MFA, Inc.: Coming Full Circle

Rick Greene of MFA, Inc.

The story behind cooperative MFA Inc.’s involvement in precision agriculture over the past 15-plus years virtually mirrors the overall evolution of precision agriculture in the US. Exuberance and investment in the middle and late 1990s, followed by a period of challenges and recalibration, and then through to a new era of focus and investment in ag technology.

Rick Greene has ridden the technology roller coaster all the way through. In 1995 his ag technology experience began on his family farm with his dad, Ken Greene (Master Farmer, 2011), using Ag Leader’s yield monitor and Case IH’s AgriLogic software to record the farm’s data. Based on his love for farming and desire for technology, he got involved with Iowa State’s precision agronomy program. After graduating from Iowa State he interned with SST Development group which eventually brought him to MFA in 2000.

Rick was hired as the GIS Specialist for the fledgling precision ag team. By 2003 he was shifted over to a Precision Regional Sales Manager position and a couple of years later was brought into MFA’s Corporate realm to lead the companies precision ag efforts.

Greene describes the precision program as having “come full circle.” MFA found itself on the cutting edge of precision early in the program’s existence, offering programs and services that growers weren’t ready to fully embrace during his first stint with precision. Today, the combination of improved products and practices with a strong farm economy has producers ready and willing to embrace the benefits technology provides, and MFA is using the lessons it has learned to build a precision program that meets their needs.

Precision Evolution

Back in 1994, with the opening up of GPS, the dawning of the Internet and the introduction of yield monitors and guidance equipment, MFA could see the potential of precision agriculture. In fact several of MFA’s retail locations started their own precision ag programs. In 2000 MFA recognized it was the right time to start a corporate program. Greene and his manager developed the program and hired some regional sales managers to service and sell. They also partnered with SST Software to become an SST Information Lab, which allowed MFA to provide centralized, turnkey data analysis.

“When we took on the Information Lab, the goal was to increase soil sampling acres and to start pooling data to provide growers with solid field analysis based on good data,” says Greene. “We wanted to group information so we could help growers make more educated decisions based on trends in their fields and others within the same type of geography.”

From early 2000, MFA also ran the Information Lab to generate recommendations for variable rate nitrogen and seeding, but it was a tough sell. “There were a few select growers, maybe 5% of our customers, that wanted to utilize the variable rate technology, and even fewer of them had a variable rate drive on their equipment,” recalls Greene. “For the most part, there was not a large market share that was ready to invest in the equipment or in the data processing component. It was a very labor intensive and time consuming process.”

The early 2000s brought a confluence of events, from the rise of biotechnology that drastically simplified agronomic practices to a general downturn in the ag economy, which depleted the return on investment growers were realizing from their operation.

With the improving farm economy in recent years, along with a host of new technologies from automatic steering to improved GPS to unprecedented boom and planter control systems, precision technology is back in the spotlight – and MFA is ready to answer the demand.

Economics have been an important driver, says Greene, but even more critical is the fact that “the equipment dealers are now coming out with a lot of the variable rate applicators and seed controllers as standard equipment. Growers are realizing a solid return on investment and are also getting better at collecting the data, especially at planting. The data is recorded more easily than in the past, when we had to rely on manually entered information on handheld units like iPAQs.”

In addition to maintaining a relationship with SST Software to process soil test data, MFA is a dealer for Trimble, Ag Leader and Precision Planting technology products. Out of all the technology MFA sells, automatic planter control is far and away the most popular. “Auto shutoff is huge in Missouri,” says Greene. “It accounts for about 70% of our sales. Growers like to see that quick return on their investment in a piece of equipment. With our uniquely shaped fields, growers are using it to avoid overlaps that waste seed and reduce yield.”

The success of seed control has been a gateway technology for growers, who are now excited about precision and are more willing today to evolve into other kinds of technology and explore new practices, says Greene. “Back when we first started, we were trying to make too large of a jump. Now they see the potential and want to try more precision management techniques.”

On the GPS side, MFA administers a real-time kinematic GPS network using Trimble equipment, to which growers may subscribe for an annual fee. The “top tier” growers, about 10% to 15% of MFA customers, are using the RTK GPS signal.

But while important, the activities of the “early adopters” of technology that work with MFA is not what has Greene feeling bullish about the company’s precision offerings. “We have really just started to penetrate the 30% to 50% percent of guys that are not as historically technology savvy.” These folks have been particularly interested in planter control, which opens the door to auto-steering, variety tracking and data management. There was a “downside” to the increase in use: “we’ve had a substantial increase in technical service calls because of it,” notes Greene. Since 2005 we have hired 3 more Regional Precision Technicians to help compensate for the additional support.

