Use of variable rates on the farm


Major changes in farming practices always take time and precision farming is no exception.

Zero till caught the attention of producers in the late 1970s, but it took over 20 years to become mainstream.

Despite the obvious advantages of satellite guidance and autoguiding, it took a decade for this technology to become mainstream.

Farmers began experimenting with variable rate and precision zone management in the mid-1990s, and two-thirds of all new planting equipment on prairie farms is variable rate compatible. However, less than a quarter of farmers in the Prairies have implemented precision zone management.

Three main factors are preventing more growers from adapting zone management, AgriTrend agronomist Warren Bills said in a recent webinar:

  • The natural resistance to trying new things, which is compounded by the fact that farmers come out of a period of good yields and good prices. Remembering these recent good times makes it difficult to implement major changes.
  • Sixty-five percent of farmers have variable rate compatible seed platforms, but they need training on how to make them work for them. Bills said going directly into an area management regime is an intimidating move for farmers if they don’t have the knowledge. Part of the problem is that farmers are rightly afraid to hand control of their fertilizer rates to a computer.
  • Previously, there was a perceived lack of conclusive evidence to prove that managing the area pays off, but Bills said a growing amount of data now shows it can have a net benefit of $ 35 per acre, which is the difference between profits and losses in certain years.

“We documented an average profit of $ 35 per acre. The data is compiled from 500,000 acres, representing 150 grain farms that have input from 73 AgriTrend (agronomists), ”Bills said.

“The net gain of $ 35 per acre is measured against a benchmark of acres fertilized with a fixed rate. Seven dollars is made through reduced inputs by reducing or eliminating fertilizers in areas with low yield potential. The remaining $ 28 comes from a higher yield through better management of areas with high yield potential. These are all real numbers from real farms we work with.

“In another case example we looked at, a 7,578 acre farm can save $ 64,792 per year by reducing or eliminating fertilizer in two low productivity areas. This is a risk reduction figure for fertilizer savings only. It does not include performance increases. The concept of precision zone management that we show in these examples is not difficult to understand. You just need some training to know how to do it.

Bills’ hour-long webinar may have seemed elementary to the four prairie grower who already practices zone management, but he said it is for growers who are still sitting on the fence.

The concept of a power zone is one of the basics for novices new to an AgriTrend agronomist.

Bills recommended that farmers think of their fields from the top down and from the bottom up. The Agritrend model has six above-ground factors and six below-ground factors, all of which feed into the process of creating area management prescription maps.

The company’s aerial approach takes into account information from satellites, airplanes, yield maps, ground verification, NDVI sensors and tissue samples, while underground factors include the electrical conductivity of the soil, such as EM38 and Veris profiles, grid soil samples, government soil surveys, slope positions, elevation maps, and area soil samples.

“(It) assesses the variability above the surface. We’re looking at plant density and everything that’s going on with growing above ground, but that doesn’t tell us why. It’s the top-down approach, ”Bills said.

“The power zone is a cause and effect exercise. What happens above the ground with the crop is an effect caused by what happens in your soil. With the bottom-up approach, we deal with soil type, nutrition, humidity, salinity, topography, drainage, soil tests and all the other things that happen underground. You need all the top and bottom factors.

Bills said awareness among farmers about the importance of salinity and EC testing has improved significantly since the first Veris machine was exhibited in Brandon 15 years ago.

“And the other thing that has improved in recent years is the number of growers who are testing the soil,” he said. “This is a big step towards making better use of your land. “

For more information, contact Warren Bills at [email protected]

Contact [email protected]


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