Technology Fills A Need

The CropLife/Purdue Uni­versity precision agriculture adoption survey conducted earlier this year showed a continued steady growth in the use of agronomy and efficiency improving technologies by ag retailers. From automatic steering, which leapt from 28% adoption to 41% (while manual guidance fell by more than 25%), to heightened optimism about adding precision services over the next two to three years, the stage was set for a good year for precision.

In fact, the CropLife 100 survey did indicate that precision services experienced an increase at 59% of the responding companies, as growers look for new practices and products to boost efficiency and enhance yield.

Retailers that have had an established precision agriculture program have, in general, found growers to be pretty receptive to it during this period of economic prosperity in for agriculture. Brent Low, vice president of sales and marketing at Ag Partners, Albert City, IA, says the company’s InSite precision agriculture program is providing farmers with a consistent and clear way to turn data into field recommendations.

“Really, all areas of our precision agriculture department continue to grow — in fact, we’ve added some services to our portfolio that has enhanced our customer offering,” says Low. Explaining why growers are interested, he adds that “growers want to be good stewards of the land, and just as importantly they want to maximize every acre in their field. Our InSite customers think in terms of creating knowledge blocks within their fields, and we will help them blueprint what it takes to capitalize on what they learn.”

Scott Firlus, agronomy manager with Wisconsin River Coop, Adams, WI, agrees. “For us, precision agriculture has been in a growth mode. Most of our growers are looking for more ways to increase their land stewardship practices and precision agriculture is exactly what they can use to accomplish this without applying inputs where they aren’t needed.”

Dave Coppess, executive vice president, marketing and sales at Heartland Coop, West Des Moines, IA, says that better technology is leading to more precision business. “We continue to grow our grid-sampling,” says Coppess. “It’s getting easier, thanks to improvements in technology, to get growers to appreciate the value of using precision ag in their fields and helping them figure out what all the data being collected means and how it can improve their growing practices and profits.”

In good economic times, precision agriculture is allowing retailers to be more consultative, says Stephen Briggs, vice president, sales and marketing at South Dakota Wheat Growers, Aberdeen, SD. “Growers are using the same services that we’ve had available for years, but we have seen huge increases in our variable-rate application business,” says Briggs. “Doing the soil sampling and turning grower data into recommendations that we make for fertilizer, seed rates and seed placement are in great demand.”

That has necessitated a bigger investment in people and equipment to meet the demand, he adds.” We have increased the number of feet on the ground to call on and service growers, and we have increased our assets to handle new grower needs in precision ag and gotten a little sharper on some of the things we do. And we have also asked our people to do more with their time, too.”

Managing the growth and staying ahead of changes in grower demand can be challenging as well. Lane Mielke, sales and marketing manager with North Central Farmers Elevator, Ipswich, SD, says that while precision ag practices are not for everybody in his sales territory, they’re adding acres every year.

“We have one full-time precision agriculture specialist and we are currently looking for a second to help him out. It is a growing business, but it can be pretty tough to keep up with the technology and train the farmers.”

North Central offers soil sampling, mapping and the creation of prescription recommendations. One area that Mielke says is really taking off is variable rate seeding. “It’s fairly new, and the new planters that farmers are buying come with the capability built in so they are dabbling in it. We’re trying to help them best use this capability.”

With grower enthusiasm generally on the rise for precision technology and practices as the year closes, and income levels solidly on the positive side in most areas of the country, it appears that precision services will continue to grow for retailers. “Precision agriculture is the here and now, and the future,” says Low of Ag Partners. “It will play a part in helping growers get to the 300 bushel corn and 100 bushel soybean levels, and we’ll continue to break new ground with our precision agriculture offering.”

The Logistics Challenges

As service demands from growers increase and seasonal work windows shrink, more retailers are searching for ways to improve their overall service efficiency. Along with increasing capacity and speed by upgrading blending equipment, facilities, and rolling stock, many are also turning to technology to improve logistics management.

Craig Childs, senior vice president of agri-services at MFA Inc, Columbia, MO, says that the cooperative is experimenting with logistics technology with a group of locations. “The system uses GPS tracking of all of the application equipment so that they  can do centralized dispatching,” says Childs. It’s still in the experimental phase, and Child’s isn’t quite sold on what they are using yet.

