facebook_pixel

Is Variable Rate Application For You?

As precision agriculture practices drift closer and closer to the mainstream with each passing year, cotton producers around the country are taking notice.

One of the first management techniques many consider is variable rate application (VRA) – a broad umbrella under which a host of inputs of varying costs could be applied. The practice, after all, is based on a seemingly common sense principle – that all the acres on a farm are not created equally. Variations in soil type, nutrient availability and water scenarios provide a wide range of maximum production levels a piece of ground could ultimately reach.

So how, then, should a cotton producer get started in this increasingly popular precision management practice? Should he or she even get started in it at all? Precision experts from around the Cotton Belt say the latter question is the first one that should be considered.

“I’d be hesitant to make a blanket statement that everyone should immediately give VRA a try,” says John Fulton, associate professor and Extension specialist at Auburn University. “One of the things we focus on is that we believe a farm is a business operation. From that, VRA can be one component of that business, but the first thing someone should consider is ‘What benefit am I trying to achieve by implementing a VRA program?’ You might find that you are not ready for it right now.”

To be sure, Fulton believes VRA could provide benefits in almost every scenario, given time. But, as he points out, in some instances growers turn to VRA as a practice that can immediately provide savings on inputs, only to later find that their precision fertility program might actually suggest spending more on input costs.

“All of a sudden they say, ‘Well it’s not working for me.’ Well, that may not have been the right approach if you were trying to save costs immediately,” Fulton says. “But if you’re looking at a business model to invest in getting yourself to the next level in five or ten years, then in time you’ll find that it is a good business decision, and you’ll make money from it.”

Fulton also points out that VRA is a practice that few farmers have the resources or capabilities to execute on their own; especially small farms. Growers may have to bring in outside assistance or invest in new farm management software technology for generating prescription maps and conducting soil samples, for example. Ultimately, he says, growers need to have a clear idea of what they are getting themselves into when they choose to jump into VRA practices.

Making the Jump into VRA

But for those who have a clear cut business objective and have determined that VRA is the right practice to accomplish that goal, the time has never been better to begin the practice. Some common technologies that are widely available today can lend themselves to getting started in VRA. In fact, experts say, all it takes is access to the Internet to begin looking for the variability on your farm.

“Look at your fields with a tool like Google Maps to see if there are a lot of patterns in the images to get an idea of how much variability may be present,” says Dr. Ed Barnes, director of agricultural research at Cotton Incorporated. “If there is a lot of variation present in the image, then a grower likely needs to consider variable rate application.”

Many longtime cotton growers around the Cotton Belt are just recently getting a glimpse at the soil variation in their own cotton fields for the first time, now that some equipment companies are packaging yield monitors standard with their new harvest equipment.

“A more robust (and complicated) way to check for variability is to take advantage of yield maps,” says Barnes. “New pickers and combines all have the equipment installed.  Just looking at the variation in yield in a field should give a producer an idea of how much variability there is and how much it may be costing them.”

Once variability is established (and Barnes suggests soil variability is ever-present in every corner of the Cotton Belt), there are some VRA scenarios that can pay quick dividends for cotton producers. Barnes points to section-control sprayers, which work through GPS for guidance and automatically shut off parts of a spray boom when it ventures outside of a field’s boundary.

“The cost of the system is low and typically pays for itself in a year – especially for someone with oddly shaped fields,” says Barnes.

As for the actual inputs that can provide quick savings for cotton producers, Fulton and Barnes say lime lends itself well to variable rate applications.

“Growers implementing precision soil sampling have found that better ways to manage their inputs exist,” says Fulton. “They’ve been able to identify pH issues, which for them have been a quick pay back. Getting your lime within that optimal range has been something of a corrective measure. Precision sampling followed by a variable rate application of lime is a pretty quick pay back for them from a yield perspective.”

Fulton says many of his growers in Alabama have found substantial savings by using VRA with phosphorus, especially in light of rising fertilizer costs.

“There’s no reason to be applying a lot of phosphorus if the plants aren’t going to be able to take advantage of it,” says Fulton. “And some have found benefits on the potassium side, as well.”

And when it comes to fertilizer applications, Barnes says there are methods of VRA that are more attractive to growers who may be wanting to try the precision practice for the first time.

“Try variable rate, pre-plant fertilizer (P & K) through a local dealer who offers the service,” Barnes says.  “This way, growers can see some of the data and potential benefits without a big time investment. And if they use lime, definitely go variable rate. It almost always has a positive return on investment if there is any variability in the field.”

Barnes also notes that there are products on the market, such as GreenSeeker from Trimble that allow growers to practice VRA without pre-existing field maps. These real-time sensor-based systems diagnose the characteristics of a field as they pass over them, carried along by in-field farm equipment.

Leave a Reply

News Stories
News

NCC Sets 2017-18 Emerging Leaders Class

April 27, 2017

Twelve U.S. cotton industry members have been named to the National Cotton Council’s Emerging Leaders Program for 2017-18.

News

USDA Announces 2017 Cotton Loan Rate Differentials

April 19, 2017

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency has announced the 2017-crop loan rate differentials for upland and extra-long staple cotton.

News

Coloring Cotton with Cotton

April 18, 2017

A collaborative program between Archroma and Cotton Incorporated has resulted in a process to dye cotton with cotton.

Cotton Sprayer
Product News

UPI Adds New Herbicide Products

April 14, 2017

UPI has added two new herbicides to its portfolio of high quality crop protection products for the U.S.

