Speaking this week throughout Illinois, we have been discussing the phenomena of "variable rate because you can." What is "variable rate because you can"? I explain it by asking audiences what they think of when they hear the term "precision ag." Almost always the answer I hear has something to do with hardware, such as autosteer or yield monitoring.
I think of this as the hardware mentality and we all fall into the trap of thinking precision ag is entirely composed of something we can physically touch. When we let these perceptions drive our precision pursuits we can fall into the trap of "variable rate because we can." Simply put, it is changing the rate of a given input because the controller we have can do it. In this scenario the user does not have the information behind the decision to really know if changing the rate will positively affect his bottom line.
To truly know if a change in rate is the right thing to do, you need to utilize the data that the monitors in the field are measuring and recording. This means that you are going to need powerful software in the office for storing, analyzing and creating management data and plans.
This is where most operations fall short.
They generally store the data and in some cases view the data, but rarely have I witnessed true analysis. There are a couple reasons why analysis is difficult to really achieve. First, the software that is out there today generally does an "ok" job of analyzing data but it is a piecemeal operation to get accurate results. Second, most people don't have the skills necessary to be able to run complex software, understand the plots agronomically, and statistically analyze the data.
These are all topics for upcoming blogs, but let's get back to "variable rate because you can." If you are changing rates without really knowing if it makes you money, you are falling victim to the idea that "I have it, so I am going to use it."
Don't get me wrong; I am not saying these tools are not good. But they need to be utilized correctly. There are two things you need to be able to make a good variable rate recommendation: A base layer or layers on which to make your changes in rate; and second, a defined plan of which rate to place where.
These same two layers need to be used in a research situation ahead of time to determine the "right-rate-where" relationship.
I will delve deeper into creating the right plan in later blogs.