When Weldon, N.C., Crop Consultant Daniel Fowler first saw the lush, green crops in an area called Mush Island, he saw an opportunity to make a good thing better, and he’s done it.

Working with Weldon, N.C., farmer Ellis Taylor, Fowler has developed a set of GPS-driven, computer generated maps that provide data that allows the North Carolina farmer to put varying rates of fertilizer exactly where it’s needed most.

Standing in the middle of a 750 acre cotton field on Mush Island, which is adjacent to the Roanoke River near Weldon, Fowler explains everything on the farm is zone sampled. He looks for crop response, clay galls, sandy spots in the soil and any other problem areas, and those are the first areas that are zoned out.

Then, he looks for soil types and anything in aerial photography that shows differences in plant growth is his starting point for creating zones. In the 750 acre plot of land, he says, there will be an average of about three acres per sample.

“Compared to a 2.5 acre grid, I feel like I can have a little larger average sample size, because I’m breaking up the variability in the soil,” he says. All the topography maps are generated using GPS technology.

We take soil samples and take soil data for analysis. Then, we look at the growers planned crop for that field in the next growing season, and we determine fertilizer rates. On Taylor’s Mush Island farm, Fowler says things got a little complicated because of some new irrigation equipment.

The grower did not want to put nitrogen through the pivot. His thinking is fertigating would deteriorate the irrigation equipment and reduce the number of years he could use it efficiently.

However, he did want to put a different rate of nitrogen under the pivots and outside the pivots. The combination of rates under and outside the pivots created a challenge that Fowler and Taylor have converted into an opportunity to maximize fertilizer use and profits.

“We had a two-fold challenge, Taylor says. “We were trying to figure out how to put more nitrogen on corn last year under a new 400 acre irrigation pivot. And, we wanted to shoot for 200 plus bushels per acre under the pivot and 120-140 on dryland.”

Taylor says he didn’t want to over-apply nitrogen on the dryland corn. “In the past, growers overcame the problem by running nitrogen through the pivot, but I just wasn’t comfortable doing that. So, we were looking for a way to solve that problem.