Precision control systems are becoming more common on farms today and variable rate fertilizer application is becoming one of the most widely adopted options for management of fertilizer application rates while avoiding runoff from over application.
Is this technology right for everyone? Not necessarily. Studies have shown smaller, relatively flat fields with a uniform soil type often have a consistent distribution of nutrients. A straight rate application is just as effective at getting the right nutrients applied as a variable rate machine in these situations. However, many farms in Ontario have at least some rolling ground and can be challenged with several soil types in one field.
Ontario farmer Tony DeBruyn works his own land and does some custom work on corn, soy and occasionally some wheat in Chatham-Kent. DeBruyn’s work area includes some rolling fields near Lake Erie. To maximize his yields in the area they farm DeBruyn has been using variable rate application for some time.
“We don’t look to variable rate for cost savings in fertilizer,”
“It’s the matter of putting the product where it’s needed. We looked at variable rate when it first came out. The co-op we work with would take soil samples.”
And naturally, they thought that more fertilizer should be put on the poorer soils. However, that’s not the case.
“We found that our poorer soils can only produce so much. The better soils are really able to increase yields with the proper nutrients applied.”
Along with focusing on fertilizer where it’s needed to maximize yields, Debruyn is also concerned about his environmental impact.
“We’re near Lake Erie, and we’re concerned about algae blooms and what regulations the government may come with regards to fertilizer application. We decided we want to put our fertilizer where it’s going to be the most beneficial. That way, we’re increasing yields and creating less runoff with the fertilizer.”
Continuing on his goal to improve application methods on his land, and through custom work, DeBruyn has spent the last five years researching the variable-rate blends. Tony is looking to apply this research with an applicator that could meet his needs.
Tony has purchased one of Salford’s BBI MagnaSpread3, multi-product spinner spreaders. DeBruyn’s Salford spreader is capable of creating a blend of three fertilizers at once and varying the application rate for each product on the fly to match the prescription that he’s had created based on soil sampling. The spreader is ISOBUS compatible, allowing him to keep using the same GreenStarTM 2360 terminal that he uses for other precision operations on his farm. Application equipment that is ISOBUS compatible allows one terminal move between the tractors and control various implements. Although ISOBUS isn’t foolproof compatibility, depending on firmware versions and terminal “unlocks”, the fact remains that using one control terminal across multiple implements is the best way to maximize the farm’s investment in precision controls.
When asked about the learning curve to setup his new spreader for multi-product, variable rate application DeBruyn said he was nervous at first but when he got his machine and was impressed with how easy it was to get started. Having individual scale kits on the separate hoppers helped make calibration easier.
“We were surprised with how easily the GreenStarTM connected to and controlled the spreader. With one person, it took about 30 minutes to calibrate it, and with two people you could do it in less time.”
DeBruyn emphasized that variable rate application requires precision. Consistent soil sampling is important to build the prescription maps. Also, spreader calibration and knowing the density of the product you’re spreading is essential for accurate, uniform application. DeBruyn says in his operation, they will double-check the product density when they notice the material consistency change, even if it’s coming from the same truckload of fertilizer. This ensures they have accurate applications.