Nutrien Ag Solutions’ Lumsden: Pursuing Precision on Canada’s Vast Western Prairie
I think it’s safe to say, we’re pretty obsessed with precision ag adoption in this industry, aren’t we?
Whether it be on trade show floors at the various meetings, in meetings with our PrecisionAg Institute member companies, or in dreary, fluorescent-lighted equipment sheds across the Corn Belt, we’re always trying to figure out: How many farmers and retailers are actually doing this precision ag stuff?
And no bones about it. We inherently want those numbers to be high. From our own research, we know we’re nowhere near the level of adoption on a lot of this stuff to truly move the needle at the farm-gate. Naturally then, as industry stakeholders with a vested interest in seeing the world of precision ag proliferated to the masses, it’s not often that we hear someone just come right out and say it: “Ya know, the technology is great but we’re just not seeing the level of adoption locally we’d hoped for.”
On my venture to the vast, marigold-splashed Western Canadian prairies in Saskatchewan, I heard basically those exact words. They originated from Ian Douhaniuk, the branch manager at Nutrien Ag Solutions in Lumsden, Saskatchewan.
For one thing, the sheer scale of agriculture in Saskatchewan can make adoption a tough sell for many Ag Tech products and services. With average farm size across the province hoovering around the 5,000+ acres mark, a lot of solutions just don’t scale up to that size of operation, or scaling them up to that level of acreage proves cost-prohibitive.
Then there’s the types of crops primarily grown on the prairies. A lot of lower value row crops like canola and wheat, plus a relatively small smattering of corn and beans. Specialty crops have a very small presence, and with irrigation another tough sell in this part of the world (I think I saw one, maybe two pivots driving between Saskatoon and Regina), most growers aren’t too keen on investing a ton of dollars into technology when they’ve been doing just fine for generations doing things the old way.
Where Douhaniuk and Co. see opportunity for their precision program – the cooperative is still on the Echelon platform after Crop Production Service’s (CPS) merger with Nutrien – is with the next generation of grower.
“The average age of a farmer in the province right now is about 55-58 years old, and three to five years is the transition (period) from father to son in Canada,” he explains. “We’re in that transition stage right now where the father is looking at retiring soon, and the son is coming up and is going to be the successor on that farm operation, and he or she really wants that technology on the farm.
“(Precision Ag) is growing and we’ve got our innovative growers that are looking at it, it hasn’t really taken off yet, per say, but I believe in about three to five years we’re going to get a lot of customers really ramping up for that,” Douhaniuk continues. “As they upgrade and get the new equipment that can do all that stuff, they’re going to want to tap into all of that technology, plus have a platform that helps them manage all of the data, as well as the fertilizer placement in the right areas.”
Douhaniuk’s right hand man in Lumsden, operations lead Trevor Steinke, agrees.
“There’s a big change in the business coming soon where a lot of your big producers that have been doing it a certain way for so many, many years are starting to hang up their keys and pass it onto the younger generation,” he says. “And that generation is a lot more environmentally conscious, so a lot of the programs that we’re coming out with now are a lot easier to move onto the growers because they’re more conscious of that type of farming.”
Currently where the guys at Lumsden make most of their hay in precision is in selling variable rate fertilizer application services to growers. That is a technology and a practice that always scales, Douhaniuk says.
“We specialize in the placement of fertilizer in the right place, at the right time, the right rate,” he explains. “Echelon is focused onto that, so we focus on following the principles of the 4Rs, reducing the environmental impact of leeching and runoff of nitrates, stuff like that. We’re placing the nutrients into the right areas of the field that can hold those nutrients until the plant can take them up. Basically, that is what our Echelon platform brings to the table.”
In order to dial in those soil zones, Douhaniuk and Co. make sure they are grid soil testing grower’s fields to ensure a complete picture of the current nutrient levels in the soil.
“We have a soil testing truck, and we’ve been doing a lot of soil testing, so we recommend our blends based off of the soil sample, so we’re not over fertilizing the fields, and each field is different being that the soil structure changes across the field,” he explains.
Editor’s Note: Nutrien Ag Solutions, Lumsden, SK, was the regional award winner for Canada for Corteva AgriScience’s 2018 Environmental Respect Awards (ERA) program. Meister Media Worldwide, parent company of PrecisionAg® Professional and CropLife.com, is the official media partner for the program.