Variable Rate Technology (VRT) has come a long way over the last twenty years. The economic benefit of today’s technology is well worth the investment, enabling farmers to control crop nutrient inputs like never before, improving yields and sustainability.
Innovations in VRT allow growers to efficiently match fertilizer input rates with crop needs. A systems approach – utilizing yield and soil test data in conjunction with the right seed and a solid balanced crop nutrition plan – is an important first step, arming farmers with the information necessary to make data-driven decisions and optimize yield.
“Once you have data on things like yield potential, field variability and crop input options, you can make changes and improvements,” explains Matt Wiebers, agronomy research specialist with The Mosaic Co. “Several years of data, collected using a VRT approach, allows you to pick the low-hanging fruit for making decisions that are most likely to pay off in saved inputs or improved yields.”
Because every farm yield is different, one of the key benefits of VRT is its value as a tool for creating on-farm test plots, for everything from seed to soil nutrients and fertilizer input programs. The Mosaic Co. partners with universities on similar fertilizer test plots, but VRT allows farmers to generate local data on their own farm. They can choose the factors they want to study closely and determine on a field-by-field basis if additional nutrients or other inputs are needed.
Areas with untapped yield potential may also be improved by MicroEssentials SZ, which provides nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc in the ratio best suited to crop needs. Growers using VRT are able to accurately test different hybrids and seed populations, or compare premium MicroEssentials SZ fertilizer to a conventional fertilizer program.
The previous hurdles that may have slowed adoption of VRT have in large part been eliminated. “Early adopters struggled with the technology and there was some question about whether it was worth the effort and expense,” says Wiebers. “Fortunately, the technology has gotten a lot better, easier to use, and more affordable.” Today’s VRT systems allow you to overlay multiple data sets without spending as much time on data entry.
With all of the options available, farmers looking to get on board with VRT should make their technology choices carefully. Wiebers suggests growers consider long-term accuracy needs when selecting new equipment. “If you’re buying a new system, get one that is upgradable,” he advises. “And be sure to choose mapping software that’s compatible with your equipment. You want the data to work for you, not the other way around.”
In addition to yield and input benefits, using variable rate technology is part of being a good environmental steward. “With smarter application of fertilizer, you improve nutrient use efficiency by the crop,” says Wiebers. “The 4 Rs Nutrient Stewardship philosophy is all about using fertilizer in the right ways, and VRT helps apply fertilizer at the right rate in the right place.”