“We haven’t made a big step in that direction yet — in my mind, we have to see how it pays. It’s great information and provides great feedback, and it’s easier for our dispatchers to see where the equipment is in the field, but the verdict is still out on how much more profitable it makes us to use the system.”

South Dakota Wheat Growers has gone to a centralized trucking system with solid success, says the company’s Briggs. “We know at all points where our trucks are, when they are running, how long they’re parked, what speed they are traveling at, etc.,” he says. “We are using a GPS flash system that helps us manage our fleet, as well as the leased trucks we used, and it has been very beneficial. Now, we have 37 outlets that are centrally dispatched.”

A combination of centralizing facilities and technology is improving service at Ag Partners. “Our geographic footprint has grown substantially over the past three years,” says the company’s Low. “We now operate our fertilizer business out of three hub plants and cover a 200-mile radius. Our integrated dispatch system, coupled with a proactive team approach allows us to make the most efficient use of people, time, and equipment to service our customer base.”

North Central Farmers Elevator has developed a central dispatch system and has a logistics manager that oversees the entire application fleet, says Mielke. The dispatcher covers a radius of 150 miles.

“We have global positioning in all our equipment now, so it can be tracked,” he says. “We can see where it’s going, what it’s doing, how long it’s sitting and waiting for a fertilizer load or how long it takes to run an application on a particular field.”

Setting up the system was certainly a challenge, but another issue has been the people aspect of installing what amounts to a wholesale change in procedures. “Once you take control from one individual and give it to another, there is always heartburn,” says Mielke. “The technology is user friendly for younger applicators, but the older generation doesn’t adapt as well.”

They’ve seen a lot of potential advantage to it, but it will be next spring before they truly put the system through its paces, he adds. “It was expensive to outfit all the machinery, but if it makes us more efficient it will be worth its weight in gold.”

