More than yields: assessing the return on investment on variable rate


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When you invest hard-earned dollars into farm technologies, like variable rate technology (VRT), you want to see that value returned to your pockets. But the ways that value shows up are many, and not always so plain to see.

When using VRT, return on investment (ROI) measurement is often a quantitative, numbers-driven conversation that requires accurate data analysis conducted at the zonal level. But, while yield is the most obvious profitability determinant, it’s not the only factor at play. A qualitative review of your integrated on-farm solutions can be just as impactful as numbers when determining the effectiveness of VRT.

Before we dig into the specifics, let’s start at the beginning.

Soil is the fundamental beginning

Underneath the surface of your fields, there’s a lot going on. Balancing higher production with better fertility management takes good agronomy to manage all the determining factors affecting your crop’s nutrient uptake and ultimately, its performance. It starts with knowing your soil like the back of your hand.

As your soil is changing all the time, it’s essential to determine any factors that might be inhibiting optimal nutrient availability for the crops you are growing. “There are many things within your soil which will not allow you to achieve the required nutrient levels for your crops,” says Donald. “A balanced fertility program creates a healthy plant that has all the nutrients required for it to grow. The key is working together for a common goal and having realistic yield goals in creating that balanced approach.”

Unlock variable qualities and yield potential held within all those inches of soil

Variability is often overlooked. Even if your field is flat, there is vast variability across that field. Picture any given harvest: do you recall a time when the harvest monitor jumped?  Of course.  The reason for that jump is variability.

Soil variability is influenced by variations in the soil texture, organic matter content, nutrient content, water holding capacity and compaction; all are determining factors in crop nutrient uptake and your crop’s performance.

That’s why accurate soil sampling is a must. It not only looks at the nutrient needs of each field but can further serve as a diagnostic tool to deal with any problems within that field. Soil sampling is an especially effective foundation to your nutrient management program when you work with an experienced agronomic advisor who can explain the interactions in the soil between pH, Cation Exchange Capacity, texture, and organic matter.

If you don’t soil sample, how can you appreciate what’s happening at the root of everything on your farm?

Improve your overall efficiency

Once you better understand what’s happening within your soil, you will have a more accurate picture of the yield potential from field to field and even zone to zone. You can then use this knowledge to improve overall crop input efficiency by strategically managing your farm with a proven VRT program.

Your VRT program provides soil and crop-specific nutritional information you can use to help boost nutrient uptake, build or increase soil organic matter, and decrease nutrient loss to the environment. With all that information, the right provider can support you to get the most from your program based on your farm’s individual needs.

Move beyond basic with optimum performance

There is great value in the information and knowledge gained through VRT, particularly when it comes to any decision making that could increase revenue on your farm. This means looking at your fields in zones rather than at the farm level. With anywhere from five-to-seven zones in the field, all with differing soil characteristics and topography, the value in treating each differently cannot be stressed enough. In contrast to broadly applying nutrients and seeding in the same ratios everywhere, VRT gives you precise control and measurements for exactly what you put into every zone on your farm.

When considering your overall ROI, here are a few key considerations for determining your VRT program’s success:

  • Invest where it matters most – While you’re trying to maximize your yield on every acre, you’re also controlling costs and getting the most of every dollar spent on inputs and seed.
  • Improve overall crop input efficiency – Use VRT to apply the right amount of nutrients combined with the ideal seeding rate, to produce more from every acre.
  • Increase crop quality – Using VRT, you can achieve better quality, increased protein, or more uniform establishment across all your acres.
  • Better standability – Uniform establishment delivers a more uniform plant stand. This may help reduce lodging and improve harvest timing as well as fungicide timing and control of disease management.
  • More sustainable field management – Using VRT, also protects the environment and promotes sustainable farming; understanding and adapting to your soil’s variable qualities prevents application loss to volatilization, denitrification, and leaching.
  • Traceability of crop production – Digitized information and memory cards make it easy to trace the history of everything applied to your fields

The ROI-related impacts of your VRT program are clearer to see and measure when you can review your performance insights at the end of each season with the accurate data and expertise your VRT program provides. The information and knowledge gained and stored through your VRT program is especially valuable when it comes to any decision making that can increase revenue on your farm.

It’s a lot to consider. ROI is an important metric for measuring success on-farm over time, but it’s just as important to consider the qualitative benefits that contribute to long term success. As you respond to today’s incredible push to balance economics on your farm with environmental practices that keep your land healthy for generations to come, VRT can help you understand more about your fields than ever before. More information available at your fingertips equals a more informed perspective from which to better evaluate solutions and investments on your farm.


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