Variable-Rate Strategies

Save Money, Increase Yields

Consider adding this high-tech seeding technique to your arsenal.

The internet and social media have revolutionized how companies market their products. Using click-through rates, conversion rates, online browsing behavior and other metrics, they target marketing to customers most likely to purchase while reducing time and money wasted on those with no interest.

A similar revolution is taking place across America’s farmlands. Advanced soil and production analyses and seeding methods are helping farmers concentrate on the portions of their land likely to produce bountiful crops while pulling back on less-fertile acres. This process, known as variable-rate seeding, could help lower your costs for seed, fertilizer and other materials while maintaining or even increasing your yields.

Map your zones

The process starts with getting a detailed picture of your land, not as a uniform spread but as a patchwork of individual zones. Sophisticated sensors and software can measure everything from soil composition to the nutrient, pH and moisture levels of parts of your property, producing a multicolored digital map showing your sweet spots.[1]

Other methods include measuring past productivity of your land to create a multiyear yield analysis (MYYA). Monitors attached to a combine collect the yield information and create a map as you harvest, showing which zones produced heavy or light yields.[2] Whether you rely on soil analysis, MYYA or a combination of these will depend on the crops you raise and other factors, so seek expert guidance from your state extension office or other sources before you get started.

Seed accordingly

Once you have your maps in hand, variable-rate seeders can deposit just the right amount of seed to get the most out of a particular area. As one example, The Progressive Farmer cites a Tennessee farmer whose corn seeding ranges from 22,000 to 38,000 seeds per acre, depending on the productivity of each zone.[3] By the same token, variable-rate seeding also may help you save money by enabling you to better target your use of fertilizers and fungicides.

Variable-rate seeding won’t guarantee bumper crops and profits, of course. There’s no accounting for nature’s unpredictability, and this process may not be right for every situation. For example, if the soil and productivity differences between the zones on your property are minimal, variable-rate seeding may not be worth the time and expense.[4] Under the right conditions, though, this process can be one more effective tool in your battle to produce more at lower cost.

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