By their nature, ag retailers regularly provide advice to their grower-customers on a number of topics. However, there are times when the reverse is true in this business relationship. For example, consider the case of Aberdeen, SD-based South Dakota Wheat Growers (SDWG), which has begun using a unique air seeder to perform not only variable-rate application (VRA) seeding but VRA fertilizer for many of its customers.
“A lot of the crop producers in our area regularly used Horsch Anderson units to put their soybean and wheat seed into the ground and we realized that these machines could be used to apply fertilizer in the fall as well,” says Brent Wiesenburger, precision agriculture manager for SDWG. “So we ultimately formed strategic alliances with these producers to lease their equipment from them for better utilization.”
The fact that SDWG was intrigued by this idea should come as a surprise to no one who knows the company. With a history that stretches back more than 90 years, SDWG currently has 5,400 active producer members and 17,000 equity holders. The company consists of two business units, grain and agronomy, spread out across much of the state of South Dakota and the southern portion of North Dakota. In all, the company features 36 facilities and sister publication CropLife magazine ranks SDWG as No. 11 on its CropLife 100, a yearly ranking of the nation’s top ag retailers, with annual sales in the $200 million to $999 million range. Despite its name, says Wiesenburger, most of SDWG’s customers these days grow more corn and soybean crops than they do wheat.
Given its size, SDWG has an impressive equipment fleet to help service its customers’ needs. In terms of custom application, the company regularly custom applies over 2.5 million acres per year by ground and another 150,000 to 200,000 through aerial application. To do this, SDWG employs an application fleet of 65 floaters and 74 self-propelled sprayers. According to Wiesenburger, 90% of the company’s application fleet is less than five years old and SDWG annually invests more than $20 million in new agronomy application equipment.
Besides equipment, another key component of SDWG’s business model is precision ag. Annually, this portion of the company generates approximately $12 million in revenue, much of it through SDWG’s MZB Technologies (which the company purchased in 2011). According to Wiesenburger, MZB uses a science-based patented approach to precision agriculture through multi-layer zone-based precision practices. “A good portion of what we do in precision agriculture involves VRA fertilizer and VRA seeding,” he says. In 2014, for instance, the company did VRA fertilizer work on 271,500 acres and provided their customers with VRA Seeding/Planting files on 171,000 acres.
A Horsch Anderson History
In terms of history, Horsch Anderson has taken a slightly different path to precision agriculture. The company can trace its roots back to a partnership with a Germany-based company, Horsch, which entered the U.S. market in 2000. Initially, Horsch Anderson targeted the VRA seeding market, but according to Territory Manager Jesse Kappenman, the company’s founder, Kevin Anderson, had grander plans for his units.
“Our founder was an industry consultant and he wanted to develop an air drill that could do virtually anything,” says Kappenman. “He wanted a machine that could seed row crops and custom apply higher rates of fertilizer in one pass, either in the spring or the fall.”
The result of this vision was the Horsch Anderson Panther, which was introduced into the U.S. market in 2000. According to Kappenman, the Panther features the heaviest frame in the air drill marketplace with 4 X 4 X 3/8th-inch tubing and a 750-pound trip shank. “This helps hold the Panther in the ground when it’s doing application work so a user can go much deeper into the soil than a lot of other air drills can,” he says.
The Panther also had an eye on precision agriculture work as well, says Kappenman. “It was one of the first air drills to have electric meter and dedicated VRA controls available,” he says. “There’s also a half-off option so that users can shut off half of the drill when needed to just apply product or seed where it’s needed.”
Since its introduction 14 years ago, Kappenman estimates that there are more than 150 customers using Horsch Anderson Panthers to perform VRA seeding and VRA fertilizer work in their fields.
Connecting With SDWG
In 2006, SDWG approached Horsch Anderson about its Panther units. According to Wiesenburger, the company was looking to not only improve its precision ag services at the time, but better utilize its application equipment fleet in the process. “We first started talking with Horsch Anderson because we didn’t want to have several high-priced pieces of our equipment just sitting idle during the fall season. If we could get twice the use out of them instead, that was an investment we were willing to make.”
After some testing, SDWG eventually added 15 Panthers to its equipment fleet. “We really liked the quality of the frame,” says Wiesenburger. “From a custom application standpoint, we can get a Panther across quite a few acres with fewer breakdowns happening because of its durability.” In fact, he adds, the only alteration the company did to its Panthers was to add Ag Leader units to them to improve their ability to perform precision agriculture operations.
To use the Panthers for its customers, SDWG began a program it called Doubleshot Application. In practice, says Wiesenburger, 15-inch strips are cleared in the field while Nitrogen, phosphorus and potash are banded within them. The Panther’s shovel shank lifts the soil and the unit’s closing discs create a slight berm that helps seal the fertilizer application. Then in the spring, corn can be planted directly into this, in some cases with extra nitrogen being applied at planting or in sidedressed fashion.
“The advantages to this system are several,” says Wiesenburger. “Not only does the Panther loosen the soil in the rows while maintaining the surface residue between them, but it helps increase water infiltration and causes less erosion than a conventional system does.”
Since launching its Doubleshot program around 30 years ago using chisel plows and field cultivators with homemade delivery systems of liquid and dry fertilizer, says Wiesenburger, the company’s customers have recently started to benefit from the better application technology the Panther provides.
“On average, customers using Doubleshot have an adjusted revenue of $675.34 on fall corn yield, using $4.25 (At time of test) corn as the base, vs. $604.02 for a spread fall average and $596.40 for a spread spring average. They’ve also enjoyed better placement of fertilizer in the field, especially in minimum tillage operations.”