What is variable rate technology?

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What is variable rate technology?

Variable rate technology (VRT) is one of the most significant advantages for agriculture to come out of the era of digitisation.

Variable rate application (VRA) is an aspect of precision agriculture that automates the application of materials such as fertilisers, chemical sprays and seeds to the land. This application is determined thanks to accurate data collected from in-field sensors, maps and GPS which picks up and monitors characteristics of a particular area of land.


How does variable rate technology work?

VRT combines both physical and digital technologies – things like on-farm machinery, drones and satellites with artificial intelligence, machine learning and hyperspectral imaging.


It allows previously time-consuming on-farm activity to be automated, resulting in time and cost efficiencies, as well as better use of materials. It reduces the likelihood that materials will be either underutilised or over utilised, and therefore negatively impact on quality and yield. The information that VRT can collect is things like soil quality, crop type, moisture, and climatic factors.


Uses of VRT include:

  • Application of fertiliser and lime
  • Spraying of pesticides or other chemicals
  • Spreading of manure
  • Seeding crop fields
  • Tillage
  • Irrigation requirements
  • Detection of weeds or diseased crops


There are two key methods of use: sensor-based VRT and map-based VRT.


Sensor-based VRT uses crop sensors in order to determine what materials, and how much of each, is necessary to optimise crop growth. The sensors indicate varying characteristics of both the crops and the field, providing the evidence a farmer needs to make more informed decisions around material use.


Map-based VRT generates a map of the landscape based on soil analyses and other information which is inputted into the system in order to control the application rates within each ‘zone’ of the map. A map-based approach is popular, as it allows for soil testing analyses and other data to be used to create prescription maps. DecipherAg is one tool that uses satellite imagery to provide up to 10m of high-definition normalised vegetation index (NDVI) views to help farmers visualise what is happening on their land.


The benefits of variable rate technology

The use of VRT brings with it not only economic benefits, but also environmental. These include:


  • Improved crop yield through optimal use of resources
  • Greater on-farm productivity and efficiency
  • Reduction in unnecessary use of materials, therefore maximising use and reducing expenditure
  • Minimised over-application means reduced risk of run-off or avoidable leaching
  • Reduced likelihood of excess spraying that could be harmful for the wider environment
  • Conservation and optimal use of water resource

Ultimately, the aim of VRT is to collect information about an area of land, and then present it in a way that allows farmers to make informed decisions about on-farm activity. Increasingly, advanced equipment systems are becoming more accessible with the help of cloud technology. And in an industry full of volatility, having access to data that takes the guesswork out of your farming operations has never been more important.

DecipherAg is a tool that is giving farmers the data and knowledge they need to make smarter on-farm decisions that optimise yield, and return-on-investment. Find out more about how it could work for your operations, and take it for a test drive yourself with a free trial.


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