Focus On Blending

Kahler Automation, blending controls, employee

The renewed interest in corn this season will require more fertilizer inputs, and that will translate into a renewed interest in fertilizer automation.

“For so long the attention was on ag chemicals, and fertilizer was not as big a concern,” says Dave Junge of Junge Control, Inc. “Now with corn needing so many fertilizer inputs, growers appear to be increasing their yield goals per acre rather than the previous desire to increase acres. This trend will probably increase as land costs rise drastically.”

Junge, who farms 700 acres part-time, will practice what he preaches. “My goal will be to raise my yield expectation of 200 bushels per acre to 250 bushels or higher,” he says. “With commodity prices increasing so greatly, the old rules of nutrients will need to be re-evaluated as the previous economic yield held input costs down. Growers can now afford to push inputs higher.”

Increasing Expertise

Handling more fertilizer will require a higher level of software expertise at both megaplants and smaller facilities, and manufacturers are working to meet those needs. “The fertilizer plant has to be precise; that’s what the dealer wants from us,” says Steve Swift of Kahler Automation Corp., which provides controls for both liquid and dry operations.

The popularity of unattended fertilizer terminals continues to grow, and Swift anticipates that they will become larger with the move to ethanol. Kahler services unstaffed and multiple-outlet systems with its Web-based Terminal Manager program. Authorized users can use their Web browser to modify orders, view accounting history, and complete other operations, depending on the authorization level.

Flexible, Fast, Accurate

The complexity of having several outlets or several dealerships sharing one facility also is eased with Kahler’s Plant Supervisor blending software. Paired with programs from accounting/agronomic software manufacturers, the Plant Supervisor receives liquid or dry orders electronically, fills the blend prescription, and sends actual usage figures back to the agronomy software company for billing.

“It can handle different packaging requests at the same site, which builds efficiencies,” says Swift.

While Junge Control’s unattended load-out systems and software have been popular in the past year, the company also is selling these systems for plants attended by retailer personnel. “Quite often an agronomist will key in a blend weeks, days, or hours before customer pickup, and the plant people simply choose the customer and blend they are getting,” Junge says.

Servicing those with complex orders is one of the goals of E-Markets, Inc. A retail operation management system provider, the company’s systems cover operations from the time an order is made right up to invoicing.

Sometimes orders need to be split into multiple deliveries, and E-Markets’ CINCH AgriSuite Version 6.0 — with its newly added ability to handle multiple settings and multiple Ranco blenders — will time and schedule each. It then tracks the day’s deliveries on a handheld system.

“This makes it easy and accurate for the applicator to make changes on the fly,” says E-Markets’ Scott Cavey. “For example, he gets to the field and there’s a wind shift, so he can only do 30 acres instead of 80. Without the handheld unit, he would have to call into the plant, adding time and possible errors if the accounting department can’t read his writing later. The handheld unit docks it up and invoices are created.”

Application drivers aren’t the only ones wanting flexibility. Junge Control sales personnel have noticed a new trend: Prepaid fertilizer orders may be increased last-minute by growers this spring, and retailers want the blend formulations in the hands of the agronomist or plant personnel — not the accounting system.

Enhanced Monitoring

Retailers also want the ability to efficiently monitor inventory and secondary containment, and Murray Equipment, Inc. offers both.

“Many of our customers are looking into new ways to manage their product at multiple branches using the latest hardware and software,” says Murray’s Karl Hans. “The latest advances in communication products has given us the ability to connect the real-world applications using wireless technologies and Internet connectivity. This includes information monitoring such as tank levels, meter totals, and dike overfill conditions.

“Most information can now be e-mailed, text messaged, and paged directly from the equipment to the manager to give immediate feedback of locations,” Hans says. “This gives the manager the option to order product according to trends and usage, or to send personnel out to a sight with a tank leak, overfilling dike, or other remote site problems.”

New Developments For The Marketplace

There are still concerns about unreliable Internet availability in some rural areas.

“With the immediate need for loads to be delivered, a system designed improperly could cause downtime in our most critical delivery season,” says Junge. “So presently we are using the Web as a batch transfer, not a live access to database. We will continue to see this improve as more options become available and affordable in those rural areas.”

Junge Control hopes to have remote tank level monitoring, remote unattended load out ticket transfer, common data base solutions, and other Web solutions available or improved for the 2007 season.

The adoption of handheld technology also is a big issue going forward, says E-Markets’ Cavey. “Currently, the handheld units are built to be rugged, but they’re big and clunky, too,” he says. “In the future, they’ll be more sleek, more convenient, will include bar code readers, and could even be as small as a palm-sized unit.”

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