Something Old: VRA Seeding & Nitrogen

On the world stage, technology has a reputation for moving forward at break-neck speed without ever backing up. Think of how fast businesses moved from fax machines to e-mail to handheld computers/phones between 1987 and 2002.

When it comes to precision agriculture, technology leaps are fewer and farther between. Still, they can have a profound effect on market dynamics and individual profitability. Elsewhere in this issue, you will find the companion piece to this article, detailing the three top precision agriculture technologies that can measure their market lives back only a few years at best. As for the other two listed in the Tech Top 5, their lifespans date back more than a decade.

Take variable-rate application (VRA) seeding, for instance. Although this practices dates back to the early days of the precision agriculture movement, it has been consistently overshadowed by other technologies such as VRA fertilizer and GPS in the overall usage race. In fact, according to data collected in the annual CropLife/Purdue University Precision Ag Retailer Adoption Survey, VRA seeding was practiced by 3% of respondents back during the first survey in 1997. Ten years later in 2006, this percentage had barely budged up to approximately 5%. Meanwhile, other precision agriculture practices grew 10% to 20% in usage during this same timeframe.

In 2007, however, things have improved significantly for VRA seeding adoption. During the recent InfoAg 2007 meeting, a pre-show tour group visited Tim Seifert, an Illinois farmer. When an attendee asked Seifert what precision agriculture technologies were most important to making his farm profitable today, he answered, “VRA seeding comes first.”

Statistics compiled in the 2007 Precision Agriculture survey support this claim, with VRA seeding usage projected to climb to 10% to 12% by the end of the year. Even more telling, manufacturers are climbing aboard the VRA seeding train. At its annual dealer meeting in mid-July, Kinze Manufacturing, Inc. announced that it had formed a partnership with precision agriculture technology maker Ag Leader Technology, Inc. to bring Ag Leader’s INSIGHT system to its line of planters. The resulting system, called Kinze Vision, will make it easier for growers to utilize VRA seeding practices in their operations.

Changing Fortunes

What has changed in VRA seeding’s favor? According to experts, two factors have given the practice a new level of excitement. The first ties to ever-increasing seed prices: According to Dean Fairchild, assistant vice president of agronomy for The Mosaic Co., the price of seed corn has skyrocketed in recent years to around $200 per bag. “At this cost level, growers are looking for ways to maximize their yields on existing acres without wasting any more seed than necessary,” says Fairchild. “This has opened the door to more people looking to VRA seeding to accomplish these goals.”

Michael Vos, software sales & support manager for Ag Leader and a corn grower with his father in southeast Iowa, agrees. He added VRA seeding to the family farm’s way of doing things to grow yields. “Our farming goal each year is to break our previous year’s mark,” says Vos. “If we got 240 bushels per acre this year, we want 245 bushels the next. There are a lot of precision agriculture technologies out there to try to do this, but we saw VRA seeding as the one that could help us most. We decided this was a rabbit we wanted to chase.”

The Ethanol Effect

Of course, many growers are looking to boost their yields because of the second factor helping VRA seeding to grow — ethanol. To feed the expected demand for corn to make ethanol, growers planted an additional 12 million acres in 2007. Early projections have 2008’s total corn acreage growing even higher, up another 5 million to 6 million acres. By 2011, some analysts say that almost 40% of the nation’s corn yield will be sold to an ever-increasing number of ethanol production plants now dotting the U.S. landscape.

Not surprisingly, another “hot” VRA practice among growers and ag retailers — nitrogen (N) — can also thank increased corn production for landing it in the Tech Top 5 listing. In a presentation at InfoAg 2007, Dr. Alan Blaylock, senior agronomist for Agrium U.S., Inc., noted the importance nutrients play in general in the ag community. “Nutrient application is second in importance to hybrid selection in its impact on the crop,” said Blaylock.

Unlike VRA seeding, VRA N has continually ranked high on the list of precision agriculture practices, ranging between 20% and 50% of precision agriculture users, according to the CropLife/Purdue Retailer Precision Survey. What’s helped it along, of course, is the fact that fertilizer prices have steadily increased throughout the past 15 years. Indeed, according to figures compiled by USDA, the prices for N, phosphorous, and potash were 113% higher in 2006-07 than they were in 1990-1992. More significantly, U.S. ammonia production costs rose by 172% from fiscal year 1999 to fiscal year 2005.

According to Illinois grower Seifert, higher fertilizer costs — coupled with the uptick in corn plantings — has put added pressure on the ag market to maximize its input costs while increasing yields. “Input costs are driving all the decisions growers are making these days,” he says. “I don’t know how long this trend will last, but I don’t believe N costs or usage will be going down any time soon.”

To this end, some researchers are now working with remote sensors to determine N application in the field. According to Robert Mullen, nutrient management/soil fertility specialist for The Ohio State University, sensor data combined with VRA N at Virginia Tech have yielded some promising results. “At the Virginia Tech small plot corn test, there was a 5% increase in grain yields and a 21% reduction in N usage,” says Mullen. “In the on-farm corn research, there was a 1% increase in grain yield and a 17% reduction in N.”

