Willard Agri-Service (DE): Water Guardians
The Delmarva Peninsula is home base for the 2010 Regional Environmental Respect Award winner Willard Agri-Service of Greenwood, DE. “We are blessed to do business on a little oasis of very diverse crop production,” says Mike Twining, Greenwood branch general manager. “We are surrounded on three sides by water, and we have a nice coastal plains soil that is very productive and responds very well to irrigation.”
With all of these blessings come some challenges, not the least of which is a water table only 4 feet below the surface as well as the nearby very environmentally delicate coastal estuary of the Chesapeake Bay. “In this region you can drive an hour or two and be in some of the most urbanized areas in the country,” Twining explains. “The growers here are some of the brightest in the country, they make good decisions. The message we have is that ecologic and economic decisions are not mutually exclusive.
“Our customers are living on 8 inches of top soil and they must be good managers. You can’t just throw product out there,” he says. “We can remain competitive as any part of the country. I think we are a jewel on the East Coast,” he says with a proud smile.
The Willard organization has developed a core strategy based around being what they call being “knowledge providers” for their customers. Some of this knowledge comes from years of data collection through their High Q precision agriculture computer- supported program. “We can demonstrate through literally hundreds of thousands of acres of data that we have an extremely positive environmental impact,” says Twining.
The Willard technical staff has also developed a data collection system that records every operation completed on a customer’s field. “This system allows us to go back later and say, so we did X, Y and Z. How can we correlate what we’ve done so that we can make a better decision the next year?” explains Twining. “Growers have been asking how can I do better for a very long time. “We’ve just developed a system to help them answer that question.”
The Willard Greenwood facility was completed about six years ago, and its unique design has provided an efficient, environmentally safe, computer-directed operation. “When you see a truck pull into the plant, there’s been an incredible amount of thought as to what goes into that tank,” explains Twining. “It goes all the way back to the soil sample, but even more with High Q we are evaluating field productivity. We’re making cropping plans and we’re helping growers fine-tune their production in many ways.”
The Willard load-out area has four bays with overhead loading through a computer mixing system that brings fertilizer products into a 25-ton liquid mixer and then on to overhead tanks. Willard nurse trucks are equipped with stainless steel nurse tanks that accept bulk herbicides that are also loaded from an overhead closed system. The entire storage, loading, and mixing facility is completely diked. The overhead system can load a semi with 24 tons of fertilizer in about four minutes, according to Twining.
“The environmental debate so often gets lost in the mire of waste management and spills and the screen shots of a couple of bad actors that do something that seems outrageous,” says Twining. “My challenge to these folks is to say, ‘show me world peace on an empty stomach and show me how anyone else has better solutions than the American farmer.'”