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
State of the IndustryAgriculture’s Troubled Waters
March 3, 2014
Water quantity and quality issues threaten to hamper agriculture on a wider scale in the not-too-distant future. Technology breakthroughs and improved practices are providing potential solutions. Read More
State of the IndustrySponsor Profiles: Simplot, SST And WinField Support CropLife State Of The Industry Report
January 8, 2014
The sponsor partners of the CropLife State of the Industry report have demonstrated ongoing leadership including their support of this report. Read More
State of the Industry2014 State Of The Industry: Agricultural Concerns Creep In
January 2, 2014
With many strong sales years under its belt, the agricultural community is hoping for another positive growth experience in 2014, but mindful of a few challenges that might keep this from happening. Read More
State of the IndustrySeed Systems Top Watch List
January 2, 2014
Retailers are closely following herbicide tolerance and drought resistance traits. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100The Andersons Starts Venture Capital Subsidiary
January 26, 2015
The Andersons has established Maumee Ventures, a venture capital subsidiary designed to foster promising innovations that strategically align with the company’s core businesses. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Partners With Northern Partners Coop On Fertilizer Warehouse
January 21, 2015
In addition, the two companies will form a joint venture to build and operate a grain barge loading facility that will handle corn, soybeans and wheat for export through the CHS terminal at Myrtle Grove, LA. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Move To Colorado Complete
January 20, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co. announces the opening of its new Agribusiness Division location in the Denver, CO, Metro Area. The new facility will host key personnel as the company shifts the base of its Agribusiness operations from California to Colorado. Read More
CropLife 100United Suppliers, McGregor Co., Five Others To Form Aligned Ag Distributors
January 20, 2015
These companies will continue to operate as independently owned and operated businesses, however, their crop protection divisions will now be formally aligned under the umbrella of Aligned Ag Distributors. Read More
CropLife 100Bozeman Named SEEDWAY Chief Operating Officer
January 16, 2015
He succeeds Donald Wertman, who will retire at the end of August 2015 after 40 years with the GROWMARK subsidiary. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis’ Craig Bair Honored For Safety Contributions To Ag Aviation
January 14, 2015
The William O. Marsh Safety Award recognizes significant achievements in safety, safety education or an outstanding operational safety program. Read More
Latest News
Seed/BiotechDow Details Enlist Trait Stacking Standards
January 30, 2015
Dow says it will allow the Enlist trait to be stacked with advanced glyphosate traits only, and will not allow stacking with the first generation of the Roundup Ready trait. Read More
ManagementCropLife Retail Week: IFCA’s Jean Payne on Illinois wat…
January 30, 2015
Editor Eric Sfiligoj shares insight from the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association conference including a chat with IFCA President Jean Read More
ManagementOABA Conference Set To Highlight Trends, Technology And…
January 29, 2015
The third annual Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) Industry Conference is set to take place February 4-5. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute President Jahn Testifies Befor…
January 28, 2015
The committee hearing, "Freight Rail Transportation: Enhancing Safety, Efficiency, and Commerce," looked at challenges facing our nation's freight rail network created by higher demand, rules and regulations and infrastructure needs. Read More
HerbicidesPurdue University Acquires Technology For Herbicide Mol…
January 28, 2015
Protea's LAESI DP-1000 Instrument System will be used in Purdue's College of Agriculture, the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, for the molecular imaging of herbicide active ingredients and other related compounds to optimize herbicide applications and improve weed management.  Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Hires New Crop Peformance Marketing Manager
January 27, 2015
As Marketing Manager for the Crop Performance division, Usman Khalid will work out of H.J. Baker’s global headquarters in Westport, CT, and will drive new initiatives for the division. Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Starts Venture Capital Subsidiary
January 26, 2015
The Andersons has established Maumee Ventures, a venture capital subsidiary designed to foster promising innovations that strategically align with the company’s core businesses. Read More
Exclusive state-of-the art Stueve Construction designed “Vista View” Elevated Control Room.
Eric Sfiligoj2015 Agricultural Market Read: Mixed
January 26, 2015
The agricultural market could look radically different this year, profit-wise, depending upon which segment you do business in. Read More
Edward Chell Biosafe
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Names Ed Chell California Territory Man…
January 26, 2015
BioSafe Systems has announced the recent addition of Ed Chell as California Territory Manager for the agrichemical division, supporting the crop protection, water treatment and food safety business segments. Read More
InsecticidesBayer CropScience Introduces Sivanto Insecticide
January 26, 2015
Sivanto precisely targets key damaging pests at multiple insect life stages to prevent damage to plants and help minimize the spread of diseases from insect carriers. Read More
ManagementRetail Collaboration, Communicating Agriculture’s Good …
January 23, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the recent creation of Aligned Ag Distributors, and the US Farmers and Ranchers Read More
FertilizerOSU Expert: Toledo Water Crisis A Turning Point For Ohi…
January 23, 2015
The August 2014 water crisis in Toledo, OH, impacted Ohioans’ views of Lake Erie algae problems by increasing the attribution of blame of algae growth on agriculture. Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launching TIGER XP
January 22, 2015
Tiger-Sul introduces this next generation sulphur-bentonite product with a proprietary activator – ensuring farmers have a well-balanced nutrient replacement program. Read More
Crop InputsH.J. Baker Expands China Sales Force
January 21, 2015
Global Agricultural firm H.J. Baker announced that sales veteran Shi Dongshen has joined their Shanghai office in China. This newest hire follows the recent opening of their Lianyungang Sulphur Bentonite Plant. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Partners With Northern Partners Coop On Fertilizer …
January 21, 2015
In addition, the two companies will form a joint venture to build and operate a grain barge loading facility that will handle corn, soybeans and wheat for export through the CHS terminal at Myrtle Grove, LA. Read More
Matt Hopkins5 Bold Predictions For Ag Retail In 2015
January 21, 2015
This past year was filled with ups and downs for the nation’s top ag retailers, but what will 2015 have in store? Read More
SoftwareDeere Launches App Center
January 20, 2015
The John Deere App Center provides users the ability to search and find apps most useful to their business or operations. Read More
Crop InputsNew Syngenta Herbicide Approved In Soybeans, Sunflowers
January 20, 2015
Syngenta will sell BroadAxe XC herbicide in 2015 for use on soybeans, sunflowers and dry peas Read More