It was cloudy and threatening rain for most of the day at Brandt Consolidated‘s Pleasant Plains, IL, Research and Development Farm during the retailer’s second annual Agronomy Field Day last month. As the morning activities commenced, winds picked up and the skies began to darken, but the presenters carried on. After all, the Agronomy Day is the culmination of a year’s worth of sweat and detail work by a lot of people, and one day of nature’s fury wasn’t going to halt the festivities.
“We have a lot of exciting work going on at the Experiment Station right now,” says Brandt’s Pat Schaddel, precision agriculture coordinator. A lot of lessons learned from last year’s event were employed to improve its value to grower decision making.
The 72-acre demonstration area features a wide range of hybrid, variety, fertility, and crop protection product testing, and adds a valuable dimension to its robust precision agriculture offerings to grower customers. And it’s only the latest in a line of value offerings Brandt is bringing to its growers.
Precision With Punch
Brandt was one of the early adopters of precision agriculture, jumping in with both feet on a program called HighQ in 1997. The program, which has been updated through the years, allows for the collection and aggregation of a wide range of data that’s generated by Brandt and by the grower customer using a data logging program.
The analysis component of HighQ, called ComDAT, processes and models the data and performs all the statistical analysis work. “It provides the quality control models that make sure the data is statistically reliable,” says Schaddel. “Once all of that is done, it provides us with the output.” After that, the heavy lifting of providing an understandable data package with recommendations to grower-customers is the final step.
With nearly a decade of experience in using the program, Schaddel hopes his grower-customers will be poised to take advantage of the potential output crop trends that are emerging from biotech companies.
We’ve seen it more so in the produce markets, but there’s growing interest in crop attributes,” says Schaddel. In the Midwest, there is a lot of potential benefit in developing best practices for factors such as oil and protein content for food and biofuel use. How we measure and monitor these factors through our program could result in us getting our growers a better payoff at harvest time. Through the HighQ program we already have a lot more detail on our growers’ fields than their neighbors have on theirs.”
These markets and payoffs may take a bit more time, Schaddel says, “but it’s really just adding another file in the cabinet — another layer of data that we can process and gain benefit from.”
Tower Of Power
Another recent initiative Brandt has engaged in is the development of a tower network for real-time kinematic (RTK) global positioning for disseminating the high accuracy signal via subscription to grower customers.
The network currently features five towers and one roving base station to cover some “dark” areas in the coverage diameter.
The No. 1 reason growers are going to RTK in central Illinois is more precise tillage, says Schaddel. “I’d say 95% of the growers that are using RTK in this region are looking for more accuracy in their tillage program,” he says. Efficiency is a factor, but still a distant second place. Subscriptions for the signal run $1,500 per year.