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Variable-rate pays off for Indiana farmers

It took a few years of gathering information and studying, but brothers Kent and Eric Haring this fall reaped the rewards they sowed last spring when they implemented new tools in planting their corn crop.

Harings, who farm near Medaryville in northwest Indiana, planted their corn crop earlier this year in addition to implementing a variable-rate seed and fertilizer system. This "by prescription program" puts to work a field mapping computer system that, by harvest, contained all production management zone information, from different hybrid locations to nutrient applications to final yields.

It started with a program proposed by the Harings' certified crop adviser, Craig Stevens of Agro Key Cooperative, Inc. With three years of planning and gathering of environment and yield data as the groundwork, Stevens worked with the Harings to establish production management zones. Then, with a yield monitor and field mapping software, they variable-rate applied seeding rates and fertilizer based on the electrical conductivity of the soil.

"Once we generated those [maps], we still try to use a grid approach to measure our phosphorous, potassium and lime," Stevens says. "We use the production management zones as the base layer for all of our fertilizer, seeding and nitrogen recommendations."

The Harings are very satisfied with the new tools they added this year.

"Our corn yields ran around 210 bushels per acre this year," Kent Haring says. "We are very happy with the variable rate system. Plus, we had enough rain, we could have pushed the plant population even higher, but that is the idea of the system. We planted what the field could handle under normal conditions."

Haring adds, "Sure, you tell me how much rain we're going to get in any given year and I can adjust the population. So, this system proved itself."

Another benefit of the variable-rate application is the ability to avoid applying excess anhydrous.

"With the naked eye, it's easy to see if you didn't apply enough anhydrous, harder to see if you applied too much. But I don't think we waisted any this year. And at $600/ton, I hope we don't waste too much," Haring says.

Though it's only based on one year of results, Haring's opinion on using the variable rate system in 2008 is positive.

"I know I've talked to other producers that used it and they are happy with the system."

For producers in Indiana and Ohio that are using the variable-rate system, it has helped boost yields on the low grounds and maintain yields on the high grounds, Haring says. This, according to Stevens, is really the ultimate goal of the variable-rate system.

"We've got some soils out here that history's telling us the best we're going to do is 120-bushel corn. Our thought process is there's no sense in seeding and fertilizing it for 180-bushel corn. If we can live with what we get there, increase our seeding and fertilizer on our good soils, we feel there's more potential there for profitability."

Stevens adds the production management zones as a way to direct variable-rate seeding and nutrient applications is a "starting point" on which future recommendations will be built.

"Our initial goal is to sit back and be able to put together a profit-loss statement on a per-field basis," he says. "We have records of the seed, fertilizer, potash and lime that went out there. We'll look at our yields, see where we're at and generate some recommendations within some of our fields."

When it's all said and done, Stevens adds the data the Harings are now gleaning from their fields will yield considerable cost savings.

"We're trying to be able to show where we're at. The thought is generally we're looking to save some input costs -- and significantly, at that," Stevens says. "We're looking at $10 to $15 per acre, while maintaining our historical yield on each given field.

It took a few years of gathering information and studying, but brothers Kent and Eric Haring this fall reaped the rewards they sowed last spring when they implemented new tools in planting their corn crop.

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