Can we Variable Rate too many things in one year?

3-23-17 Can we variable rate too many things from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

I was recently sitting down with a grower going over some plans for this coming season. We were talking about the Variable Rate Phosphorus and Potassium we have applied for the 2017 crop and reviewing plans for the Variable Rate Seeding program, and the VR Nitrogen plan for this spring. And finally, we were talking about the possibility of utilizing the FieldWise Pivot Control’s that we put on last year to do some Variable Rate Irrigation. It was about then that the grower paused, looked at me and said, “Are we Variable Rating too many things on my farm?” It was a simple question that came to him, but it revealed a pile of uncertainty that I’m sure every grower experiences.

Here’s the simple truth about this grower’s question. It has validity. But like so many things in Agriculture, there are layers that have to be peeled back to find answers. The answer to this question has to come around the simple question of what the grower’s goal is. If the goal is to measure the impact that one thing has on your crop, then the answer is yes, you can variable rate too many things. But if the goal is to maximize return on investment, and ultimately profitability, then I think the short answer here is no.

Now I know that most of you are going to say that was stupid. We all want to maximize ROI. But the reality is that you don’t get to go to the ROI maximization group until you passed the measuring impact group test. Everybody has a point of entry. We all have to get comfortable with technology before we can move on. If we don’t we are always asking the questions, “What is too much?” and “Is this really paying for itself?” And ultimately, it is my team’s job to help you get on the VR movement and to move you forward to be more comfortable.


So that’s step 1; but step 2, when we start to layer our VR applications is much more difficult. It’s about more than proving individual steps and combining them. It is about common ground. If we have the Variable Yield goal built, why not tailor the two most expensive inputs; seed and nitrogen. But it also goes deeper. We should never, in my opinion, variable rate the same nutrient multiple times per season. It is often as much about the foundation as the ceiling.

Therein lies the take home for the day. Our ceilings are important, we want to have limitless tops, but our foundations are more important. Multiple variable rate prescriptions are just fine, as long as they are built upon a solid foundation, such as soil samples or Variable Yield Goals. If they are built upon things like a single yield map or even a soils map, a single VR Application may be too much. Having the trusted advisor help you build up to this point is a key part of the process as well.

In this case, the answer for this grower was that multiple VR Applications were right for his farm. At the end of the day, only you and your advisor know what is right for yours.