Ontario Agriculture

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Variable Rate Technology – What Is It, Can I Do It?

Inputs prices are high and so are crop prices. Managing costs and yields is critical to success on your farm. With commodity prices high you cannot settle for average yields. The use of variable rate precision ag products and services helps farmers to do just that. Placing the inputs in the intended prescribed areas has become very popular and makes a tremendous amount of sense for many producers. With the use of satellite imagery, plant health data, soil testing and harvest data, some very innovative companies are helping farmers maximize yield, manage input costs and most importantly maximize profit.

New VRT approaches have the potential to optimize nitrogen fertilizer application, seed placement and even herbicide application. That means more efficiency, along with the promise of maximizing yield, cost savings and environmental benefits.

However, getting the most out of this technology requires having a depth of field-specific data required to make accurate prescription maps, which up until now was lacking.

The Truth Is In The Dirt

A big part of the puzzle to get the most out of VRT is to have a thorough understanding of the land where you plan to use it. That means getting down to the soil level and understanding all the factors involved, including responses under different environmental conditions.


To help address this need, Veris Technologies has established itself as the leading soil scanning and mapping equipment provider, sold throughout Ontario by Northern Equipment Solutions.  Veris Technologies provides the data needed piece together the soil information portion of the VRT puzzle.  Soil scanning and data recording for soil type and texture, organic matter and PH are all available and should be used with your regular soil heath tests.

Plant Health and What It Means To You

Only a small number of farmers have adapted to NVDI sensing technology, either through sprayer mounted variable rate sensor systems, sensing and data recording and the handheld unit.

Not only is NVDI technology one of the highest returning technologies available, but if implemented correctly data can be interpreted easily and very cost effectively.

Handheld units from Greenseeker provide NVDI readings and a mobile phone app that’s available for Android and Apple smart phones from Trimble called Connected Farm, is all that is needed to see the benefits and data from this advanced technology.

The precision approach

The basics of VRT, in practice, this is essentially a process of applying different rates of inputs to different areas of a field, with a goal to optimize those applications for benefits such as lower costs, better yields, environmental advantages and overall higher returns.

In practical terms, VRT is typically accomplished by developing a prescription map for a particular field, transferring the map information to a controller in the cab of the vehicle, and driving the field. The controller changes the application rate based on the prescription map, and records how much was applied where. Some more advanced VRT approaches can also be done on-the-fly, using Greenseeker sensors that measure what is needed by the crop and adjust the rate accordingly in real time.

Prescription maps often break fields into five to 10 management zones, based on soil tests, topography, aerial photos, previous yields and other factors, depending on the technology and information available. To help evaluate the effectiveness of VRT approaches and collect data for use in future years, yields are typically measured in each zone and a check strip, using combine yield monitoring and GPS systems.

Managing variability in fields

Indications are that precision farming and VRT are growing steadily in adoption for use in seeding and fertilizer placement. There is also potential to use VRT for spraying though there are hurdles to overcome for this option to become more viable. For all three options, many see VRT approaches gradually becoming more common.

Records anchor success

More information and data is expected to gradually emerge, including through ongoing field studies.  Like in so many areas of farming today, one of the most critical things is to have good records - the more years and more detail they cover, the better. When you try a VRT approach, it's important to have the ability to compare what was done and the results from the period before the practice change to the period after the practice change. Records are the only way to do that. Otherwise, when you see a result such as higher yield, you don't know if it was due to VRT or some other factor. Good records also help you have a better prescription map that is likely to be more effective.

The producer needs to keep meticulous records of yields, inputs and a number of related key factors, to really be able to make a good decision, it's the only way to answer the question, 'Is VRT worth it for my field?' Don't simply take someone else's word for it. Keep the knowledge and the management decisions in your hands."



Paul Smith is the owner of Northern Equipment Solutions and based in Central Ontario, Canada. Providing Quality Potato Equipment, Precision Agriculture and Other Advanced Equipment, Northern Equipment Solutions ensures that your profits and yields are maximized. www.northernequipment.ca or sales@northernequipment.ca

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