Variable rate (VR) fertilizer application is a paradigm with potential to improve input efficiency and farm profitability. It is widely marketed by commercial applicators in the southeastern US. However, field studies comparing VR with traditional management have not demonstrated consistent, positive results. The objectives of this study were: (1) to determine the soil impact, crop response and economic potential of VR phosphorus (P) and lime application in a North Carolina Piedmont no-till field crop system using intensive soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] production and (2) to economically evaluate alternatives to standard commercial grid soil sampling for directing VR P and lime. A 23-ha long-term no-till field in the SE Piedmont was divided into 0.4ha plots assigned to either VR or uniform P and lime application. Grid soil sampling and VR P and lime application were done prior to four crops over 3 years: full season soybean, wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)–double cropped soybean, and full season soybean. Soil test P, pH and crop yield response to VR P were inconsistent. Soil pH in areas with low pH initially did increase in response to VR lime, but it took two to three applications to bring all of these areas to the target pH. Once VR-liming raised initially low soil pH to levels close to target, yield of soybean, but not wheat, were up to 0.74Mg ha−1 higher than with uniform lime. Even with significantly higher soybean yields associated with VR lime, 3 years of grid sampling and VR application were not profitable compared to uniform application. The results indicated that VR lime could be profitable if the initial grid sampling data were used either for 2 consecutive years, or if it was used to restrict future grid sampling to specific areas requiring further VR lime.
Precision Agriculture – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 3, 2004
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