— Art Enns, Morris, Man.
There’s always the chance that the weather could turn on you. There is the risk that not spraying certain areas could really end up costing me
Last year’s trying growing conditions didn’t do Art Enns’s canola crop any favours. It was a late spring, it stayed cold and wet and the crop was even hit with a touch of frost. The resulting uneven stand showed promise in some spots but was non-existent in others. Instead of grumbling about lemons, Enns, who farms near Morris, Man., decided to make lemonade.
No stranger to variable rate nitrogen application, when Enns’s consulting partner, Farmers Edge, suggested trying variable rate fungicide on the uneven crop, he decided to give it a try. The move saved him $7 to $8 an acre on that field in 2009 and the crop came off average for his farm. “We ended up in the 35 to 40 bushel range, which isn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t bad considering the conditions,” Enns says. Maintaing an average yield with less money spent on fungicide has made Enns keen to try the tactic again in 2010.
“It’s only one year,” Enns cautions, so he’s not about to apply the technology to every field this year, but the positive results are encouraging.
CANOLA A GOOD FIT
Enns has two reasons for trying variable fungicide rates on canola and not wheat. The first is margin — not only is canola typically worth more, but fungicide for canola is also more costly. “We saw a lot of variability in our canola last year,” he says, “that wasn’t the case in wheat.” That’s typical for Enns’s farm. “Canola tends to have more variability in the field,” he says, which lends itself to more efficiently matching fungicide or nitrogen rates with crop potential.
And really, that’s what we’re
talking about — efficiency. Jules Catellier is a territory agronomist with Farmers Edge, the company Enns works with for all his variable rate mapping and software support. Whether it’s fertilizer or fungicide, Catellier stresses it’s not always about applying less product overall. “Some producers look at variable rate as a means to reduce inputs. Often we find the best approach is
to match inputs with yield potential. This way we can maximize yields and minimize over-application keeping input costs in check. Depending on how aggressive the producer has been with inputs in the past this approach can result in lower or sometimes higher overall rates being applied.”
As an example, Farmers Edge will take satellite imagery and combine it with soil tests as well as a visual inspection of a field, let’s say one that is 160 acres. From all that data, and working with the farmer, Catellier says they’ll create four to seven management zones based on productivity. Each zone has its own unique characteristics, some are high producing areas, others might be low spots that perpetually drown out. The most common application of this mapping is to vary fertilizer rates, something the company has been working on for five years.
“The plan is to use inputs more efficiently on the farm, to match fertilizer rates to maximum yield potential, acre by acre.” Catellier says. The move doing the same with fungicides is a natural progression of the technology, he says.
THE LEARNING CURVE
As with any new technology, there’s an investment of not only equipment and software, but also of time to learn the ins and outs of a new system. “It’s not going to be a fit for everyone. You might be seeing the rain clouds rolling in and you’re at the end of the field and it’s not working; it’s easy to get frustrated with that,” Enns says. “You need a certain level of patience to learn the system.”
“New technology can be intimidating to some producers and is often the biggest hurdle in their decision to adopt variable rate,” Catellier says. To make things easier on the producer, many manufacturers are now incorporating cellular wireless technology into their equipment to give consultants the ability to trouble shoot technical issues, load maps and set controllers via an Internet connection.
Enns says that there are also risks to consider when choosing to spray only part of the field or at a reduced rate for certain zones. “There’s always the chance that the weather could turn on you. There is the risk that not spraying certain areas could really end up costing me,” he says.
He’d also like to see more timely in-season imagery, seeing as a change in the weather can so quickly change field conditions. This past season Enns relied on historic satellite imagery provided by Farmers Edge, therefore ground truthing (a visual inspection) and crop scouting these areas was still needed. Real-time imagery options are now becoming more readily available to improve the accuracy of in-season applications.
Enns says that depending on the stage of your career and the age of the farm’s machinery, the adoption of variable rate technology may not make sense. “Technology always takes time to develop. I think (variable rate technology) has come a long way in the last few years, but buying in can be costly. I think it’s worth it, but if you only had five years left to farm, you may not make the investment (of equipment and time to learn),” he says. Enns has equipped only his high clearance sprayer with the monitor and programming required to apply variable rate N and fungicide. He’s not yet made the leap to investing in setting up the seeder as well.
Lyndsey Smith is editor of Grainews. Contact
her at [email protected]