumcan accomplish this. One common example is the green-yellow-orange-red shading sequence. Yield ranges gofrom high (greens) to medium (yellow to orange) to low(reds). Another approach is to use gradations of just twocolors to illustrate the variation. Users are encouraged totest various aggregation techniques and color schemesto choose the combination that is most suitable for theirintended purposes.Yield maps can be presented in two main formats. Inthe rst, yield monitor data are mapped as individualpoints or dots. In the second format, data are smoothedor contoured to show more generalized yield trends.Point data maps are best for spotting yield-mappingerrors, whereas contour or “surface” maps often hidethese errors and the contour may extend past the zonesactually impacted. Examine the point data maps care
fully before generating a contour map.
Consistency and uniformity of presentation are desirable for generat-ing useful yield maps.
Once a yield map has been pre
sented, it is time to interpret the data.
Yield Map Interpretation
A yield map showing yield variability may raise morequestions than it will answer and can become a sourceof frustration rather than a source of information. Ayield map only documents the spatial distribution of crop yield, not what caused the variation. A yield mapdoes not indicate why yields vary, whether yield poten
tial is reached anywhere in the eld, or predict yield
Table 1. Guide to interpreting (or detecting) variability within a yield map (or feld). Visual observations
from a yield map can be seen as having uniform or irregular patterns (from Lotz, 1997).Pattern Description/Explanation
Producer Management Practices Naturally Occurring Variables
Straight Line Patterns Irregular PatternsAgainst DirectionDirection of Application of Application Irregular Line Irregular Area/Patch
change in planting datechange in hybrid/varietychange in chemicalapplicationselected rescue treatmentchemical skips andmisapplicationsequipment errorspoor straw/chaff distribution• compactiondrain tile patternshistorically differenteldsold trafc patternsmanure applicationspipelines/phone linesunderground irrigationapplicationsprevious compactiontopography changesherbicide driftborder shading effectsinsect infestation from
bordering lands
improper manureapplications• waterwayschange in soil typedrainage patternsweed infestationssoil fertility changesprevious crop activitydisease infestationsherbicide carryover his
toric occurencesinsect infestationschanges in organic matteranimal damagewet areas
patterns in future years. A yield map is of value onlywhen it leads to a management decision or validatesmanagement practices. To effectively make a manage
ment decision based on a yield map, producers must befamiliar with the various sources of variability that mayexist in their elds and properly interpret this informa
tion. As yield maps are evaluated, sources of yieldvariability can be grouped into two areas: (1) variabil
ity caused by producer management practices and (2)naturally occurring variables (Table 1).
Sources of Yield Variability -Producer Management Practices
Field history
- Sometimes the variability in crop yieldcan be attributed to some historical event within theeld. Look for patterns in your yield map. Patternswith straight lines tend to be man-made while irregularpatterns (see next section on Naturally Occurring Vari
ables) may reect different soil conditions, soil types,drainage problems, and pest infestations such as weeds,disease, and insects. To interpret these patterns, a pro
ducer should refer to the previous year’s managementrecords and possibly the last ten to twenty years, if theyare available. Historical records are extremely impor
tant in answering questions of yield variability. Seekhistorical information from old aerial photos, neigh
bors, past owners of the farm, and courthouse docu
ments. Characteristics like old farmsteads and fencelines, manure, fertilizer and chemical applications,wood lots, feed lots, chemical spills, old tile lines, bio
solids storage areas, and compaction strips may leavea long lasting effect on crop production. In addition,more recent practices such as crop variety, tillage andplanting practices, and previous crops may be visible.Matching pattern widths to implement operating widthscan often identify these types of variability. Be sure torecord or map errors and variations in application of crop inputs or the timing of operations. This may bevaluable information in identifying yield variations inthe map.
- Operating equipment on wet soil cancompact the soil, destroy soil structure, and reduce cropyield. A compacted soil layer will generally have poorstructure and most of the voids in the compacted layerwill be eliminated. Poor drainage and root restrictioncan result and cause yield limiting conditions. Com
pacted areas may be hard to dene on a yield map,but keep in mind areas of heavy trafc and equipmentoperation in wet conditions. For example, the effectsof heavy trafc where grain truck or carts are loaded orchemical relling occurred. Compaction related prob
lems from farming in wet years could also affect futuredrainage patterns.
Water management
- Many times, yield variability canbe related to water management. While irrigation can bemanaged to reduce the weather related variability on cropyields, irrigation can also induce yield variability acrossthe eld. Nozzles that do not apply water uniformlyand improper irrigation timing can cause irregular cropgrowth. Agricultural drainage is the removal of excesswater from the soil surface and/or soil prole of crop
land, by either gravity or articial means. Installationof a tile drainage system is another water managementpractice that can inuence yield variability.
Equipment/mechanical errors
- Proper installationof reliable equipment is a must (see VCE Publication442-502, Precision Farming Tools: Yield Monitor). Anaccurate, dependable GPS differential signal is criticalfor obtaining reliable data as the loss of signal results inwrong positional values relative to where the data weretaken. Grain ow problems can also result in inaccuratedata when one of the following situations occurs:1. Combine is lling to threshing capacity2. Combine has stopped moving and the threshing areais emptying3. Beginning or end of a swath4. Swaths are narrower than yield monitor expects5. Combine is plugged or broken downElectronic devices such as cellular phones, CB radios,and other electronic equipment can also cause interfer
ence and loss of differential signal. Data from thesepoints should be discarded. Combine operators shouldhave a working knowledge of their equipment and theconsequences of failure on yield map characteristics.They should also be familiar with eld characteristicsand plan ahead on how to negotiate end rows, grasswaterways, and other eld uniqueness.Proper and timely yield monitor calibration is also veryimportant. A well-calibrated yield monitor will usuallyproduce yield information with more than 97% accu
racy. Don’t skip calibration! Recalibrate when eldvariables such as grain moisture content changes sig
nicantly (5-8%). For best accuracy of the yield moni
tor, keep the combine full and operate the combine atthe mass ow rate as calibrated. Adjust the operat
ing speed as yield changes in order to keep a constantow of grain through the combine. The GPS receiver

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