Why VRA Fertilizer Is Still A Tough Sell

Variable Rate Application of Fertilizer

Precision agriculture was built on a foundation of variable rate application fertilizer. In the mid-1980s, early personal computer technology and radar-based GPS were employed to demonstrate the concept of map-based VRA which, while economically not viable at the time, proved it would work.

So it’s a bit ironic that nearly 30 years later, the industry has not more fully embraced the technology at the farm level. That said, there are plenty of rational reasons why it’s not more generally accepted among the farming community.

First off, the benefits of VRA are not enjoyed evenly across all fields. Karen Scanlon of the Conservation Technology Information Center says that return on investment from VRA phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) is easiest to demonstrate when soil variability is high.

“The grower gets a higher ROI if the field contains significant high areas and low areas — that is, if there is large variability of soil types in a field,” says Scanlon. “A field with fairly uniform P and K levels has less need for variable rate applications. P and K are usually not yield limiting unless there are very low areas.”

A general lack of understanding, some fear and a dose of skepticism about  adopting the technology also keeps farmers away, says Brent Weisenburger, who coordinates the precision agriculture progam at cooperative South Dakota Wheat Growers.

“I feel growers have held back because they are afraid of the learning curve to get involved, says Weisenburger. “Depending on the level of service delivered by providers in the area, they may not have local expertise to even help them get going in the right direction. They may feel it’s easier to fall back on traditional applications methods than dealing with all of the “technology.”

Weisenburger says that about 30% of the acreage SDWG services uses VRA, and it requires superior service and a “turnkey” solution approach to entice growers to user the service.

Dave Coppess of Heartland Coop in West Des Moines, IA says that growth of VRA has been continuous but exceedingly slow — about 11% of customers are ona a four-year grids sampling program with the cooperative.

“Most of these acres are also provided with variable rate nutrient recommendations, but our goal would be to have 25% to 30% of the acres enrolled in this process.”

Coppess says there’s still an issue with “traditional” farmers simply not wanting to change their ways, and at the current level of profitability that exists, having conversations about changing agronomic course is a difficult. And often, the recommendations that come from a sampling and VRA plan challenge the intuition and experience of the farmer.

On the business side, Coppess says demonstrating a clear payback is a definitely a roadblock. Also, costly upgrades to application equipment may cause both farmers and retailers to balk at making a significant change.

“Equipment limitations and cost factors are certainly part of the equation,” agrees Scanlon. “If a grower has to upgrade a planter or fertilizer delivery system to adopt variable rate application, cost becomes a factor.”

Finally, acquiring the data layers necessary to generate a valuable VRA recommendation is also a limiting factor, adds Scanlon.

Leave a Reply

8 comments on “Why VRA Fertilizer Is Still A Tough Sell

  1. We apply all fertilizer (including nitrogen) using VRT applications. We soil sample and test annually. This is the very best there is.

  2. We apply all fertilizer (including nitrogen) using VRT applications. We soil sample and test annually. This is the very best there is.

  3. There are other considerations like these 2 reports… Stream Nutrient Reductions from Conservation Practices Not Consistently Detectable Across U.S. Released: 10/23/2012 9:00:00 AM Estimation of Nutrient and Sediment Loading in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes Basins with Regional SPARROW Models Throughout the country, declining water quality in rivers and streams has been linked to excessive inputs of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. Nutrient over-enrichment in streams and rivers can lead to eutrophication in downstream waterbodies, causing hypoxia and threatening fish and other aquatic animals. These problems can arise both locally and regionally; for example, one of the principal causes for the increasing size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone is believed to be the increasing supply of nitrogen delivered to the Gulf from the Mississippi River Basin.

  4. There are other considerations like these 2 reports… Stream Nutrient Reductions from Conservation Practices Not Consistently Detectable Across U.S. Released: 10/23/2012 9:00:00 AM Estimation of Nutrient and Sediment Loading in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes Basins with Regional SPARROW Models Throughout the country, declining water quality in rivers and streams has been linked to excessive inputs of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. Nutrient over-enrichment in streams and rivers can lead to eutrophication in downstream waterbodies, causing hypoxia and threatening fish and other aquatic animals. These problems can arise both locally and regionally; for example, one of the principal causes for the increasing size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone is believed to be the increasing supply of nitrogen delivered to the Gulf from the Mississippi River Basin.

  5. @Mahlburg – Farmers are stewards of the land and with the cost of fertilizer constantly rising they aren't looking to throw money away with 'nutrient over-enrichment'. VRA is a great example of putting fertilizer where it is needed for the plant. Increasing yield and/or quality is the goal. It is the common household throwing tons of fertilizer to make their lawn green that provides more non-point source pollution than a farmer making a living.

  6. @Mahlburg – Farmers are stewards of the land and with the cost of fertilizer constantly rising they aren't looking to throw money away with 'nutrient over-enrichment'. VRA is a great example of putting fertilizer where it is needed for the plant. Increasing yield and/or quality is the goal. It is the common household throwing tons of fertilizer to make their lawn green that provides more non-point source pollution than a farmer making a living.

  7. VRA is a great technology, that is used profitably by thousands of growers annually through various on farm practices. Based on the cyclic nature of both weather and crop prices, many growers have a more difficult time understanding immediate payback on the technology, than the more adopted guidance and steering technologies. If you dig a bit deeper, there are many growers who have been practicing forms of VR for years, if not more than a decade with strong profitable results, albeit profitability varies from farm to farm based on many aspects of farm operations.

