by Dennis Burns
ANR Agent Tensas Parish
Recently I was talking to a producer who wanted to learn about making variable rate applications of nitrogen. The first question he asked was: “How much was am I going to save by making the application variable rate?” My response was not what he expected. I said “Don’t look at it as saving money, but as making money.” By matching the optimum nitrogen rate to the corresponding soil/production zone, crop use efficiency is highest and the potential profit from the nitrogen application is maximized.
To make a variable rate nitrogen application, a producer has to define the application zones. This can be based on soil types, Veris Ec soil zones, yield maps, producer knowledge or a combination. The producer’s knowledge of the field along with a yield goal helps determine the nitrogen rate assigned to each zone. The total amount applied to a field with a variable rate application may not be much different than if a producer had gone with a single rate, but by putting the correct rate in the right area the field doesn’t have areas with over or under applications of nutrients.
Soil Sampling is an essential part of variable rate applications, whether it is grid sampling or zone sampling. Each method would benefit from the addition of yield map data to the analysis. Yield maps over several crops and several years can help define the potential yield and profitability of a field. It can also assist with the definition of productivity zones for a field. This is especially obvious when a cropping history is developed over several years.
Variable rate applications of lime, P, K, and other essential nutrients need to be applied in areas defined by the sampling pattern (grid or zone). Variable rate applications of other nutrients is the most cost effective and efficient method for supplying crop needs. Variable rate also allows a producer to match fertility needs to the current crop’s needs. Supplying/maintaining fertility levels enhances the nitrogen efficiency and use by the crop.
The most useful piece of precision ag equipment a producer can own is a yield monitor. A yield monitor gathers the information from the field with which a producer can evaluate how well fertilizers, varieties, etc. performed. Verification strips of a nutrient, nitrogen rate, or another input can be used as a comparison for the rest of the field. Analyzing the results as whole strips and soil/production zones allows a producer to determine the most productive/economical practices to use on their farm.
Precision agriculture, its use, the results, and the incorporation of the practices into a farming operation is a long term process which can enhance the productivity of a farm. For more information or assistance with precision ag applications or yield data on your farm, contact Dennis Burns at 318-267-6709 or R.L. Frazier at 318-267-6714.