Product News

FiberMax One Ton Club Membership Tops 1,000

April 14, 2017

A record number of growers qualified for the FiberMax One Ton Club in 2016 with four-bale and higher yields with FiberMax varieties.

News

Cotton Highlights from April WASDE Report

April 11, 2017

The continued strength of U.S. cotton exports are reflected in USDA’s WASDE report for April.

News

Survey Studies U.S. Cotton Sustainability Versus Synthetics

April 10, 2017

A University of Georgia student’s survey of the U.S. cotton industry found that the crop can compete with synthetic fibers and will continue to be economically and environmentally feasible into the future.

Around The Gin
Product News

Indigo Partners Launched for In-Field Technology Testing

April 25, 2017

Indigo is launching Indigo Partners, a collaboration of 25 U.S. growers and agronomic experts to test agricultural technologies – including Indigo’s microbial seed treatments – during 2017.

Product News

UPI Adds New Herbicide Products

April 14, 2017

UPI has added two new herbicides to its portfolio of high quality crop protection products for the U.S.

Product News

FiberMax One Ton Club Membership Tops 1,000

April 14, 2017

A record number of growers qualified for the FiberMax One Ton Club in 2016 with four-bale and higher yields with FiberMax varieties.

Product News

Deltapine NPE Program Kicks off Tenth Year

April 10, 2017

Nearly 200 growers will participate in the tenth season of the Deltapine New Product Evaluator (NPE) Program.

Product News

BASF Expands Dicamba Manufacturing Facility

March 22, 2017

BASF has completed a $270 million expansion of its Beaumont, TX, facility – the largest agricultural products facility investment in company history.

Product News

Topguard Terra Label Amendments for Cotton Root Rot in Texas

March 7, 2017

Texas growers now have additional preplant and post planting options for using Topguard Terra to control cotton root rot.

Product News

Advanced Traits from PhytoGen Protect Yield and Quality

March 6, 2017

PhytoGen varieties offer more and better in-plant, native trait protection to help cotton thrive, protect quality and optimize yields.

Product News

Six Greenleaf Nozzles Approved for Use with XtendiMax

February 24, 2017

Six TurboDrop D Series nozzles from Greenleaf Technologies have been approved for use with Monsanto’s XtendiMax herbicide with VaporGrip Technology.

Latest News
News

NCC Sets 2017-18 Emerging Leaders Class

April 27, 2017

Twelve U.S. cotton industry members have been named to the National Cotton Council’s Emerging Leaders Program for 2017-18.

News

Cotton Organizations Praise Perdue Confirmation

April 24, 2017

The confirmation of Sonny Perdue as the 31st U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has garnered praise and support from the cotton industry.

News

USDA Announces 2017 Cotton Loan Rate Differentials

April 19, 2017

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency has announced the 2017-crop loan rate differentials for upland and extra-long staple cotton.

News

Coloring Cotton with Cotton

April 18, 2017

A collaborative program between Archroma and Cotton Incorporated has resulted in a process to dye cotton with cotton.

News

Cotton Highlights from April WASDE Report

April 11, 2017

The continued strength of U.S. cotton exports are reflected in USDA’s WASDE report for April.

News

Survey Studies U.S. Cotton Sustainability Versus Synthetics

April 10, 2017

A University of Georgia student’s survey of the U.S. cotton industry found that the crop can compete with synthetic fibers and will continue to be economically and environmentally feasible into the future.

News

NCC Conveys Farm Law Priorities in DC Hearing

April 4, 2017

National Cotton Council Chairman Ronnie Lee outlined cotton’s priorities for the next farm bill before the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management.

News

NCC Comments on EPA’s Chlorpyrifos Decision

March 31, 2017

The National Cotton Council supports EPA’s decision to focus on scientific evidence to maintain registration for chlorpyrifos.

News

Lubbock Ag Day Speakers Offer Tips for Cotton and Allied Sectors

March 23, 2017

Active involvement and participation are needed to help push the cotton, textile and related sectors forward, noted speakers at the recent Lubbock Chamber of Commerce Salute to Ag Luncheon.

News

NCC: President’s Recognition of U.S. Agriculture Encouraging

March 22, 2017

The NCC found President Trump's National Agriculture Day proclamation encouraging, based on his comments about the value of America's farmers and ranchers.

News

Webcast Focuses on Value of Cotton Variety Selection

March 17, 2017

A new webcast on the economic value of choosing the correct cotton variety has been added to the Focus on Cotton online series from the Plant Management Network and Cotton Incorporated.

News

Ag Groups: Productive Trade Meeting with Trump Administration

March 17, 2017

Leaders from 11 major U.S. agricultural and agribusiness organizations engaged in a substantive and productive meeting with the Trump administration on the continued growth of food and agriculture exports.

News

Bayer Opens $16.7 Million Southwest Cotton Breeding Station

March 13, 2017

A new Bayer breeding and research station near Lubbock, TX, focuses on drought-resistant cotton varieties and traits for limited-input situations.

News

A Man on the Move

March 9, 2017

Ronnie Lee is ready to do cotton’s work as 2017 NCC Chairman. Just don’t count on him slowing down in the process.

News

Cotton Highlights from March WASDE Report

March 9, 2017

The March WASDE report for cotton shows incremental increases in estimated U.S. production and exports based on current market conditions, while global consumption and stocks remain, on average, virtually unchanged.