Advancing Precision Programs: One Agronomist’s Perspective

Despite industry concerns that 2014 could bring a downturn in precision use with the lower overall outlook for commodity crop prices, Bill Aiken says that there is a considerable level of optimism among their grower members.

Aiken is precision agronomy lead at Stateline Cooperative, Burt, IA, and he has been working on the conundrum of building a successful precision program for many years at different retail organizations. His charge at Stateline, where he started last fall, is to help redefine precision farming and help nudge along the adoption process.

“What the leadership and the board of Stateline have challenged me to do is to examine our definition of precision agriculture and precision farming,” says Aiken. The main reason, he says, is because the early definition of precision farming has been misleading. “At a 30,000-foot view, many growers still have the perception that if they implement precision ag technology that they will cut input costs.” Growers who view this as the end game will tell you that they believe they are paying Cadillac prices for a Chevrolet product.

“We have found out that the reduction in input cost is not one-size-fits-all and predictable, nor should it be the driver of change. Optimizing production inputs, in a manner that enhances profitability while having a neutral environmental impact appeals more to us than merely reducing input costs. It requires a tremendous amount of due diligence amongst trusted advisors to determine if it is even viable,” he adds. Even the “bleeding edge” category – those willing to try new things even without a definitive return on investment, are going to expect sound, tested science based programs, or well-designed “On Farm Discovery” projects with an opportunity to minimize risk long term.

There is another factor, too. Some service providers have also leaned too heavily on the sale of components to drive profitability in precision programs as well, says Aiken. With few exceptions, precision has not evolved far enough beyond “component management” – selling individual products or components of a precision program, such as variable rate seed or fertilizer, and data analysis, rather than a cohesive program. “It has evolved that way because it can generate cash flow, but in the end it can be disruptive to a full program approach because we end up talking about the tools and not the toolbox,” he adds.

Like many cooperatives that have emerged from consolidation, acquisitions, and expansion over the past decade, Stateline is a collaboration of eight independents and local coops. With different dynamics in each place, precision programs will need to be fluid and flexible to address each situation. And, growers across the strata of experience with precision will need to be able to understand the benefits.

“If it’s a leading edge grower, the top one-third of the marketplace, he will generally be willing to invest an extra dollar with a questionable return. But the next two segments, the early adopters and what I call the “tell me” (late adopters) segments that make up the remaining two-thirds, are not going to invest a dime unless you can tie some predictability to it. Our job is to provide ‘equity’ regardless of segments and address viable ROI to both the grower and retail.”

One of Aiken’s first exercises in the redefinition of Stateline’s precision program was to go out and survey growers, retail managers and agronomists, consultants and academia in the area to identify barriers, roadblocks and opportunities.  “If I could summarize where things have evolved among growers, it’s with a phrase I have adopted: Autopsy Ag,” he explains. “That is, basically many of the decisions we are making for this year are based on post mortem analysis.”

Aiken terms Stateline’s desire is headed to “predictable production.” Working with a deeply involved trusted adviser, the entire toolbox, using applied research and localized on-farm discovery, growers will be able to buy into precision programs that provide a holistic approach to crop production that is tailored to his specific crops, fields, and goals. “We are not completely sure where it will take us, but our main message is that we are going to deal in predictable production and complete, cohesive programs,” says Aiken.

Changing approach is absolutely necessary in order to bring hesitant growers to the table. Aiken pointed out that adoption numbers among retailers, as reported in the CropLife magazine/Purdue University Retail Precision Adoption Survey, have essentially flatlined since 2008. “I think it’s a lack of confidence in precision programs that has left that bar unchanged,” he says.  “Our industry has and is rethinking the message relative to precision ag, but then we need to effectively ‘manage the message.’”

Leave a Reply

Data Stories

DataPlantBeat To Debut At InfoAg 2014
July 21, 2014
Phytech will reveal PlantBeat — a new service that assists farmers in the optimization of crop yields by translating plant needs into real-time alerts and expert recommendations — at the 2014 InfoAg conference in St. Louis, MO. Read More
ImageryFAA: We Plan To Meet September 2015 UAV Integration Deadline
July 15, 2014
Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s Office of Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration, recently spoke at the Delta AgTech Symposium on the current state of commercial UAV regulation in the U.S. Read More
SensorsNORAC Celebrates 40 Years In Business
June 25, 2014
NORAC, a leading precision ag manufacturer who pioneered the use of ultrasonic sensing in the development of control equipment, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Read More
MappingGerman Mapping Outfit CloudEO Looking For New Ag Ideas
June 18, 2014
As part of the annual Earth monitoring competition Copernicus Masters, CloudEO invites developers and GEO-enthusiasts to submit exciting and promising business ideas in agriculture. Read More

