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 Management Stories
Data ManagementBeck’s Builds Out ‘Freemium’ FMIS Offering
August 17, 2017
Beck’s today announced the release of several new tools available in their precision farming service, FARMserver, which enhances farmers’ ability Read More
Area-of-Interest-Web-Soil-Survey-screenshot
Data ManagementSignificant Updates Made to SoilWeb, Web Soil Survey Programs
August 15, 2017
Agronomic professionals and technicians dealing with precision farming must understand the soils within the field before writing effective prescriptions.  A Read More
Spray Drift
Data ManagementJanzen: Data to Play Key Role in Sorting Out Dicamba Disaster
August 10, 2017
You would have to live under a rock to not have heard about farmers’ issues with dicamba this growing season. Read More
Data ManagementDuPont Acquires Ag Tech Startup Granular for $300 Million
August 9, 2017
DuPont announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire San Francisco-based Granular, Inc., a provider of software and Read More
Trending Articles
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More
Wade-Barnes
Excellence AwardsBuilt By Agronomists: 2017 Award Of Excellence Winner Wade Barnes on the Making of Farmers Edge
August 2, 2017
Farmers Edge President And CEO Wade Barnes reflects on the process of building his company, shortly after receiving the Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award during the InfoAg Conference in July. Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg 2017 Recap: Service Providers Take Center Stage
July 28, 2017
As I sit here and ponder just what it was that we all experienced last week, off the top of Read More
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementBeck’s Builds Out ‘Freemium’ FMIS Off…
August 17, 2017
Beck’s today announced the release of several new tools available in their precision farming service, FARMserver, which enhances farmers’ ability Read More
Israel-Irrigation-system-featured-image
InternationalIsraeli Precision Ag Companies Lead in Water Use Effici…
August 16, 2017
In the last week, AgriHub, formed by farmers and consultants from Brazil, visited 10 Israeli agribusiness companies, including the Ministry Read More
Gregoire-tractor
ProfessionalsMechanization Key to the Future of Vineyard Management
August 15, 2017
Precision technology moves at different speeds across different segments of agriculture. For example, technologies like curve compensation, precision spraying, and Read More
Area-of-Interest-Web-Soil-Survey-screenshot
Data ManagementSignificant Updates Made to SoilWeb, Web Soil Survey Pr…
August 15, 2017
Agronomic professionals and technicians dealing with precision farming must understand the soils within the field before writing effective prescriptions.  A Read More
Univ.-of-Illlinois-Palmer-in-soybean1
Business ManagementOpinion: How to Leverage Precision Agriculture to Launc…
August 14, 2017
To continue where my last article left off (which you can check out here), a precision ag company that specializes Read More
Industry NewsFarm Dog Inks Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement with USD…
August 14, 2017
Farm Dog, a pest and disease management platform for growers and agronomists, has entered into a Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement (NFCA) Read More
Lisa-Prassack-Photo-Credit-Weekly-Times-Now
InternationalAgtech: What the Umbrella Term Really Means
August 10, 2017
Acclerator, incubator, start-up, connectivity — the buzzwords of the digital age can be clear as, well, mud, writes Alex Sampson Read More
Spray Drift
Data ManagementJanzen: Data to Play Key Role in Sorting Out Dicamba Di…
August 10, 2017
You would have to live under a rock to not have heard about farmers’ issues with dicamba this growing season. Read More
New-Zealand-Precision-Ag-Tour
InternationalNew Zealand Study Tour to Demonstrate Recent Advances i…
August 10, 2017
If you’re interested in an intense, week-long immersion in the use of high-tech products and practices in New Zealand agriculture, Read More
Data ManagementDuPont Acquires Ag Tech Startup Granular for $300 Milli…
August 9, 2017
DuPont announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire San Francisco-based Granular, Inc., a provider of software and Read More
EventsSDSU Prof to lead Profit-Focused Panel at Upcoming Inno…
August 9, 2017
Convening a day prior to this summer’s Farm Progress Show at the I Hotel in Champaign, IL (about an hour’s Read More
AGCO White planter 9800VE
ProfessionalsAGCO Crop Tour 2017 Features Precision Planting Add-Ons
August 8, 2017
Higher yields and greater returns are the ultimate goals for crop producers. To help corn growers better understand the role Read More
Corn
Business ManagementCrop Pro Insurance Closes $8 Million in Series A Fundin…
August 8, 2017
Crop Pro Insurance today announced the close of an $8 million Series A round of financing co-led by top agriculture Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agricultur…
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Satshot imagery
Imagery/SensingImagery in Agriculture: Some Sage Advice
August 6, 2017
SatShot President Lanny Faleide has been a fixture on the remote imagery scene for as long as about anyone still Read More
Blue-River-See-Spray-technology
ProfessionalsHow Blue River’s See & Spray Technology Could Chang…
August 5, 2017
The blistering West Texas heat rocketing towards triple digits, the affable cotton grower trudged across his dusty field and approached Read More
Grower Services & Solutions2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part II
August 4, 2017
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part II of Tim Norris’ Yield Monitor Calibration checklist, Part I of which was published in Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More