There’s No Easy Button For Value in Variable-Rate Nutrition


At right, Roger DuMond of Kova Fertilizer shares experience, and a few laughs, with third-year intern Brandon Butz. “Sharing ideas with our younger employees is a joy, and we learn a lot this way,” says DuMond.


Roger Dumond has weathered the ups and downs of precision agriculture programs as much as anybody who’s been riding that train since practically the beginning, writes Paul Schrimpf on In 1995, his precision-centered career at Kova Fertilizer, an independent retail organization covering large swaths of southeast Indiana, began as many did in the “cradle of precision,” by marking boundaries and grid sampling for variable-rate fertility recommendations.

After working through three seasons of the grid sampling approach, Kova evolved rapidly into developing subzones from soil types, an approach that put the retailer in a clear minority back in 1998. In more recent years, the approach has matured to a process of analyzing various data layers that can affect crop growth and developing, and then fertilizing to match the needs of these zones. Kova sells its precision offerings under a brand called NextGPS Services.

Keeping the variable-rate rec program advancing and improving means that DuMond and his team needs to balance the hard-learned lessons of more than two decades of work with the possibilities and promise of emerging technologies and practices that might just work.

“We have seven millennials that have become a part of the organization over the last two years, and that tempers everything we say about emerging technology and new ways of working,” says DuMond. “I say things like, ‘well, this is the way I was taught,’ and we attempt to never say, ‘that’s just not going to work.’ I feel like I am innovative enough that I can buy into new ways of doing things.”

One fact he won’t budge on, though, is that there’s no magical help button black box that is going to replace the recommendations of a professional agronomist.

“The thing that bothers me about efforts like Farmers Business Network (FBN) is that there are a whole lot of people who take all the work we do for granted,” says DuMond. “We spend a lot of time second-guessing our own attempts at doing variable rate, and doing it properly, and it seems like it is all being minimized for a cheap price on fertilizer or a push-button solution. That irritates us to no end.”

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