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Caution on Variable Rate Seeding

Ten Minute Tech

Be sure you have the right data in place before agreeing to variable rate prescriptions

Published on: May 3, 2013

I recently received an email from a crop consultant friend of mine who stated that he was seeing "seed companies pushing VRT seeding and N…and they have no basis to do so, just because it links the customer to them."

The practices he is referring to fall into the category that I talked about a few months back -- variable rate, because you can.

To make matters worse, it is also variable rate for the sake of selling a product, and that makes it doubly dangerous. It is kind of like skipping the doctor and going straight to a pharmacist to get your diagnosis and prescription. You actually could be buying what he wants to sell you rather than what will cure you.

Precision agriculture is all about measuring variability and determining the best methods to manage that variability. So, in a nutshell, to maximize your return on your technology investment you need two things: a base layer that lays out the spatial variability you intend to manage; and a plan that includes the right practice or rate to apply within each area.

The lack of these two important components is what my friend was referring to when he said "...they have no basis to do so." He is simply stating that the industry in general is taking the easy way out and changing rates without having a well thought out set of data to distinguish within field variability.  

To compound the problem they also lack the research that would give them the necessary data to make the right call on seed or nitrogen rate.

 He is also correct in his statement that companies and individuals are trying to solidify relationships with their customers by creating prescriptions. They assume that they can tie farmers to their company by being the perceived experts.

Really, anyone with a computer, software and a general understanding of precision ag can make variable rate files.  

The output from the software is always designed to razzle-dazzle clients into thinking the computer-generated map is correct. I hate to be the wet blanket, but I have yet to meet a computer that completely understands the complex system of agronomic management. So when you put the software in the hands of a non-trained individual, although the output may look impressive, you are going to get wrong and dangerous answers.  

Unfortunately, so many of the people I have seen churning out recommendations are untrained. They are not agronomists or in most cases not even computer literate beyond some cookbook routine.

So where does this lead? In two years, when everyone has spent all this time and effort to produce incorrect recommendations, they will realize they are no further ahead and will give up the pursuit of variable rate. I will talk about how to pursue good variable rate recommendations in an upcoming blog.