  8. VRA is a great technology, that is used profitably by thousands of growers annually through various on farm practices. Based on the cyclic nature of both weather and crop prices, many growers have a more difficult time understanding immediate payback on the technology, than the more adopted guidance and steering technologies. If you dig a bit deeper, there are many growers who have been practicing forms of VR for years, if not more than a decade with strong profitable results, albeit profitability varies from farm to farm based on many aspects of farm operations.

Guidance Stories
GuidanceTopcon Debuts SI-21 Lightbar for X-Family of Displays
February 28, 2017
Topcon Agriculture announces the release of the SI-21 Lightbar, designed as a cost-effective, user-friendly product to complement manual guidance, providing Read More
GuidanceTopcon Launching New X35 In-Cab Display Console
February 27, 2017
Topcon Agriculture introduces the new X35 — the next generation in the X-Family of touchscreen displays with advanced functionality. Designed Read More
Case IH - AFS AccuStar and UAV Offering - Magnum MX210 AccuStar Receiver
DronesCase IH Adds New GPS Solution, UAV Package To AFS Offerings
February 21, 2017
Driven by the growing demand for efficient data management, the latest Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) solutions from Case IH help Read More
GuidanceCase IH Launches AccuTurn Automated Headland-Turning Tech
February 15, 2017
New AccuTurn automated headland-turning technology from Case IH takes the guesswork out of turning on headlands, which gives you improved Read More
Trending Articles
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk Averse Marketplace
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’s Rob Berglund on Cognitive Computing
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry Style Report
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More
Soybean Closeup
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Agriculture Helps Brazilian Farmers Top 90-Bushel Soybean Yield
April 5, 2017
In the 2016/2017 harvest, the Mato Grossense Institute of Economics (IMEA) estimated that the largest soybean state in Brazil will Read More
Grower Retaile iPad
ProfessionalsField Scouting Apps Boost Efficiency, Speed
March 31, 2017
Scouting is one of the most critical services that ag retailers and consultants can offer their grower-customers. The need for Read More
Bruce Rasa corn AgVoice app
Data ManagementVoice-To-Data Tool Shows Promise For Scouting
March 24, 2017
See it, speak it, record it. No pens, no paper, no lost information. In a nutshell that’s what Bruce Rasa Read More
Latest News
Simplot Truck on Wilcox Farm
Ag Tech GlobalSimplot Taps Spensa to Power Advisor Platform
April 28, 2017
J.R. Simplot Co. announced it has entered into a partnership with Spensa Technologies Inc., an agriculture services company based in Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Ag Tech GlobalBASF Fortifies Digital Farming Offer with ZedX Acquisit…
April 27, 2017
BASF has signed an agreement to acquire US-based company ZedX, a leader in the development of digital agricultural intelligence. The Read More
Sentera
DronesSentera Announces May Release of Multispectral Double 4…
April 27, 2017
Sentera announced the release of its Multispectral Double 4K Sensor, offering five precise spectral bands: blue, green, red, red edge, Read More
Data Science tablet
Data ManagementHow to Address the Challenges of Data Science in Agricu…
April 26, 2017
Recently, Joe Byrum wrote an excellent article on the state of machine learning in agriculture. In it, Joe highlighted one Read More
Industry NewsFrom PrecisionAg with Love: Thanks, President Trump! (O…
April 26, 2017
Without getting too far into the weeds, I think it’s safe to say that today America feels more divided than Read More
Purdue Online Course
ProfessionalsPurdue University’s Online Precision Ag Course Re…
April 25, 2017
An online course offered by Purdue University’s Agronomy e-Learning Academy, Precision Agriculture, has received the 2017 Digital Education Excellence in Read More
Nuffield Scholarship
Ag Tech GlobalNuffield: Promoting the Diffusion of Knowledge of Preci…
April 24, 2017
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet John Stevenson, a 2016 Nuffield Australia Scholarship winner.  As part of the scholarship, John Read More
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk A…
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Case IH Autonomous concept vehicle
ProfessionalsOpinion: What the Heck is A.I. Going to do for Agricult…
April 24, 2017
Let’s pause from the daily toils of ag for a minute and start thinking about the future. In a very Read More
Imagery ipad
Imagery/SensingNew Opportunities with In-season Imagery?
April 24, 2017
When I think about precision agriculture my usual thoughts are around the continuous learning about the variability in a field. Read More
Data ManagementNew Partnership: Farmers Edge, Allied Cooperative Link …
April 24, 2017
Farmers Edge announced it has partnered with Allied Cooperative, a provider of agronomy, feed, grain, and equipment services to growers Read More
Retailer Grower Tractor
ProfessionalsAg Attorney: Sorry Right to Repair Advocates, But You&#…
April 21, 2017
(via AgLaw.us) This recent article on Motherboard is getting a lot of press: “Why American Farmers are Hacking Their Tractors Read More
ProfessionalsAgFunder: Clean Seed’s Wireless Smart Seeder is Set to …
April 21, 2017
(Via AgFunderNews.com) Heard of Clean Seed Capital Group? No? You will very soon because this Canadian company has been quietly Read More
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Sentera software
Decision Support SoftwareSentera Launching Field-Edge Plant Population Analysis …
April 20, 2017
Sentera is excited to announce the launch of its closed beta for field-edge Plant Population Analysis, available through its AgVault Read More
Data ManagementFarm Market iD Launches Sales & Marketing Platform
April 20, 2017
Following Farm Market iD’s February 2017 introduction of FieldVision, its mobile data-delivery platform, the company announced today its newest online Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’…
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: EFC Systems & 5 Facto…
April 19, 2017
Ernie Chappell of EFC Systems discusses five factors impacting the ag retail industry, the competitive advantages of enhanced customer engagement Read More