Southern Spotlight: The Value of VRT

James Banahan

James Banahan

If you’re currently part of a VRT program, odds are that you signed up when corn was selling for over $5 a bushel.  With prices around the three and a half dollar mark today, you might be feeling the same pinch that we’re all feeling at this moment and thinking that the VRT program that seemed so worth it at $7 corn, well, isn’t quite as worth it at $3.50.

While cost is understandably important to you, thinking of that sort can be shortsighted.  Even though $3.50 corn will mean a reduction in your revenue, it actually does still make sense to spend on some “luxuries.”  A VRT program is among those luxuries.

The beauty of VRT is that money spent on it saves money spent on products.  Because a VRT program corrects misapplication of fertilizers, it ensures that you aren’t spending to put an unnecessary product down, or spending to put too much product down.

For example, in our part of Kansas, many growers raised hogs for a very long time.  Year after year, the manure was spread around the fields, but as you might guess, it was spread inconsistently: fields closest to the pens received the most manure whereas fields furthest from the pens barely received any.  As a result of this practice, nutrients are spread unevenly in fields throughout the state.  If you don’t know the history of the land you’re farming (which is probably the norm if you’re renting land) you don’t know if something like this might be the case.  You may be applying a nutrient that is already abundant in the soil.  In fact, you may be spending money to apply a nutrient that already exists at near-toxic levels, making a bad situation even worse and wasting money in the process.DSC_0018

Participation in a VRT program would reveal such nutrient inconsistencies among your fields and prevent you from applying fertilizer where it isn’t needed.  The program costs you $6.50 an acre, but that $6.50 has the potential to save you quite the money not far down the line: Say that you spend about $30 per acre for a decent phosphorous program, something like 11-52-0.  You enroll in a VRT program, pay your $6.50 per acre, and discover that you have some particularly hoggy acres already flush with P.  So you don’t put any P down on those acres, saving you $30 per.  Your participation in the VRT program then saved you $23.50 on each acre you discovered didn’t in fact need P.

In the end though, our business isn’t cutting costs but raising bushels.  Our livings are made not by saving money but by raising crops.  For every dollar a VRT program saves you in one area, it can tell you how to best invest it in another.  That’s the true value of such a program: not to save money but to produce the maximum yield on the same dollar spent.  VRT reduces waste and increases your return on investment.   It’s a “luxury” that benefits both your bottom line and the health of your soil and an expense that pays for itself, regardless of the price of corn.