As a follow-up to the last issue’s discussion on precision-ag technologies, I have spent more time with Dan Frieberg, of Premier Crop Systems, Des Moines, IA.
It finally dawned on me that one of the reasons precision-ag technology is not used more by farmers is there are few providers that do what Premier Crop does. Dan summarized the 10 things they do to get the results in increased yields we wrote about in last month’s article; namely double the yield increase over the county average for the last 10 years. He says:
*We organize their information for clients. This is a big deal. Few providers do this or want to.
*We’re their agronomy “bookkeeping” department. They call us – or call up our maps/reports/whatever – when they want to know something.
*We make them their “agronomy bible” for the year with records, maps of varieties, populations and different treatments so they can scout with other advisors during the season and/or during harvest.
*We make them a one-page preharvest printout that lists every field, variety, relative maturity, planting date, population and whether it had fungicide applied so they can quickly organize before and during harvest.
*We use their agronomy information to learn what worked this year, what worked last year, and what has worked in the past three years.
*We provide group data of other farmers so growers can learn from others’ successes and challenges.
*We bring new ideas to the table and actually make them happen – variable-rate planting, integrated variable-rate nutrients, learning blocks for population and nitrogen, etc. Learning blocks are small (1-2 acre) check plots in a part of a field that performs the same – has the same soils, organic matter and nutrient levels.
*We highly encourage growers to leave non-treated areas and/or make GPS-placement recommendations for foliar fertilizers, fungicides, etc. We also follow through with analyzing the data to find out what return on investment exists for these treatments.
*We check the work. Not only do we analyze the data, we make sure that what we’re analyzing is realistic.
*We make great effort to keep the data accurate, clean and reliable. Data is one thing – information is another. Growers need information, not data.
As the chart above shows, what growers spend for precision-ag technologies compared to what costs and gross revenue has done over that last 10 years is small.
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Headache on the horizon
Another reason precision-ag technology will need to increase in the years ahead is the EPA’s call for a 45% reduction in the nitrogen delivered annually to the Gulf by 2015.
To accomplish this we’ll need to do the things I mentioned in my April 2011 column, where the Fertilizer Institute along with the International Fertilizer Association, the International Plant Nutrient Institute and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute have provided leadership to help farmers manage this minefield. They’ve developed the 4R nutrient stewardship program; right fertilizer source, at the right rate, right time and in the right place.
If we accomplished this, we would meet the EPA standards by 2015 and improve bottom-line profits.