Precision Offerings

In Missouri, employing precision technology is all about understanding agronomy and dealing with soil variability no matter what type of geography you farm.

MFA builds agronomy packages for growers under a brand called Nutri-Track. The emphasis is on collecting accurate and intensive soil sampling and yield data to deliver the best possible recommendation for variable rate fertilizer application. The name of the game in Missouri is managing widely variable soil.

Services are available ala carte so growers can get into precision in a way that matches their needs and level of comfort with technology. Growers can start with intensive soil sampling, then add in yield monitoring with crop removal. For cash renters, a straight crop removal program is offered.

MFA uses SST’s FarmRite system to process soil test data to generate fertility recommendations, and that information is compiled into a booklet that MFA’s precision specialists use to make fertility recommendations to farmers. Ag Leader’s SMS Advanced software is used to process yield data and is added into the recommendation mix for growers who order the service.

A big emphasis is placed on working with growers to ensure that they are using equipment properly and collecting sound data. Field days are held twice a year, once prior to planting and once prior to harvest, to review the equipment and data collection process with growers. “It’s a chance for us to re-emphasize the importance of data collection and equipment functionality,” says Greene. “When it comes down to it, I would rather have no data than bad data.”

Another key focus for MFA is water management, reinforced by the floods that plagued the river areas earlier this spring. Using the RTK capability and Trimble equipment, topography can be established for fields and recommendations for re-grading can be developed.

On the horizon, Greene and the precision team are incorporating Veris electrical conductivity data into the mix. A significant predictor of water and nutrient holding capacity appears to be at the depth of the topsoil and catering to the sandy soils of the river bottoms, which Greene says is “soil moisture is really the most yield limiting factor in the state of Missouri.” The Veris data seems to provide a window into this variable, which could significantly improve fertilizer and seed population recommendations.

“We’ve been out on a couple of farms we never worked before and run the Veris, then mapped it out and reviewed the data with the producer,” says Greene. “And the producers said, ‘you’re right on with depicting the field’s variability.’ You usually don’t get that kind of feeling from the grower.” He feels that after this season, MFA will have a solid basis of data on which to judge the value of the Veris service.

In the more distant future, Greene says that on-the-go sensor technology is showing potential in Missouri. The University of Missouri has been conducting demonstrations of the technology throughout the state and showing the potential benefits of split nitrogen application, but using the technology as intended – holding back a significant portion of spring N – represents a big change in practice for growers.

“They are willing to cut back on nitrogen to some degree, but not 30% to 40%,” says Greene. “It’s still seen as more of a rescue treatment than anything, but as we move forward I feel it will take off like fungicide application.” Greene also says he is really impressed with the before and after aerials of fields we tested the on-the-go sensors. Simply stated we are reallocating the nitrogen to the areas that need it the most. Now that is what precision is all about. MFA is working with the technology and hopes that this year’s yield data will give them some sense of the benefit of on the go sensor technology.

Since MFA’s inception of their precision agronomy program, they have grown from 5 to 100 ag retail locations and a corporate support staff of 3 to 13 who are dedicated to providing sound agronomic recommendations in a timely fashion in order to maximize yield, manage inputs and preserve the environment to provide our customers with a sustainable way of farming.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Precision Ag Stories

Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
Precision AgUAS: The S Stands For Smart, Service And Sensors
May 1, 2014
The only thing occuring more rapidly than the technologies’ evolution is the clamoring to implement UAS into agriculture as soon as possible. Read More
Precision AgAg Retail: 3 Tech Trends To Watch In 2014
April 1, 2014
It's been a busy first quarter of technology developments in 2014. Here are some of the highlights, and things to watch in the months ahead. Read More

