SoilOptix® Blog

How to start variable rate fertilizer application for your farm? Some quick tips!

Modern farming has moved far beyond solely relying on the experience of a farmer with little external support. Now, cutting-edge technology provides growers with more knowledge to inform their decisions. One of the best innovations in terms of environmentally-friendly farming and optimizing crop yields are variable rate application. This is the process of applying treatment plans and fertilizers to a crop according to the health of the soil and plants across the field rather than a blanket treatment. It is a way to tailor the application to where it is most needed. This saves resources and helps boost yields without wasting expensive therapies.

Ultimately, scientists say carbon sequestration, like other negative emissions technologies, can aid farmers in fighting climate change but cannot take the carbon out of the atmosphere just as fast as we are currently adding it. These efforts to store carbon must be coupled with drastic cuts to stop global warming. With skyrocketing fertilizer prices, growers are looking for where and how to minimize the fertilizer costs on their farms to remain profitable each year. Precision agriculture can help growers be more efficient with fertilizer use through variable-rate technology. So, variable rate fertilizer application can be an excellent choice for them!

While most of the growers know the spatial variability in their fields and employ some precision soil sampling strategy – grid, zone or composite – to determine the nutrient requirements of their fields, few growers utilize that data and information to it’s full ability to perform variable-rate applications in greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists observe that growers spend a lot in soil sampling each year and ultimately do not use that information to its full potential.

Variable-rate technology has been around for a decade. However, it’s getting a lot more attention due to increasing input costs yearly and emphasis on being more efficient and sustainable with inputs.

variable rate application

Variable-rate technology has improved significantly over the years. As a result, most major equipment manufacturers and technology companies offer variable-rate packages for used and new fertilizer application equipment.

Whether a grower applies fertilizer or uses a custom applicator, multiple options are available to start with variable-rate.

Generally, the first step is to consult your crop advisor or expert to know where you are currently in the process. Then, find out how they can work with you to implement the essential variable-rate applications on your farm.

Tips to go all in with variable-rate fertilizer applications

  • Start with a few selected fields that are more non-uniform and have the most significant potential to benefit from variable-rate applications.
  • Making the best use of historical knowledge about the farming fields and management practices in combination with the soil test results when outlining management zones.
  • Ensure the datasets you are building your prescriptions off of are accurate, reliable, and ground-truthed. Your application can be only as accurate as your base data.
  • Consider application equipment and technology limitations, especially size and transition between the zones.
  • Keep management zones to three or four for more accessible and effective implementation. More zones can be overwhelming and confusing.
  • Consider the fertilizer properties, especially shape, size and density, when creating and spreading diverse blends. Uneven distribution and segregation can also cause application issues.
  • Be patient with technology and the process, especially during the first year. Things will be easier and better with time and with VR applications in more fields.
  • At the end of every year, assess what went right, what went wrong and the reasons. This will help to learn and improve the process and continuously minimize frustrations.

In conclusion

The overall benefits of implementing VRT are increasing production and aiding you to automate daily processes, conserving the environment, and minimizing costs related to overspending on the quantity of wasted fertilizers and other farm chemicals. By using variable rate technology, you could reduce the degree of chemicals you’re putting out per acre, reducing soil damage. It’s all about matching the suitable fertilizer variety to crop needs. This also includes taking a closer look at the available sources of soil nutrients and making informed decisions. Besides, matching the right amounts of fertilizer depends on soil health and the variety of crops grown. The benefit of having a VRA system is that it can help automate this part of the agricultural process. The more automation and precision a company introduces to their operations, the more money it can save through higher production and efficiency.

Visit to learn how you can integrate high-resolution soil data into your VRA practices.