Variable Rate Nitrogen

Variable Rate Nitrogen from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

As I stand here in the latter part of April, I am looking ahead. I am looking ahead to what’s next in our farming cycle for 2017. After this crop is out of the ground, our next big worry is going to be managing our Nitrogen this year. Mike has talked to you about the 4 R’s, and while they are all important, I want to focus on the Right Rate for Today.

Variable Rate Nitrogen has always been a bit of a taboo subject because if the Corn turns yellow, we are going to be unhappy. Getting to the point where VR Nitrogen is right for your farm is a bit like traveling. It would be great if we could teleport to any place in the world, but that isn’t a reality today. The reality is that first, we have to take a gravel road to the highway, then a highway to the interstate, and so on. It’s a journey that takes time. As we have progressed with our Soil Sampling programs, fixed fertility deficiencies and addressed other variabilities in our fields with Variable Rate Seeding prescriptions, it’s time for more. We have traveled a great distance, and it’s getting to be a long road, but there is also some new scenery to see.

I know this winter that I talked about how important that the Variable Yield Goal is in the process when it comes to a VRN program, but I want to talk about a few of the other basics as well. Every year we have discussions about what the right pounds of Nitrogen per bushel are. I’m veering a little bit into Mike Zwingman territory here, but there is a reason why. We typically decide on one number for an entire field. But is that right? Is it possible that one area could use 0.9 lbs. per bushel while another area uses 1.2 lbs. per bushel? I think we all know that it is not only possible but realistic. It is one of the reasons that our Nitrate levels vary across the field. But do we know what to do about it?

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And the answer is, I think we do. I think that the VR Nitrogen prescription process that our ACS Mangers go through to build prescriptions on your farm is second to none. With EC data and soil samples married to the Variable Yield Goal, I think we can develop a plan that accounts for your variability in yield, and soils. And the thing I really want you to understand today is, that for the most part, we already have the pieces we need, we just need to put them in place. We all have options for placement in season, and most of us have a system that is controlled by a valve via electronics. We are not talking major investment here to get in the game.

So here is my challenge and take-home for you today. I want you to take a good look at your operation and where you are at on this journey. If you are someone who has logged the miles (Intensive Soil Sampling) and put in the time (VR Seeding), then I think you’re at a crossroads. You can continue down the Interstate and get to the end of the journey quickly. Or you can take the other route, and see the sights. You can go places others pass by and never even know that they are missing something. And the great thing is, this is something that is still actionable for this season. The total pounds we put out with VR Nitrogen are often comparable to your current rates. We just put them out in such a way to get the best ROI on a 30’ X 30’ basis.

And for those of you not at the crossroads yet, that’s ok. Our focus, for now, is to improve our placement of Nitrogen and timing, because both of those will provide great returns as well. I know nobody uses a map anymore, but there is room on this journey for all of us.