Trending Articles

CropLife 100Agrium To Cut 500 Jobs, Sell Some Businesses
November 11, 2014
Among the businesses Agrium will try to sell are its micronutrients and European UAN (urea-ammonium nitrate) lines. Read More
HerbicidesMonsanto, Sumitomo Chemical And Valent Extend Crop Protection Collaboration
November 10, 2014
The agreement extends their strategic partnership in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready PLUS Crop Management Solutions platform for soybeans and cotton in the U.S. Read More
FertilizerCorn Rootworm Hybrids And Potassium Uptake
November 4, 2014
To achieve successful yields, grower-customers can’t afford to cut back on their potassium use with corn rootworm hybrids, say experts. Read More
StewardshipResponsibleAg Begins Auditor Training
October 31, 2014
ResponsibleAg auditor training is now underway at the Ford B. West Center for Responsible Agriculture in Owensboro, KY. Read More
InsecticidesNew Research Study Shows The Value Of Neonics
October 29, 2014
The study evaluated seed treatment, soil and foliar uses of neonicotinoid insecticides in the U.S. and Canada. Read More
Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScience
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More

Latest News

EquipmentAGCO Announces Operator Of The Year Finalists
November 20, 2014
Four custom applicators have been selected by AGCO Application Equipment as finalists for 2014 Operator of the Year, an honor that recognizes them as being among the top professionals in their industry throughout North America. Read More
MicronutrientsH.J. Baker Expands Tiger-Sul Business
November 20, 2014
H.J. Baker has created and filled two strategic positions in business development and sales within its Crop Performance Division. Read More
soybean field
FertilizerGeneral Mills Honors United Suppliers For Nitrogen Opti…
November 19, 2014
United Suppliers winning proposal detailed SUSTAIN, a consulting network that provides customized products and services for farmers using a needs-based system approach. Read More
EmployeesOhio AgriBusiness Association Awards $25,000 In Scholar…
November 19, 2014
Each year, the Ohio AgriBusiness Association Educational Trust scholarship program awards scholarship dollars to students enrolled in an agriculture-related field attending several state colleges. Read More
ManagementServi-Tech Names New CEO
November 17, 2014
Servi-Tech has named Greg Ruehle its new president and CEO. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Ag Acquires Colorado Aerial Application Outlet
November 17, 2014
Ft. Lupton, CO-based Reck Aviation — a full-service chemical application company providing aerial crop applications of fertilizers and crop protection products — will operate as part of Pinnacle's AgOne Application Services brand. Read More
Eric SfiligojMcDonald’s Message: Biotech Crops Scarier Than Cancer
November 17, 2014
Despite their potential health benefits, one of the world’s largest potato users will pass on a new biotech offering. Read More
MicronutrientsWinField Releases 2014 NutriSolutions Results
November 14, 2014
A number of significant regional and national crop deficiency trends emerged from the 2014 WinField NutriSolutions tissue sampling program. Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Opens Chinese Production Lines
November 14, 2014
The occasion was the official launch of the Tiger-Sul sulphur Bentonite production line of two much anticipated fertilizer products in China, T90CR sulphur fertilizer and TZinc micronutrient enhanced sulphur fertilizer. Read More
ManagementOhio Certified Crop Adviser Program Accepting Nominatio…
November 14, 2014
The award recognizes an individual who delivers exceptional customer service for farmer clients in nutrient management, soil and water management, integrated pest management and crop production in Ohio. Read More
HerbicidesSyngenta Announces Acuron Trial Plot Results
November 14, 2014
Acuron was tested at 167 trial locations across 35 states. Trials included 95 Syngenta locations, 54 university locations and 18 distributor locations. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Expands Sales Force
November 13, 2014
The new sales representatives will work with growers, retail partners and distributors to oversee technical training and product education. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Raises $100K For Wounded Warrior Project
November 13, 2014
AGCO Corp. partnered with local AGCO dealers across the U.S. and Canada to raise nearly $100,000 in support of wounded service veterans. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Announces Launch Of Enlist Duo Herbici…
November 12, 2014
It will be launched in conjunction with a stewarded introduction of Enlist corn, and seed production of Enlist soybeans in 2015. Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Expands Tiger-Sul Business
November 12, 2014
Agricultural firm H.J. Baker has created and filled two strategic positions in business development and sales within its Crop Performance Division. Read More
Blenders13 Fertilizer Blenders For 2015
November 12, 2014
Dealers can find a fertilizer blender to deliver any speed, volume and custom mix they want. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Vice President Receives Honorary FFA Award
November 11, 2014
Jim Loar, vice president of operations of Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness Division, was awarded the Honorary American FFA Degree at the 2014 National FFA Convention and Expo in Louisville, KY. Read More
FertilizerBASF Makes Limus Nitrogen Management Available In U.S.
November 11, 2014
Reducing ammonia losses by more than 90%, Limus nitrogen management has demonstrated increased crop yields on average of 6%, according to 2013 replicated research. Read More