How do you rate?
Making the most of every dollar spent on a field is your goal as a grower. To maximize efficiency as equipment moves across a field, variable-rate technologies (VRT) have the potential to help you achieve that goal by identifying and managing variability.
“Over the past three to five years, we have seen quite a transition to VRT for fertilizer and seed,” says Brian Sieren, who provides market advice and risk-management support for Market 1, Inc. “I think the biggest concern with VRT is the quality of information that is going into the prescription.”
While VRT has the potential to avoid input waste and to increase yields, Sieren feels you need to be very thorough on the information you put into the equation.
“It's the junk in/junk out rule,” he says. “If you do a good job of inputting the proper data, this will overcome a lot of hurdles.”
Taking that first step
How do you move toward a VRT-based system? Collect data. One year of data is good; two and three years are better. The more yield history you have for a particular field, the more likely you are to find the consistent patterns in that field.
“This data lets you pick the low-hanging fruit (fields with lots of variability) for making decisions that are more likely to pay off in saved inputs, like seed and fertilizer, or in improved yields,” says Matt Wiebers, agronomy research specialist with Mosaic Company.
He recommends a systems approach, which combines three elements: the farmer's knowledge of the field, VRT equipment and mapping software, and a local data expert, such as an agronomist or crop consultant.
“A typical example is combining GPS soil tests and yield data that can show potential problem areas in a field,” he says. “A good VRT system will overlay input and yield data without a major amount of data entry effort. It will collect and map the data for you so you can spend your time deciding how to address issues in your field.”
One of the biggest benefits about VRT is that it collects the data as you use it. “You can then look at increases in yield and savings on inputs,” says Wiebers. “Sometimes you can pay for your investment in the first year.”
On the following pages, three farmers share how those data-based decisions are helping them achieve their goal of precisely placing inputs to get the most out of their soils.
Even though Bernerd Hatten pulled his Delaware, Ohio, farm name from a fictional story, what Hardscrabble Farms is doing today with variable-rate technology is completely nonfiction.
“To my great-grandfather, hardscrabble,! meant struggling from meager soils to make a living,” says Hatten's great-grandson Darin Skinner.
As the Skinners celebrated the farm's 100th anniversary this past summer, those meager soils have become a proving ground for variable-rate fertilization.
“My very first experience with variable rate was in 1999 when I saw Tim Norris of Ag Info Tech spreading fertilizer in a field,” recalls Skinner. “When I saw lime coming out of the back of the spreader at multiple rates, I wanted to learn more. So I jumped in the cab with him and started asking questions.”