I recently came across a very interesting report detailing a no-tiller’s 10 years of experience utilizing variable-rate nitrogen (VRN) applications on his 2,200-acre farm near Genesee, Idaho. It might worth your time to read it.

When we talk to farmers it often seems like a mixed bag on whether or not they’re getting the return on investment they were expecting with VRN.

But according to this story authored by Washington State University and the University of Idaho, Odberg has seen benefits from VRN that include reduced fertilizer input, reduced lodging, reduced risk of N losses to the environment, and increased financial gain.

And because Eric complements VRN application with direct seeding and diversified crop rotations, his farm’s soil quality has also improved, Washington State says. Odberg farms a 3-year rotation of winter wheat, spring grain (wheat or barley), and pulses (including lentils and several types of chick peas). He’s also experimenting with a 4-year rotation that adds spring canola.

Here’s some advice from Eric for other no-tillers considering taking up VRN:

  • Take the plunge. “Don’t get hung up on the details of how much you should be reducing and how much you should be changing things,” he says. “Just get started doing it — but don’t make changes that are too drastic.”
  • Have realistic expectations. “Have realistic expectations that you’re not going to have huge savings, but you’re going to have savings,” he says.
  • There are more equipment options now, but purchasing decisions are still critical. “Whether you’re deciding to buy your first system or update to a new system that has potential to do more,” Odberg notes, “you want to make sure that it can actually do what you want it to do.”
  • Don’t be intimidated by the technology. Odberg doesn’t consider himself to be particularly tech-savvy, but having a precision agriculture specialist and other knowledgeable resource people to turn to has allowed him to successfully adopt VRN application, the article says. He finds that some growers think they need to be more knowledgeable about technology than is really required.

In case you missed it, Eric was one of three growers honored for their efficient and effective use of applied fertilizer by the Responsible Nutrient Management Foundation in 2016. Read more here about Eric's efforts.

Considering the cost of inputs and tight profit margins we’re seeing with depressed grain markets, perhaps it’s time to see what a carefully researched and planned investment in precision technology can do to boost your nitrogen-use efficiency and your bottom line.