There’s little debate among precision ag industry watchers that variable-rate application (VRA) seeding is one of the hottest areas around at the moment. In fact, in PrecisionAg magazine’s annual Tech Top 5 rankings for 2014, VRA seeding finished second behind unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in terms of industry buzz.
“In my area, some growers are using VRA seeding to better utilize their seed investment, just like they’ve done with VRA fertilizer,” says Jeremy Wilson, technology specialist for Crop IMS, Effingham, IL. “The ability to optimize a grower’s investment in seed is the key factor driving growth in this process today.”
Brent Wiesenburger, precision ag manager for South Dakota Wheat Growers (SDWG), Aberdeen, SD, agrees with Wilson’s assessment, adding that increasing simplicity of use is helping the adoption rate. “Our VRA seeding has grown to more than 60% of our variable-applied acres, and making it simple is part of the equation,” says Wiesenburger. “If a grower can get a turnkey solution that works when it needs to, without making 10 different calls to his ‘go-to’ guys to get it running, that is a win-win for the precision ag industry in general.”
In all cases, say industry insiders, the increasing list of products, both software- and hardware-oriented, is helping move VRA seeding’s adoption needle forward. For instance, says Crop IMS’ Wilson, new software that creates VRA seeding recommendations are beginning to take off.
“Most of this kind of software could create these types of maps in the past, but more development has been completed to add more layers of data in the recommendation creation process,” he says. “Growers are wanting to use more layers of data to create these recommendations today, and now several software packages have the ability to complete this task.”
Of course, adds Wilson, hardware upgrades in 2015 should also increase the usage of VRA seeding. This will include an option for more options, so to speak. “Dual hybrid planters will likely be the biggest new technology to expand the use of VRA seeding,” he says. “One of the limiting factors today is choosing the right hybrid for the variable populations. When a grower can choose one hybrid for high population and another hybrid for lower population, the grower has less concern with hybrids being planted at the wrong population for each hybrid.”
SDWG’s Wiesenburger also foresees big things for dual hybrid planters during the upcoming 2015 season. “The big thing I am seeing in South Dakota is an interest in multi-hybrid planters,” he says. “We have been doing a lot with air seeders and soybeans over the years. Now, the producer that is not happy with his bean stands from those seeders can get the placement advantage he wants from a multi-hybrid planter.”
Put together, all these factors should help VRA seeding expand its market presence during 2015, especially with profit margins getting squeezed as commodity prices have declined. “Now with the ag economy the way it is, we need to be efficient as possible,” says Tim Norris, manager for Ag Info Tech, LLC, Gambier, OH. “Most planters today are VRA-equipped, but very few producers are doing prescription seeding with them. Since the equipment is there, I feel this will take off and be adopted by the mainstream during 2015.”