Central Ohio Farmers Co-op: A True Collaboration

Tim Norris, Tom Miller

Precision agriculture technology should be a means to an end, not the end itself. Early in the precision “revolution,” though, fascination with technology led to big investments by retailers in the “stuff of technology” — pretty machines delivering pretty maps and diagrams that delivered plenty of sizzle but precious little steak.

Today’s retailers who survived the initial precision learning curve are applying their knowledge and creating programs that balance the grower’s needs with best practices, efficiency, practicality, and — imagine this — profitability.

Tim Norris presents an example of someone who’s learned many of the lessons of precision programs past, and is getting the chance to start something from scratch.

Due south of Mansfield off the old Lincoln Highway in north central Ohio, Norris has been molding his precision program for Central Ohio Farmers Co-op, Inc. (COSE), headquartered in Marion.

Norris was himself a farmer from 1984 until 1992, when he went to work for Mount Vernon Farmers Exchange, during which time he achieved certified crop adviser (CCA) certification. He left the exchange and went to Sunrise Co-op in 1996 where he cut his teeth in precision ag, helping to develop its successful site-specific program.

After three years at Sunrise, Norris came back to the Farmers Exchange to serve as the precision agriculture coordinator for the location. Shortly after being named location manager in 1999, the Exchange consolidated with Marion Landmark to form Central Ohio Farmers Co-op, Inc., and Norris began serving the dual role of branch manager and precision agriculture coordinator.

In the spring of 2003, he was named full-time precision agriculture coordinator for the entire organization, which led to the launch of the cooperative’s Ag-Knowledge program.

Ag-Knowledge is a branded precision agriculture services program that acts as an internal independent consulting firm within Central Ohio Farmers Co-op. The services are available independently of the products that a grower purchases from the co-op. Indeed, services are available to any grower in the region whether they buy all, some, or none of their input needs from the cooperative.

Not many retailers are willing to take the leap to create a separate division, but Norris says that to say no to a more independent-minded grower is to say no to a loyal, solid core of potential business.

“There are some growers that will gravitate toward doing more of the work themselves, and frankly, we need to find ways to do business with these people,” says Norris. “Often they are some of our best customers and more willing to try new things.”

Inside The Service

The Ag-Knowledge service is pretty straightforward. The concept is to provide growers a broad range of data analysis tools to meet virtually every need and desire of the inquisitive grower-customer.

“Growers have been collecting incredible amounts of data over the past decade, from seed varieties to inputs to tillage to yield and soil type, as well as many others,” says Norris. “The question we ask is, how have you utilized all this data that you worked so hard to collect and store?”

Norris presents the end game to growers in his definition of precision agriculture: “The practice of managing each acre of your farm to reach its highest economic yield through the use of various tools and practices.” In other works, knowledge plus technology equals yield.

In order to get there, the Ag-Knowledge program encourages collaboration and partnership both from farmer to retailer and from farmer to farmer.

Norris developed his program using SST Development Group‘s SSToolbox geographic information sysyem (GIS) software as the backbone of his data analysis work. As he tells growers, this powerful software allows for myriad analyzes of data for whatever the grower is interested in learning about his fields.

Of course, discussing analysis is actually starting the story from the end, and Ag-Knowledge also plays a critical role with the grower on the front end of planting season.

“We stress fundamentals with growers in the beginning, such as ensuring they use a certified lab for sample analysis, knowing and understanding their source of soil type data, and calibrating equipment properly,” says Norris.

He also stresses the benefits of growers “sharing”e SST package.

Ag-Knowledge has succeeded because it’s geared toward getting the grower whatever data collection and analysis is desired, rather than sticking to a strict menu of options.

“Growers that enroll in our program need to answer this question first: “What do I expect to get from my data?” says Norris. “Then, we develop a plan to put their products and techniques to the test.”

Variable comparisons possible in this program are virtually limitless, but special attention is given to variety performance testing against inputs and soil types.

In addition to making the retailer the central point of data analysis, the Ag-Knowledge program also gets the grower more directly involved by providing clients with PDAs loaded with SST Stratus software.

The unit has the grower’s fields loaded into it, and allows the grower to collect data on any field task performed, from applications to scouting to tillage. Using a docking station attached to an office computer, the grower may download all the data to Norris for storage and analysis.

Collaboration Is Key

Beyond pure data analysis, Norris is adding new services and programs under Ag-Knowledge that allow growers to try new technology and deepen the collaborative farming relationship between producer and retailer. COSE is an authorized retailer of Ag Leader yield monitors and, more recently, Beeline automatic steering systems. Norris serves as a Beeline authorized dealer in Ohio.

The automatic steering systems caught the eye of Ag-Knowledge clients and Ohio farmers Tom and Fred Miller, who quickly could imagine the possible efficiencies and agronomic benefits the system could provide. Norris was able to offer the system and provide training and support for the unit.

2003 was the brothers’ first season with the Beeline system, which required the installation of a static transmission unit on one of their buildings, a control box on the floor of the tractor, and an in-cab computer display. The initial installation cost just under $60,000 to equip three tractors, says Fred Miller.

The decision to move forward with the purchase was a no-brainer after taking pencil to paper and hashing out the details, says Tom. “We do strip-till on corn, and we determined that we’ll save 10% to 20% on time spent going through the field,” he notes. “That’s not only time, but fuel costs and wear and tear on the equipment.”

The next step will be to add automatic steering to their combines, delivering greater harvest efficiency, says Fred. “We expect to see between 16% and 20% increased efficiency from using autosteer in harvesting, as well as tillage, in beans.” The cost will be about $20,000 per unit, but it’s well worth it, they say. “We figured out that between all the cost savings and gained efficiencies, we will pay for the equipment in two years,” says Tom.

