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Six Tips to Ensure Variable-Rate Success

February 7, 2011
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
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One lesson Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie has learned is to never be afraid to call company representatives for help with technology.  

Farmers are an independent lot by nature, but few, if any, succeed without the support of an informal agronomic team made up of consultants, company representatives, Extension personnel and other farmers. That connection is as important as ever today as farmers grapple with increasingly complex information and practices, such as variable-rate technology (VRT).

Consider the following six tips offered by Isaac Ferrie and Brad Beutke, technology experts who work with Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. Their suggestions, based on working with farmers to implement VRT, can help you capitalize on their experience so you can take solid steps toward success with this technology and sidestep potential pitfalls.


1. Develop a written technology plan.

Make a written list of the VRT practices you want to implement on your farm during the course of the next five to 10 years. As you develop the list, talk with local equipment dealers, agronomists and other farmers who have experience with VRT to glean their ideas and suggestions. Once your list is drafted, prioritize it in the order you believe you will implement these practices. Prioritizing the list will give you an idea of the immediate technology purchases you need to make as well as a list of items you can delay.

Don’t worry about making your written VRT plan a perfect document. Use it as a road map to help guide you to your goals, and revise it as you become more certain of the technology practices you want to implement.

The next five suggestions are interrelated and concern basic nuts-and-bolts information that can help make your technology plan more concrete.


2. Determine your basic hardware needs.

Identify the various hardware tools you need to get started with VRT, including a monitor and a controller. Talk with multiple suppliers. In the process, look for hardware that can handle more than one job that’s listed on your technology plan.

"Try to buy one monitor that can handle a variety of jobs, rather than buying different monitors for each job," Beutke says. "Get a monitor that can be used interchangeably on your tractor and also on your combine. That flexibility and compatibility of use will help you minimize purchases and keep costs down."

Along with hardware, VRT requires access to GPS technology, prescription maps and equipment that can handle variable rates.


3. Evaluate your software needs.

VRT practices are based on prescriptions specific to your fields. Each prescription is loaded onto a software file that guides any product application or planting practice you implement. Determine who will be developing your VRT prescription files: you or a third party?

"If someone else is developing the prescriptions, find out what type of files he can make, as the file type determines the controller and monitor you will use in the field," Beutke says.

If you opt to develop the prescription files yourself, explore several different software programs before you buy. Evaluate which jobs they can handle, whether they are compatible with other programs and how easy or difficult they are to use, Isaac Ferrie encourages farmers.

"You may or may not be able to fill all your variable-rate needs with just one program," says Ferrie, who works with five to 10 different software programs in any given year with his VRT farmer-customers.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Mid-February 2011

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