Side Dressing & Variable Rate Applications with Drone Technology

May 5, 2021

With a huge focus on precision agriculture in recent years, farmers are reevaluating how they’ve traditionally done business. At the forefront of these efforts are targeted applications and minimizing nitrogen losses. But determining the rate, timing, and method of nitrogen injection is a delicate balance that is equally important. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers utilize 8.7 million tons of nitrogen each year. As we enter the optimal time for application, we explore how to ethically generate nitrogen prescriptions (side dressing) and innovative ways of understanding crop variability.


What is Side Dressing?

Side dressing is a nitrogen application that occurs during the middle vegetative stages for corn growth. During this stage, the crop is highly efficient in taking up nitrogen, boosting its development. At the V6-V8 stage, this window can be very narrow depending on your crop’s growth and current weather conditions, which is why individuals must be careful when choosing the right time to apply. As nitrogen is expensive, you’ll want to manage this input in the most efficient way possible.

A sidedress can be applied as a variable rate prescription, another key point of precision agriculture or precision farming. Since growers will apply different amounts of nitrogen to different parts of their field depending on need, they can achieve better costs and yield. In conjunction with this, tissue sampling will indicate which areas could be nitrogen deficient, and soil sampling will pinpoint where soil nitrogen content is low, therefore further optimizing this process. Knowing your soil type is also helpful, as some are better at absorbing nitrogen than others so that you can apply more nitrogen to these fertile zones.

How to Identify & Understand Crop Variability

As the leading drone software solution for agriculture, we know that a drone map is an excellent indicator of the overall variability in the field to help pinpoint those areas you might want to soil sample. Highly accurate, detailed drone maps help farmers test nutrient or soil tissue by identifying the correct areas to sample, allowing them to understand the underlying cause of this variability. Once you’ve determined this, you can generate a more effective variable rate nitrogen prescription that targets nitrogen applications in areas where it will have the most significant impact. Plus, using DroneDeploy, you’ll be able to export your drone map as a shapefile that can then be plugged into your current software that helps you generate the prescription.

Side dressing ensures both a healthy crop and efficient uptake of nitrogen, and drone technology can complement these processes. DroneDeploy has a host of built-in features for agriculture, including Stand Assessment, Plant Health, and Live Map. If you’re interested in bringing drone technology to your farms, watch our webinar on evaluating crop emergence with drone insights, or contact us.

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