Offset fertilizer costs with variable-rate technology
Soaring fertilizer costs, at their highest levels since 2008, are impacting 2022 planting decisions. Analysts predict a correction is unlikely in the near term.
According to the USDA’s Illinois Production Cost Report in October, the average price for urea was $810 per metric ton compared to $352 per metric ton in 2020. Diammonium phosphate (DAP) prices were at $814 per metric ton, nearly double what they were in 2020 at $427 per metric ton.
The report also noted the price of liquid 28% nitrogen saw a significant jump in 2021, with the average at $475 per metric ton compared to $222 the previous year. Potash prices were $775 per metric ton, an increase of almost $400 per metric ton from the previous year.
“With increases this dramatic in fertilizer prices, we are starting to see growers turn toward or gain interest in tools like scripting that allow them to be more efficient and cost effective with their inputs,” says Matthew Lau, global product manager of scripting for The Climate Corp.
Variable-rate prescriptions have been available for several years, yet the technology is still not widely used.
“Approximately 20% of our current FieldView customers in the U.S. are using seed, fertilizer, and crop protection scripts,” Lau says. “Our products that help farmers variable-rate have been in the marketplace for about five years. In that time, we’ve been able to identify the pain points preventing farmers from creating more prescriptions and adopting more variable-rate activities.”
Ease of use is at the top of the list. With the introduction of Automatic Zone Creation, Climate is working to make the process more automated.
“We were always hearing from growers how much time it took to create and manage prescriptions. Previously, the tool for manual scripting had little to zero automatic capabilities with it, and it required the user to pull up an image or a yield layer as a background layer and manually draw out the parts of the field they would like to begin managing,” he says. “We’re trying to get to a point where we are able to take the grower’s data that has been collected and provide him with a fast, easy solution to optimize the subfield areas in his operation.”
Automatically creating field zones using satellite imagery from any scouting map saves the farmer time. This tool also enables farmers to more easily and confidently write variable-rate fertilizer prescriptions to optimize their fertilizer investment and meet performance goals.
“The changes we’ve made give users the ability to easily see between all of their scouting layers and see the variability in their field using those layers and then make adjustments,” Lau says.
Users can set a zone count from two to 12 zones in a field, allowing them to easily manage field variability and tailor it to the activity they’re creating a script for.
“Automatic zone creation gives growers a much higher level of flexibility and accuracy to optimize inputs. It also allows growers to test different layers and different hypotheses and compare those to determine which one they feel is going to be the best choice to move into that next season,” he says. “We know every year is different, and every year brings its own set of challenges. We’re excited to be able to deliver this functionality, so growers can manage those challenges more effectively. Hopefully, it will allow farmers to more easily adopt the technology.”
Climate Corp. is also rolling out an update to its tank mix product selection tool, which provides farmers with the ability to easily identify and record crop protection products in a tank mix when creating a prescription.
“In June 2020, we launched our first iteration, giving farmers the ability to create a crop protection prescription with one product,” Lau says.
Based on overwhelming feedback from growers, the latest version of the tool can now handle up to eight crop protection products in a single tank mix.
“When applying herbicides, growers rarely put down one product,” he says. “They often have two, three, four, or more, depending on the region and the crop. Growers wanted the ability to more accurately tag all the products they had in the prescription, so they know exactly what the recommendation is and what it’s going to be used for in the field.”
Both tools come at no added cost for new and existing FieldView customers.