What’s the best time to apply fertilizer? The right time. The trick is knowing when that right time might be.
In a perfect world, you would know exactly when to apply nutrients and exactly where to apply them. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world. Instead, we live in a world where nothing stays the same and that especially includes the weather.
This year farmers had to worry about El Nino. Next year they might have to worry about La Nina. The following year? Who knows?
Chad Bell’s farm used to apply nitrogen every fall in one mass application. Yet after testing the soil’s nitrogen level, he discovered he didn’t need to apply extra fertilizer after all. The crops with extra nitrogen “didn’t show enough of a return to justify it, which was very surprising to me,” Chad said. “Every year is different. You’ve got to adapt and be flexible.”
With weather constantly changing soil conditions, it’s imperative that farmers know the precise conditions of their farm at all times. While it’s unrealistic to monitor soil conditions in real-time (yet), it’s also impractical to rely on satellite imagery and soil sampling alone to monitor nutrient content. That’s because satellite imagery can only capture snapshots of soil conditions and soil sampling can never capture conditions of an entire plot of land.
For accurate, up to date, and comprehensive analysis, many farmers are relying on drones that can analyze soil as often as necessary. Immediately after a storm or other harsh weather condition, a drone can quickly analyze nutrient content so farmers can determine exactly how recent weather may have changed soil conditions.
Just as you wouldn’t want to drive a car that shows you last week’s gas gauge, so you can’t afford to use outdated information to make the best decisions for applying nutrients to soil today. With drones, soil analysis can be done often and quickly. Drones represent just one more tool farmers can use to adapt to changing weather conditions.