“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” — Vince Lombardi
Those words of wisdom could easily apply to the off-season blueprint followed by Dodge City, KS-based agronomy provider Servi-Tech, a 200-plus employee outfit that annually services 50 million acres of High Plains wheat, 30 million acres of corn, and six million acres of soybeans across seven states.
Ryan Meister, who’s been at Servi-Tech since January of 2004 after graduating from University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2003, is currently the outfit’s Director of Technology Development. Meister says the winter months provide Servi-Tech with a much needed respite from day-to-day grower dealings, allowing the company’s agronomists to prepare themselves for a successful spring.
“We take seriously our role of advisor to growers and want to be sure we have the best understanding of products and services which go into producing a crop,” Meister says. “We participate in internal training events, as well as events produced by industry, to learn about the latest and greatest products on the market.”
Although the off-season is certainly important from a training standpoint, Meister adds that “training is really a 12-month out of the year process” but that opportunities “really tend to ramp up” around the change of the calendar and into the new year.
Setting Up for Spring
According to Meister, agronomists at Servi-Tech generally spend the first two months of the season finalizing plans for spring planting.
“At that point most of the inputs have been purchased or spoken for,” he explains. “Now we put together a plan to make sure that all of them are applied correctly when the time comes this spring. We want to make sure all the questions about which product is to be applied in what location, are answered.”
Thinking about Servi-Tech’s huge operating territory across the High Plains, that’s a lot of data, product maps, and other information layers for the agronomists to keep straight. Meister says that’s where Servi-Tech’s proprietary mobile app comes into play.
“We record that information in the Servi-Tech mobile app, which allows the agronomist and farmer to work off the same up-to-date record,” Meister says. “If a planned herbicide recommendation needs to be edited, the grower or agronomist can make the change and the record will be instantly accurate for both parties.”
Planting prescriptions, an incredibly important piece of aceing the end-of-year yield scorecard, are also managed within the app.
“Planting prescriptions are also being developed in conjunction with planned hybrid and variety placement,” he continues. “Then the agronomist will spend time with the grower making a customized planting prescription drawing from available data, along with the agronomist’s and farmer’s knowledge of each field.”
Like any agronomic recommendation generating operation, Servi-Tech is constantly evaluating and looking at adding different data layers to ensure its spatial representation of each grower’s field is as accurate as possible. Its in-house satellite imagery offering, for example, has made a measurable impact.
“We are in our second season using imagery in conjunction with our traditional consulting services. The program is called CropView,” Meister explains. “We have teamed up with TerrAvion to provide this service to our customers, and 12 to 15 images are delivered to our customers and agronomists throughout the growing season.”
For Servi-Tech’s agronomist network, the benefits are many: more efficient field scouting, first and foremost, as well as better plant stress monitoring capabilities.
“However, he adds, it still takes a knowledgeable agronomist to use the imagery and provide solutions. The imagery (itself) is great at identifying insect, fertility, disease, weed, and moisture concerns.”
Located in one of the most intensely irrigated farming regions in the Western Hemisphere, the imagery also helps Servi-Tech provide some soft services around irrigation systems.
“It can also help us find irregular irrigation patterns in a field before finding them in the yield map at the end of the season,” Meister notes.
Last year, Servi-Tech started offering a new soil moisture probe monitoring system, TheProfiler Plus.
“This system will allow growers to monitor soil moisture at multiple locations in the field,” he explains. “Traditionally, we have monitored a single location at a time, due to the cost of the equipment, but the new systems allow for quicker installation with lower hardware costs.”
TheProfiler Plus data will aggregate with imagery from CropView, allowing growers a quick, at-a-glance dashboard view for in-season decision making.
“We bring the CropView images and TheProfiler Plus information to one website giving our growers an easy and convenient way to view their in-season data.”
With another down year forecasted for ag commodities in 2019, Meister feels that the seemingly never-ending stretch between fall harvest and spring planting has become even more crucial for in-season success.
“We can’t get tunnel vision chasing after high yields, but we need to be chasing high profitability,” Meister says. “Revenue is only one component of profitability. We need to evaluate expenses as well.”
And, as growers increasingly start exploring their options, like purchasing inputs online through FBN Direct or the new retail-powered ecommerce platform CommoditAg, Meister says it’s important to remind growers that the professional agronomist is still the original expert.
“One of the most important roles we play for the grower is laying out all the options in regards to inputs, and help search for the products which will result in the best ROI,” he argues. “Just because a neighbor has good luck with one product doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right product to use for another grower. The knowledge and available technology tools of our independent agronomists help shape a customized plan for success specific to each grower, each field, and every acre.”