Leave a Reply

Variable Rate Application Stories
Systems ManagementField Trial: Precision Application and Curve Compensation on Sprayers
September 13, 2017
Several months ago I wrote an article about curve compensation in planters and how these systems can help create more Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsAGCO 2017 Crop Tour Highlights Precision Planting Integration, Other Insights
August 23, 2017
Last week AGCO hosted the Minnesota leg of its second annual summer U.S. Corn Belt Crop Tour at Nelson Farm, Read More
Systems ManagementAGCO to Acquire Precision Planting
July 26, 2017
AGCO and The Climate Corp. announced today that a definitive agreement has been signed for AGCO to acquire the Precision Read More
Cotton closeup
Imagery/SensingCotton Growth Management with Precision Agriculture
June 20, 2017
A cotton crop presents some important differences to other commodities that are widely produced in Brazil, such as soybean and Read More
Trending Articles
Farmer with iPad
Australia/New ZealandAgrian Expands into Australia
September 20, 2017
In line with a familiar growth trajectory, Agrian Inc. is moving into Australia with a physical support and sales presence Read More
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment for a More Sustainable Future
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights in Precision Agriculture
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
Farming at Sunset
Business ManagementAgtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome
September 6, 2017
Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, Read More
AgQuip overview
Australia/New ZealandAgQuip 2017 Displays New Ag Technology in Australia
August 28, 2017
The annual AgQuip field days took place in Gunnedah, NSW on August 22-24. Being the largest agricultural field days in Read More
Latest News
Australian Harvest
Australia/New ZealandAustralia: Data Deal to Make Digital Information More A…
September 25, 2017
The announcement of a three-year collaboration between one of Australia’s most well-known agriculture technology providers, Precision Agriculture, and Federation University Read More
AsiaDrones for Soil Mapping? Mahindra Says Why Not
September 25, 2017
The Mumbai-based company is in talks with the Indian government seeking approval to make drones a part of farming methods, Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversDeepfield Robotics to Showcase Precision Agriculture Te…
September 22, 2017
Deepfield Robotics is preparing to showcase its robotics and automation technologies for the agriculture market at the Agrilevante event, in Read More
Kray Drone Application
DronesCrop Spraying Drone Manufacturer Kray Technologies Gets…
September 22, 2017
Chernovetskyi Investment Group (CIG) has reached an agreement on investment into Kray Technologies company, which manufactures Kray Protection industrial robotic Read More
Imagery/SensingPlanet Announces New Hi-Res Imagery Products
September 21, 2017
Since our acquisition of Terra Bella, and the SkySat constellation of seven satellites, we’ve been focused on making this high-resolution Read More
Systems ManagementBayer Dismisses Antitrust Concerns about Digital Farmin…
September 20, 2017
Bayer said it was unable to propose the sale of any digital farming assets to allay EU concerns about its Read More
Farmer with iPad
Australia/New ZealandAgrian Expands into Australia
September 20, 2017
In line with a familiar growth trajectory, Agrian Inc. is moving into Australia with a physical support and sales presence Read More
Robotics Specialty Crops
EventsPrecision in Specialty Crops Gains Momentum
September 20, 2017
When John Deere acquired Blue River Technologies (BRT) recently, BRT’s See & Spray technology received plenty of play. Yet many Read More
Decision Support SoftwareSyngenta Helps Lead Efforts for Farm Management Softwar…
September 19, 2017
Ag data from tractors, combines, planters, and other farm machinery present a huge opportunity for growers to manage their operations Read More
Australia/New ZealandGrowLab’s Rocket Fuel for AgTech in Australia
September 19, 2017
Despite its superpower status as a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and services, up until now Australia has had Read More
AsiaCropIn Aims to be a Global Leader in AgTech Sector
September 19, 2017
Krishna Kumar created AgTech startup, CropIn Technology in 2010, along with co-founders Kunal Prasad and Chittranjan Jena. The trio went Read More
AsiaChina’s Navigation System Gets Powerful Chip to I…
September 18, 2017
A new powerful chip technology has been introduced in China’s national satellite navigation system to provide high-precision positioning, according to Read More
Tablet Grower
Industry NewsFieldReveal Names Hesse New CEO
September 18, 2017
Matt Hesse has been selected as the Chief Executive Officer of FieldReveal, a newly launched joint venture formed to deliver Read More
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment…
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
Wheat sunrise
Australia/New ZealandSparkLabs Group Launches an Agricultural Tech Accelerat…
September 15, 2017
SparkLabs Group, which claims to be the largest startup accelerator group in Asia, is stepping into agricultural tech with a Read More
Sensors/IoTCollaboration Leverages Internet of Things, Sensors in …
September 15, 2017
The vision of having license-free community sensor networks for agricultural users has made a giant leap closer to reality. A Read More
Young Corn Field
Data ManagementPurdue Online Tool to Help Farmers Make Precision Decis…
September 14, 2017
An innovative online tool developed by a Purdue University engineering professor will allow farmers to process data collected from their Read More
Precision IrrigationImproving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
September 13, 2017
I recently attended the Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, CA, where roughly 50 start-up companies originating from Silicon Valley and Read More