A Farm Equipment Special Report: What Will Agriculture Look Like in 2021?

Price and regulations will certainly change fertilizer application equipment and strategies by 2021.

"I don't believe that, in the long-term, the government will allow farmers to apply fertilizer 5 or 6 months prior to planting," says Tom Evans of Great Plains Manufacturing. "Given the choice, I don't believe farmers want to do it either. They just can't afford to lose a significant percentage of their fertilizer year after year."

His prediction is that growers will use their own equipment to apply closer to the growing season and more frequently during the growing season.

"There's a huge future in on-farm fertilizer equipment sales, but the equipment will need to be flexible," Evans says. "Growers will need to be able to pre-apply fertilizer, drop the coulters and come back and sidedress without investing in more equipment. Flexibility will need to be designed into the equipment."

As with all other aspects of row-crop production, more precision will be integrated into fertility application. Evans predicts more fertilizer applicators mounted on the tractor to reduce the number of tracks in the field, to prevent running over increasingly valuable plants and to track precisely behind RTK-guided tractors.

Robotic soil sampling will help make it easier to collect valuable fertility-guiding data. Billed as the "most intensive soil sampling process on Earth," the AgRobotics' AutoProbe runs on tracks with probes that thrust through links into the soil.

The machine collects 20 core soil samples on a 2.5-acre grid in less than a minute. Each sample is gathered at a uniform angle and consistent depth. Using auto-steering, the AutoProbe guides itself with the operator's only purpose being to apply printed labels to sample containers. In subsequent years the unit can duplicate the same path to collect samples for comparative analysis.

"The AutoProbe's creator didn't feel all the precision technology meant anything without someone knowing what's happening in the soil," says Bill Young, director of operations for AgRobotics.

With more precise maps being created and the precision technology to variable-rate fertilizer where and when plants need it, Evans says broadcast fertilizer applications will be a thing of the past.

"There is technology for individual row control for fertilizer application, but orifices can only cover approximately a 10-gallon-per-acre range," Evans says. "New orifice technology is getting nozzles to the point where they can go from 10 gallon rates to 50 without changing a thing. This will help move along per-row precision control of fertilizer application."

Gas to Liquid

Anhydrous ammonia will likely always be around due to its affordability, but how we use it will change.

"There are U.S. and Canadian companies capable of compressing anhydrous gas to liquid for faster, reduced-rate applications," says Jim Boak of Salford.

The Maxquip Maxplow Variable Rate Control (VRC) NH3 application system is a high-pressure, high-rate ammonia fertilizer pumping system that keeps anhydrous gas in the liquid form for application. The benefit, Boak says, is that it can apply faster in cold weather allowing for later season applications that are less vulnerable to loss.

"Liquid also can be applied more uniformly. Producers don't have to over-apply like they do with gas applications to get uniform distribution," Boak says. "We'll see a lot more of this technology being used in the future.

Back to September 2011 Issue Homepage