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.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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.

Equipment Stories
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to Kill Pests
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere Launching New Operations Center Apps, Mapping Functions
November 10, 2016
In an effort to enhance the functionality, ease-of-use and overall value of John Deere Operations Center to producers, John Deere Read More
ComputersTrimble, CLAAS Announce LEXION Combine Factory Option
November 9, 2016
CLAAS and Trimble announced the introduction of a Trimble Ready machine factory option for CLAAS LEXION combines. CLAAS assembles LEXION Read More
Claas RTK Field base
EquipmentClaas Extends Precision Farming Offering
November 8, 2016
To enable use of automatic steering systems where a real time kinematics (RTK) correction signal is either limited or not Read More
Trending Articles
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secrets
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Farmers
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsGrower Groups Encourage Implementation Of AgGateway’s ADAPT For Precision Ag
November 2, 2016
A dozen leading U.S. grower organizations are hailing the collaborative efforts that led to the new AgGateway ADAPT framework for Read More
Events2016 Vision Conference: Things Overheard
October 27, 2016
Pardon the baseball pun (GO TRIBE!), but I think it’s safe to say that last week’s inaugural Vision Conference touched Read More
Latest News
TechnologyAgGateway Announces 2017 Board Of Directors And Leaders…
December 2, 2016
AgGateway has announced its leadership for the coming year, including the directors of its new Strategic Board and Operational Board, Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota…
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
AGCO AgControl
TechnologyPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
December 1, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To En…
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to…
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Sensors/IoTIoT The Focus Of New Topcon Partnership
November 22, 2016
Topcon Agriculture and SDF plan to enter into a non-exclusive long-term partnership agreement. This latest arrangement of Topcon with a Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secr…
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Succe…
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Far…
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
THRIVE
BusinessCall For Ag Tech Startups: Apply To THRIVE’s Open…
November 10, 2016
THRIVE is looking for high growth ag tech companies with an in-market solution that are positioned to scale. The top 50 Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere Launching New Operations Center Apps, Mappin…
November 10, 2016
In an effort to enhance the functionality, ease-of-use and overall value of John Deere Operations Center to producers, John Deere Read More
ComputersTrimble, CLAAS Announce LEXION Combine Factory Option
November 9, 2016
CLAAS and Trimble announced the introduction of a Trimble Ready machine factory option for CLAAS LEXION combines. CLAAS assembles LEXION Read More
Claas RTK Field base
EquipmentClaas Extends Precision Farming Offering
November 8, 2016
To enable use of automatic steering systems where a real time kinematics (RTK) correction signal is either limited or not Read More
John Deere Operations Center
UncategorizedWxAgrios Integrates With John Deere’s Operations …
November 8, 2016
Precision Weather Solutions Inc. has announced it is the first company with a commercially available solution, WxAgrios, integrated with both John Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Best PracticesPathways to Precision: Managing Risk With Germplasm
November 7, 2016
No one can know what the conditions will be for the next growing season. Is it possible for a grower Read More