For Norris and the Miller Farm, trust and collaboration are clearly the keys to improved efficiency and better yields.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the December 2003 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.

Leave a Reply

Grower Services & Solutions Stories
AmericasMFA Precision Head Talks Precision Ag, Cover Crops at 2018 4R Summit
June 18, 2018
Although implicit to anyone that spends a good chunk of their career in agriculture, the link between advanced precision technology Read More
David-Perry-featured-image
AmericasIndigo Touts ‘New Approach to Agricultural R&D’
June 13, 2018
Indigo, the Boston-based microbial crop technology startup that has raised more than $400 million, announced it is expanding its research Read More
Parkland College Student Training
AmericasBushel Garners $7 Million Private Investment Round
May 10, 2018
Bushel today announced a $7 million private investment round to accelerate its patent-pending digital platform for the grain industry. The Read More
Agronomist with iPad
Decision Support SoftwareAg Tech Mobile Tools: Talkin’ Climate’s New Seed Scripting Platform
May 7, 2018
It’s reportedly been a busy spring down at The Climate Corporation offices in Creve Coeur, MO, a tony bedroom community Read More
Trending Articles
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
InfoAg ConferenceThe InfoAg Conference Offers Early Bird Registration Discount
May 24, 2018
Since 1995, The InfoAg Conference has been the premier event for discussion and advancement of precision agriculture. The event, organized Read More
Ernie-Chappell-Screenshot
EventsEFC Systems Sponsorship Demonstrates Commitment to Continuing Education for Retail Dealerships
May 16, 2018
Enterprise software manufacturer EFC Systems, scholarship sponsor of the inaugural PrecisionAg® Professional Accelerator professional development conference this June in Brookings, Read More
EventsMeister Media Debuts Growing Innovations
May 10, 2018
As a service provider, you and your grower customers probably can agree on this much: While innovation abounds in agriculture, Read More
UCANR_booth_Food_IT_forum
EventsForum Calling All Innovators of Agriculture Technology
May 2, 2018
The challenges that come with feeding the world continue to grow. Luckily, so do advances in information technology that are Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsRaven Launching CR12 Field Computer in Europe this Week
June 19, 2018
Raven Industries announced the release of a new, larger field computer: the CR12. Utilizing the same functionality as the CR7 Read More
dropcopter
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollinatio…
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
Farmer with iPad
Decision Support SoftwareAgrian Enhances Field Scouting App
June 18, 2018
Agrian has added a new feature to its robust field scouting app – a pest trap counting solution. The new Read More
AmericasMFA Precision Head Talks Precision Ag, Cover Crops at 2…
June 18, 2018
Although implicit to anyone that spends a good chunk of their career in agriculture, the link between advanced precision technology Read More
Iron Man
UncategorizedAgFunder News: Forget Self-Driving Tractors; Agricultur…
June 18, 2018
Marvel’s Iron Man suit might seem an unlikely source of inspiration for growers, writes Joseph Byrum on AgFunderNews.com. Once the Read More
Soil-Corn-plants-field
Data ManagementRemote Soil-Sensed Management Zones Help Increase Crop …
June 18, 2018
Accurate prescription maps are essential for effective variable rate technology (VRT) fertilizer application. Grid soil sampling is frequently used to Read More
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportu…
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
computer-in-field
Business Management3 Questions to Ask When Looking for Your First Job in P…
June 18, 2018
Let me begin this column by extending my congratulations to all of my fellow students who have just graduated – Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversStine Seed Plunks Down $5 Million on Smart Ag’s D…
June 14, 2018
Stine Seed Farm has invested $5 million in Smart Ag Inc., an Iowa technology firm that has developed a full Read More
David-Perry-featured-image
AmericasIndigo Touts ‘New Approach to Agricultural R&…
June 13, 2018
Indigo, the Boston-based microbial crop technology startup that has raised more than $400 million, announced it is expanding its research Read More
Ag Drone
EventsAgTech Conference of the South Dedicated to Innovation,…
June 12, 2018
Join current and emerging agtech business leaders and investors at the AgTech Conference of the South, a premiere conference dedicated Read More
Munckhof Machinefabriek equipment
EuropeEurope: Precision Farming at Heart of Munckhof Deal
June 11, 2018
One of Europe’s oldest suppliers of machinery used in fruit production, the Dutch firm Munckhof Machinefabriek, has been purchased by Read More
Australian-Farmers
Australia/New ZealandCrunching the Ag-Tech Numbers Saves Time for Australian…
June 5, 2018
Time management is key on the Walker family’s farm, where a mix between cropping, commercial sheep and two studs means Read More
Drone-exhbitor-at-Drone-Show
AmericasDroneShow Highlights UAV Technology in Latin America
June 4, 2018
Editor’s note: The DroneShow Latin America is an annual trade fair hosted by MundoGEO, a media and communications company founded Read More
Imagery/SensingImagery in Agriculture: Time for a Reality Check
June 4, 2018
Where do I begin….I’ve been dealing with imagery in agriculture since I was 10 when my dad started Satshot. At Read More
AmericasNAAA Issues Drone Pilot Reminder: Watch Out For Aerial …
May 31, 2018
With more than 1 million UAVs registered with the FAA, it is vitally important for UAV operators to be aware Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key t…
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
CROO Robotics’ automated strawberry harvester
Specialty CropsGrowingProduce.com: Fruit Growers, It’s Time to Mechani…
May 30, 2018
If you’re into conspiracies, you might be interested to know that I have stumbled onto a doozy. And it looks Read More