Trending Articles

PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: The Climate Corp.’s John Jansen
August 29, 2014
John Jansen of The Climate Corp. talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about how the company’s technology platform has Read More
EquipmentDeere Dealer Meeting: Machinery Improvements Boost Precision
August 23, 2014
John Deere's array of new releases and product improvements were punctuated with efficiency upgrades that should allow for improved use of precision practices. Read More
Data5 Key Precision Farming Trends Showcased At The InfoAg Conference
July 30, 2014
No other event in agriculture quite captures the latest trends in precision farming like The InfoAg Conference. Find out what was hot at this year's event in our photo gallery. Read More
EquipmentNew Soil Sampling System Debuts At InfoAg
July 28, 2014
North Carolina grower Allan Baucom has what he feels is a better idea for automating soil sampling, and it’s on Read More
EquipmentKinze Electric Multi-Hybrid Planter Moves Closer To Full Launch
July 15, 2014
Based on early successes with the multi-hybrid planter, Kinze announced that it is putting the model into limited production for the spring 2015 planting season. Read More
SoftwareTrimble Adds Multi-Spectral Processing Capabilities To Connected Farm
June 19, 2014
Trimble has added another new agronomic service to its Connected Farm solution. Read More

Latest News

Awards2014 Awards Of Excellence Winners: Champions Of Precisi…
September 2, 2014
The 2014 Class of PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence recipients have spent their careers working to improve precision practices, increase adoption and put best practices in place on the ground. Read More
Variable Rate2014 Precision Ag Top 5 Technologies
September 2, 2014
The top precision agriculture technologies didn’t change in the past year, according to experts. What has changed, however, is their order of activity. Read More
SoftwareThe New AgVerdict Is In
September 2, 2014
Wilbur-Ellis heard you. A powerful new version of AgVerdict precision software — for desktop and mobile — offers intuitiveness and ease across more than 300 crops. Read More
PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: The Climate Corp.’s John J…
August 29, 2014
John Jansen of The Climate Corp. talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about how the company’s technology platform has Read More
DataThe Climate Corporation Announces Acreage Milestone, Ne…
August 28, 2014
The Climate Corporation has announced a new acreage milestone achieved by its Climate Basic service, as well as a new price point for Climate Pro subscribers. Read More
SteeringOutback Guidance Introduces Next Generation Auto Steer …
August 27, 2014
Outback Guidance has introduced three new precision auto steer systems: the eDriveXD, eDriveXC and eDriveESI. Read More
GuidanceTrimble Conducting Demonstrations Of NextSwath End Of R…
August 26, 2014
Trimble is conducting live demonstrations of its cutting-edge NextSwath end of row turn technology at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, IA. Read More
MappingTrimble’s RainWave Solution Now Maps Rainfall Amounts…
August 26, 2014
Trimble has announced a significant advancement in its RainWave precipitation monitoring solution that maps precise rainfall amounts within an entire Read More
SoftwareConnected Farm Now Includes Field Data Management Solut…
August 26, 2014
The solution consists of two Web applications: Connected Farm Field, a field data management tool for the farmer; and Connected Farm Advisor, a field data management tool for the farmer’s trusted advisor. Read More
EquipmentValmont Acquires Majority Stake In AgSense
August 26, 2014
Valmont Industries, a leading global provider of engineered products and services for infrastructure and mechanized irrigation equipment for agriculture, has acquired a majority interest in South Dakota-based AgSense. Read More
EquipmentCase IH, Precision Planting Let Producers Customize The…
August 26, 2014
Producers can choose to add any or all Precision Planting components to their new Case IH Early Riser planter, depending on which they feel will deliver the greatest value to their operation. Read More
EquipmentDeere Dealer Meeting: Machinery Improvements Boost Prec…
August 23, 2014
John Deere's array of new releases and product improvements were punctuated with efficiency upgrades that should allow for improved use of precision practices. Read More
PrecisionAg Institute1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Midwest Laboratories’ Tim …
August 22, 2014
Tim Mundorf of Midwest Laboratories talks with PrecisionAg Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf about key trends in soil testing, how the company collaborates with universities on recommendations, how delivering quality data is as important as ever, and much more. Read More
GPSResearchers Uncover New GPS Application
August 22, 2014
Researchers are using GPS out west to monitor the massive drought that has intensified over much of the region. Read More
DataBig Data Workshop Set For Monday, Aug. 25 In Ames
August 20, 2014
"Big Data: Managing Your Most Elusive Farm Asset" is set to bring growers, educators and industry experts together Aug. 25 on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, IA. Read More
DataWinField Launches Data Silo, Mobile App Store
August 20, 2014
Answer Tech by WinField is a web portal and mobile app store, while the WinField Data Silo is a secure, cloud-based data-management system. Read More
UncategorizedUSDA Launches Website To Provide Guidance For New Farme…
August 20, 2014
Farmers work hard while dealing with unpredictable weather, long hours and countless risks. New farmers face even more start-up obstacles Read More
DataVilsack, USDA Pledge $2 Million To Lake Erie Water Qual…
August 19, 2014
The new funding is the latest contribution of resources to the Lake Erie watershed from USDA, which has invested $46 million in the watershed since 2009. Read More