As I write this - from Phoenix (while my family suffers the first cold-snap of winter in Minnesota) - I'm already thinking about planting time and planting tech. If this is the year you want to move toward more variable-rate planting, a sit-down with your agronomist (or agronomy consultant) to figure out the best population range, hybrids and management zones will be key.
Year-over-year precision farming yield data is probably your best tool for picking the high and low spots for VR planting. Those high-yielding areas could probably take a push on population this spring, while low yielding areas might get a break - saving on seed costs and offering the best yield for that land.
I know that sounds like common sense, but the bigger question is what the range on population should be? Can you push 37,000 on 30-inch rows in those high-yielding areas? And what about the low-pop management zone, should that drop to 28,000?
The nitty gritty of all this is how much your yield data really shows about those management zones. If the data is consistent year over year - for the yield variable only - then it's probably a pretty good measure of the potential.
However, variation in those yields within identified management zones could cause you a different headache. Normalizing that data for decision making on VR planting takes some time and some agronomy muscle, but it's time well spent.
Next step is to identify the best high-pop hybrids for your soil types, keeping in mind that you may be planting some low-population numbers in some zones. And finally the check on those populations zones should be included in the plan. That's the block where you plant the "normal" yield in the area as a kind of check on your VR plan. That can offer insight into the best populations for the future.
If this is part of your plan, pulling yield data now is your first step. You've already placed your seed order (most likely) and yet you don't know exactly what hybrids will be available when planting begins. Work closely with your suppliers to get hybrids designed for the population range you want to push.
Planning is always your friend. And if you've been doing VR for awhile, share your thoughts in the comment area below (we always welcome comments).