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
Top 100 Articles
Milan Kucerak, president/CEO, West Central
CropLife 100West Central Cooperative And Its New President Are A Match Made In Deviation
June 29, 2015
To appreciate just how unique West Central Cooperative is in the world of ag retail, an observer need only consider Read More
Winter Wheat
CropLife 100South Dakota Co-op Member Owners Vote No On Unification
June 26, 2015
The Boards of Directors for North Central Farmers Elevator (NCFE) and Wheat Growers (WG) have announced that member-owners have voted Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Acquires South Dakota Plant Nutrient Manufacturer Kay-Flo
May 20, 2015
The Andersons, Inc., ranked No. 22 on the CropLife 100, has purchased Kay Flo Industries of North Sioux City, SD. “This Read More
CropLife 100AgGateway’s Barcoding Initiative Progressing Nicely
May 8, 2015
According to legend (or Wikipedia), the first step towards modern bar codes came back in 1948, when Bernard Silver, a Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
Latest News
Measuring Bulk Tanks
ManagementBulk Pesticide Compliance: Top 10 Areas Of Improvement …
July 1, 2015
  In honor of the 33-year run of David Letterman’s Late Show, the American Agronomic Stewardship Alliance (AASA) is happy Read More
Industry NewsArysta North America Hires Midwest Sales Manager
July 1, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the hiring of Brian Battles as the Senior Technical Sales Manager for the Midwest Read More
Farmer on tablet
Eric SfiligojThe Never-Ending Battle Against Modern Agriculture
July 1, 2015
In the world of comic books, the character of Superman often refers to the fight to save the world as Read More
Retail FacilitiesBuilding Up Ag Retail
July 1, 2015
In the oftentimes unpredictable world we live in, it’s nice to know some things can be reliably countered on to Read More
Retail FacilitiesMaple River Grain And Agronomy Phases In Site Developme…
July 1, 2015
Marcus Construction helped Maple River Grain and Agronomy in Casselton, ND, with the design-build of its dry fertilizer, liquid chemical/seed Read More
Retail FacilitiesA&B Welding Builds A New Liquid Terminal Hub For Br…
July 1, 2015
To build its new hub facility, Briggs Crop Nutrients enlisted the help of A&B Welding. The result, an efficient facility Read More
Edon Farmers Co-op
Retail FacilitiesNew Marcus Facility At Edon Farmers Co-op Provides More…
July 1, 2015
Edon Farmers Co-Op in Edon, OH, needed a new facility to consolidate outdated locations. Marcus Construction was able to design Read More
Retail FacilitiesKinder Morgan Expands Its Storage With A New Dome Barre…
July 1, 2015
Kinder Morgan wanted additional covered storage at its Dakota Bulk Terminal on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, MN. With Read More
Retail FacilitiesHeartland Tank Protects Fertilizer From Extreme Cold At…
July 1, 2015
The Arthur Companies in Harvey, ND, enlisted the help of Heartland Tank Companies to develop a new liquid fertilizer facility Read More
The McGregor Co. fertilizer loadout
Retail FacilitiesThe McGregor Co. Partners With Kahler Automation To Cre…
June 30, 2015
Kahler Automation helped The McGregor Co. expand its Clarkston, WA, operation with unstaffed loadout technology that enables customers to pick Read More
Dry and Liquid Plant
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Helps CHS Dakota Ag Cooperative Build…
June 30, 2015
CHS Dakota Ag Cooperative in Mooreton, ND, wanted a liquid/dry blender system that could meet the needs of its customers Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes, United Suppliers To Merge Crop Inpu…
June 29, 2015
Land O’Lakes, Inc. and United Suppliers, Inc. of Ames, IA, today announced their intent to merge their crop inputs businesses. Read More
FungicidesHelena To Distribute Unique Summit Agro Fungicide
June 29, 2015
RANMAN 400 SC fungicide, the only fungicide with a FRAC group 21 designation, is now part of the innovative Summit Read More
Eric SfiligojIARC Targets 2,4-D In Latest Report
June 29, 2015
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has struck again. Earlier this year in March, this agency of the Read More
Milan Kucerak, president/CEO, West Central
CropLife 100West Central Cooperative And Its New President Are A Ma…
June 29, 2015
To appreciate just how unique West Central Cooperative is in the world of ag retail, an observer need only consider Read More
EquipmentCase IH Launches New Precision Air 5 Series Carts
June 29, 2015
Case IH recently introduced its new Precision Air 5 series air carts, developed to get the most from every plant’s Read More
InsecticidesVestaron Biopesticide Approved In California
June 29, 2015
Vestaron Corporation, a developer of insect control products derived from naturally occurring peptides, today announced that its VST-006330-EP biopesticide has received Read More
InsecticidesValent’s Zeal SC Miticide Receives EPA Approval
June 29, 2015
Valent U.S.A. Corporation announced today that Zeal SC Miticide has been registered by EPA with a new liquid formulation that Read More