“The prescription file allows me to buy my fertilizer a year ahead, if I can find a good price. But, I was guessing at what blend I needed. Now, we can dial in what blends we need and it really allows us to farm a big farm like we used to farm a few acres,” Taylor says.

The variable rate fertilizer process for 2012 has already begun. Fowler began soil sampling immediately after Taylor harvested his corn crop. As soon as cotton was picked, he came in and sampled cotton land. By the time spring planting comes, the grower will know almost exactly how much nitrogen he will be applying in which fields.

“The big advantage to using zone sampling and variable rate fertilizer application is it allows the grower to put more nutrients where they need to be and we are doing it cheaper,” Fowler says.

The net result is less money spent on fertilizer, but that’s not the goal the only goal. In some cases growers may spend more money using variable rate technology, but they get the maximum benefit from the fertilizer dollars they are spending,” he adds.

“There are some growers who look at variable rate as a way to save fertilizer dollars, and I think that is a short-term way to look at it. If you can save a few dollars, use the technology, improve your problem areas, it is a great opportunity to dissect a farm and go back to farming large acreages much like we used to farm small acreages,” Fowler says.

The North Carolina consultant got his start after graduating with a degree in agronomy from North Carolina State University. He worked for then North Carolina Cotton Consultant Larry Pendleton in Scotland Neck — in the heart of Carolina cotton country.

In 2001, Pendleton took another professional route in agriculture, which started Fowler and three other crop consultants (Mary Wilkes, Grant Stayton and Bert James) on their professional careers. Fowler started out on his own, moving his operation from Scotland Neck to Weldon, N.C.

In addition to cotton, Fowler works with corn, soybeans, peanuts and tobacco. This year, or at least the end of it has been a tough one, he says. Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee combined to drop heavy and almost continuous rain on the area. The heavy late-season rainfall and often flooding, combined with damage from wind from both storms, created a mess with crops this year, he says.

rroberson@farmpress.com