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Variable Rate Technology: What is it and What Are the Benefits?

Variable rate technology.

Every day, as ag professionals, the focus is on the day-to-day needs of the farm, regardless if you’re a farmer, a retailer, advisor, or service provider. We all think about how to answer questions like which seed will perform the best this year, will commodity prices will be favorable, or will this year finally be another golden year like 2008… But, one of the biggest questions is a much more fundamental one; what’s the most cost-efficient way to optimize the land we’re farming? Initially used in sprayers to apply pesticides, Variable Rate Technology (VRT) is a tool that allows farmers to apply fertilizer, water, chemicals, and seed at different rates across a field.

There are two types of VRT: map-based and sensor-based. Map-based VRT adjusts your product application based on a pre-generated map of your field. Sensor-based VRT doesn’t use a map at all but rather mounted sensors that measure soil properties or crop characteristics in real-time. The control system then calculates the number of inputs that are required. 

Adding new tech on a farm can be intimidating, but a technology like this is a real game-changer for crop production optimization. And, an added plus is that it’s possible more often than not to adapt your existing sprayers and spreaders into variable-rate capable machinery. 

Optimized Yield Quality and Productivity

When you use VRT to apply the right amount of nutrients combined with the ideal seeding rate, you can produce more from every acre of your land while reducing the amount of wasted product. You can maximize every opportunity when you customize both seeding and crop nutrition applications to each zone. The most and least productive areas in each field are then matched with the corresponding seed rates and applications; these pairings are called prescriptions

Generally speaking, VRT is used to detect information about a given landscape and have a system to make decisions based on that information, right? So then this technology isn’t merely a productivity tool; it’s also a dynamic one that allows you to take your farm data and make actionable, informed decisions. These types of decisions should be based on a thorough understanding of the farm’s potential, your production goals, and the variability of the fields themselves. Getting help from a consultant or trusted ag advisor can help you navigate those questions. 

Crop Production Traceability 

In addition to being an unparalleled tool for increasing productivity, VRT’s digitized information makes it easy to trace the history of everything applied to your fields. A practice that is rapidly becoming the industry standard. Traceability plays a significant role in helping growers be competitive in the market place. You need to have the ability to follow a crop’s movement through specified stages of production, harvest, and distribution. A working traceability system is an asset to your farm because you can use it to answer questions about the seeds you put out, the amount of fertilizer you used, the tank mixes applied, and even when you harvested your products.

Environmental Sustainability

And no, we aren’t talking about the sustainability of the whole Earth. We are talking specifically about the sustainability of your farm. Naturally, the Earth’s climate will thank you for being environmentally friendly, yes, but so will your acres of farming land. Using VRT, you could reduce the level of chemicals you’re putting out per acre, therefore reducing soil damage and increasing the lifespan of your fields in the long run.  

It’s all about matching the right fertilizer type to crop needs. This includes taking a close look at the available sources of nutrients and making informed product availability decisions. For example, using nitrogen inhibitors can ensure your nitrogen doesn’t convert to an unusable form and leech into the groundwater, thus protecting your investment for the crop and positively impacting the environment. Additionally, matching the right fertilizer amounts depends on both soil health and which crops are being grown. A prescription might recommend low quantities of a product in lesser producing areas while using more in higher producing areas to push yields. Think about it, why waste expensive fertilizer on places that don’t need it by laying the same amount on every acre?

The overall benefits of implementing VRT aren’t just in increasing production but also in helping you automate daily processes, conserve the environment, and reduce costs related to overspending on the amount of wasted fertilizers and other farm chemicals. Once you evaluate the pros and cons of having a technology solution like VRT, it becomes less of a question of “can I afford something like this” and more of a “can I afford not to have something like this?”

  • Technology