Is VRA a Better Deal?

The profitability of VRA technology, particularly with nitrogen application, is an issue that John Nowatzki is taking seriously.

An ag machine systems specialist at North Dakota State Univ., Nowatzki is organizing a study using everyday farmers to find out if VRA of fertilizer is more profitable than whole-rate application.

Nowatzki says more and more farmers are purchasing equipment capable of applying variable rates of fertilizer, but many farmers are reluctant to incorporate this practice, even when it could lead to decreased input costs per unit of harvested crop.

“To my knowledge, there has been a good amount of research that looks how to divide a field up, but little or no research whether it’s a better deal or if it’s a better use of nitrogen,” Nowatzki says. “We want to get a large database of 100 farmers who are willing to try this for 3 years, and see what the difference is. I expect that we will show greater profit from VRA systems.”

Northern Plains crop producers can participate with up to 4 fields each. Each field will be analyzed separately, but then combined into a single database to evaluate the effectiveness of variable-rate fertilization.

Products Still Evolving for VRA

Manufacturers are rolling out equipment for variable-rate systems that is more sophisticated, more reasonably priced and better able to deliver what’s being promised.

Nowatzki says Deere, Raven, Ag Leader and Case IH are among several companies who’ve introduced monitors and controllers that let producers vary three different types of products to handle fertilization and planting in one pass.

Competition is also heating up in the crop sensor market.

NTech, which was acquired by Trimble Agriculture last year, is offering its RT200 system for on-the-go zone management of top- and side-dressing nitrogen application. RT200 measures crop status and variably applies the crop’s N requirements.

Two more players entered the crop sensor market in 2009. TopCon introduced its CropSpec crop canopy sensor, with mass market introduction planned for this year. The sensor is mounted on the tractor instead of a sprayer boom. When used with TopCon’s X20 console, CropSpec links to TopCon’s Maplink program for variable rate control of fertilizers.

AgLeader unveiled its OptRx Crop Sensor last year. The sensor features a patented light-sensing technology that is not dependent on ambient light, so it can be used day or night. The sensor should be available this spring for VRA application of N for corn, with tests continuing for other crops, Ag Leader says.

Blu-Jet is developing a twin-piston hydraulic drive injection (HDI) pump that will dispense up to 20,000 pounds of NH3 in an hour and reduce the reliance on tank pressure during application, says Nick Jensen, the company’s chief marketing officer.

Blu-Jet also just released its Legacy commercial-class fertilizer applicator, which has a variable-rate option and can work 15-21 rows on 30-inch centers. Slated for release late this spring or early summer, the toolbar was designed for producers who want to cover a lot of acres quickly but don’t have the horsepower to haul a 60-foot applicator.