Leave a Reply

State of the Industry Stories

Liquid Fertilizer Storage tanks
State of the IndustryComplex Fertilizer Market Brings Mixed Feelings
January 5, 2016
Declining fertilizer prices and plentiful supplies should be good news for growers facing low crop prices. But they and their Read More
Asmus Farm Supply crop protection products in storage
State of the Industry2016 Crop Protection Outlook: The Guessing Game
January 4, 2016
One would naturally assume that retail sales of crop protection products in a contracted market would themselves be contracted, but Read More
Seed corn bags in storage
Special ReportsThe Outlook For Seed In 2016
January 3, 2016
Among all crop input categories going into 2016, the seed category has as many questions regarding which direction it will Read More
Wilbur-Ellis’ new fertilizer blending facility, located in Mott, ND, was designed by A.J. Sackett & Sons.
State of the IndustryBuying Intentions Survey: Retailers Taking A Prudent Approach In 2016
January 2, 2016
The CropLife® magazine Buying Intentions Survey made its debut last year to gauge current industry trends against the retailer’s plans Read More
Top 100 Articles
Elburn Cooperative
CropLife 100Elburn Cooperative Members Vote To Join CHS
December 28, 2015
With 81% of eligible producers voting, 94% cast an affirmative ballot for Elburn Cooperative, a diversified agricultural retailer based out Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Farmers Cooperative-West Central Merger Approved
December 21, 2015
The members of Farmers Cooperative Co. (FC), Ames, IA, and West Central Cooperative, Ralston, IA, have both approved the merger Read More
Wheat Growers Innovation Center, Bath, SD
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Opens Innovation Center
December 21, 2015
Wheat Growers’ commitment in providing its farmer-owners with the latest in technological advancements now has a one-of-a-kind focal point, as Read More
CropLife 100ARA Selects The Andersons As 2015 Retailer Of The Year
December 9, 2015
The Agricultural Retailers Association today named Maumee, OH-based The Andersons as its Retailer of the Year for 2015. The award Read More
CPS Washington Court House John Deere Sprayer
CropLife 100Application Equipment Report: It Is Easy Being Green For Top 100 Ag Retailers
December 5, 2015
On The Muppets television show, Kermit the Frog is famous for singing a song about the troubles he encounters in Read More
Fertilizer Bin
CropLife 100Fertilizer Sales: Another Down Year For Top 100 Ag Retailers
December 4, 2015
In pure number terms, the fertilizer category still dominates all crop inputs/services among CropLife 100 ag retailers. In 2015, for Read More
Latest News
Crop InputsMarrone Bio Innovations Submits New Bio-Fungicide For E…
February 9, 2016
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. (MBI) today announced that it has submitted a new biological fungicide (MBI-110) to EPA. The broad spectrum Read More
Crop InputsWeed Expert: Adding A Second Herbicide Not Always Easy
February 9, 2016
In my last post, I reviewed some recent research that suggests one of the best ways to delay the evolution Read More
Crop InputsGenetic Literacy Project: Farmers Need More Herbicide C…
February 9, 2016
There are two things that I think just about every weed scientist can agree on, writes Andrew Kniss for The Read More
HerbicidesWeed Expert Warns North Dakota Growers Of Coming Herbic…
February 9, 2016
Ford Baldwin painted a bleak picture of weed control at a recent workshop here exploring the future of ag production, Read More
HerbicidesWSSA Announces New, Updated Free Web Resources
February 9, 2016
Today the Weed Science Society of American (WSSA) announced that new and updated educational materials for both weed scientists and Read More
Soybean field
FungicidesFour Arysta Fungicide Formulations Given FIFRA Approval…
February 8, 2016
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the issuance of Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 2(ee) Recommendations for Read More
FungicidesAgri-Fos Systemic Fungicide Plus Receives EPA Registrat…
February 8, 2016
Vivid Life Sciences has announced the EPA registration of Agri-Fos Systemic Fungicide Plus, a highly concentrated active ingredient phosphite fungicide, Read More
Crop InputsBayer Contests EPA’s Decision On Valuable Insecticide F…
February 5, 2016
Crop Science, a division of Bayer, has announced it has refused a request by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Read More
Wheat Field North Dakota
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Wins Seed Fraud Suit Against South Dakota Grow…
February 5, 2016
Syngenta has obtained a $25,000 settlement from Paul and John Mayclin, Mayclin Farms, Plankinton, SD, in response to their Plant Read More
ManagementOABA Annual Conference Wraps Up In Columbus
February 5, 2016
More than 300 Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) members and industry professionals were on hand to engage in collaborative learning and Read More
Crop InputsBayer To Contest EPA Flubendiamide Decision
February 5, 2016
Crop Science, a division of Bayer, announced today it has refused a request by EPA to voluntarily cancel the uses Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechNot So Fast: ChemChina Syngenta Takeover Could Draw Nat…
February 5, 2016
State-owned China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina), which plans to buy Swiss seeds and pesticide maker Syngenta, will promptly start preparations Read More
Rendering of Syngenta Seedcare Institute expansion
Seed/BiotechExpansion Of Syngenta’s North America Seedcare In…
February 4, 2016
As demand for seed treatment knowledge and products grows among farmers, retailers and others in the seed industry, Syngenta is Read More
Soybean Field
Industry NewsArysta LifeScience Strengthens Sales Team
February 4, 2016
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced three new personnel additions: Jake Cook and Peter White are Territory Sales Managers for Read More
Davor Pisk Syngenta COO
Crop InputsSyngenta COO: Why ChemChina Offer Beat Monsanto’s
February 4, 2016
Syngenta Chief Operating Officer Davor Pisk says he is confident the proposed acquisition by ChemChina will ultimately help preserve choice Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsKoch Biological Solutions Invests In Pathway Biologic
February 4, 2016
An affiliate of Koch Biological Solutions, LLC has acquired a minority equity position in, and entered into collaboration with, Pathway Read More
Crop InputsABG: China Signs Off On Monsanto’s Roundup Ready …
February 3, 2016
Monsanto Co. on Wednesday announced it plans to launch its Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans in time for the 2016 Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop Inputs6 Things To Know About The ChemChina-Syngenta Deal
February 3, 2016
After months of rumors and speculation, Syngenta has announced that ChemChina has offered to acquire the Swiss-based company. “In making Read More