This article is part of the Farm Journal multimedia series, which is designed to help improve bottom lines by maximizing yields, minimizing inputs and improving stewardship. Use this as your business guide to understand and implement zone management and the tools that make it possible.
The drive to enhance yields and nutrient stewardship through variable-rate technology (VRT) might have you chomping at the bit. Before you can run, though, you must walk—and have the hardware and equipment necessary for the journey. Here are six considerations to set up your farm for success with VRT.
Your timeline. "We start with a farmer’s goals and a time frame for achieving those goals," says Brad Beutke, who works with Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie at Crop-Tech Consulting to help farmer-clients develop a game plan for VRT.
The process of creating a timeline forces farmers to walk through how VRT could change their production practices, machinery and technology use.
"Farmers typically adopt VRT populations and sidedress nitrogen around the same time," says Isaac Ferrie, an associate at Crop-Tech Consulting. "For example, it’s helpful to know if
a farmer wants to step into VRT population in the next year and then add VRT nitrogen within three years. Sometime in that time frame, that farmer would also like to improve to RTK accuracy."
The longer it takes you to implement VRT, the higher the likelihood of compatibility issues with equipment, Ferrie cautions.
Take inventory. The next step is to list all of the equipment a farmer has on hand: GPS receivers, guidance equipment, monitors, rate controllers, etc. This step benchmarks where a farmer is today with where he or she wants to go. This step seems straightforward, but it often yields surprises.
For example, Beutke worked with a farmer who was considering VRT nitrogen and had tallied a ballpark figure to set up his current sidedress toolbar. When they evaluated all of the components he already had, the total was one-tenth of his original estimate.
As VRT becomes more widely adopted among farmers, manufacturers offer more factory-ready options. This might change a farmer’s course.
"Figure out the dollar-for-dollar amount to retrofit a current planter or buy a used or new planter set up the way you want," Ferrie says.
Farmers can work with fertilizer dealers to outfit rented sidedress toolbars for VRT with a quick-attach setup for a ground-driven piston pump.
Dennis Noland, who farms near Blue Mound, Ill., says a planter trade-in served as the catalyst for his farm to start VRT populations.
"We’ve been doing variable-rate population since 2008. Before, our planter had a ground drive; when it came time to trade it in, we decided to upgrade to a hydraulic drive because we knew that VRT population was next for us," he says.
The following year, Noland started using variable-rate nitrogen. To get set up for VRT sidedress, the farm used an existing toolbar replumbed and outfitted to vary rates on the go.
"Along the way, we’ve tried to make decisions that kept our equipment compatibility simple. For us, it made sense to use one monitor for the combine, planter tractor and sidedress tractor so we didn’t have to buy extra equipment," Noland says. "We did eventually add a second monitor for sidedressing because the time frame overlapped with planting soybeans."
- Mid-February 2014