He'll have a better idea when data from a yield monitor mounted on one of those pickers is analyzed by Texas Liquid, a Port LaVaca farm supply company.

"They put the monitors on the harvest equipment," Zrubek says, "and when we get the information from them, we sit down with the growers and digest it. The information gives us some idea of what we need to do differently for the next crop."

The company also has a monitor on a combine to check grain yields.

"This is the fourth year we've used the monitor," Zrubek says. "The biggest advantage we've found is that we can analyze fertility needs field-by-field. We can identify yield differences and make adjustments accordingly."

Zrubek says he's also made variety selection recommendations based on yield monitor data.

He says he can look at varieties in real field conditions and see which produces the best under a specific set of conditions.

"With several years of information, we can make some pretty good evaluations of what's working and what needs changed," he says.

With the combine monitor he can also evaluate how rotation crops respond following cotton.

"This is a good tool for consultants," he says. "We can evaluate our recommendations and provide better information to our clients. And we can check differences between fields and between treatments."

Zrubek says a lot of farmers in the Coastal Bend area used to plant mostly DPL 50 cotton. "We used 80 units of nitrogen and that was just about right every year. But with newer varieties, we need to pay more attention to fertility."

He said yield monitors might also help evaluate other practices. "In a round-about way, we might get a better handle on how well a defoliation program works," he says. "We can look at a lot of inputs and compare and hypothesize about what we can do differently to improve yield potential."

He says a big advantage, especially in coastal areas is identifying drainage problems. "Monitors will pick out low areas in a field. That's a big deal along the coast, as flat as it is. Adequate drainage in this area is essential."

Zrubek says most harvest machines now come equipped with yield monitors.

"They're fairly easy to adjust and take only minimal maintenance. We have to be sure the lens is clean or they will read erratically."

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com