Retailer Boosts Profits With Sensor Technology

In 2009, Crystal Valley Co-op, Janesville, MN, will harness precision sensor technology to open up a new 10-day application window that will boost sprayed acres up to 25% while adding a valuable new service for its customers.

Based on results from a 900-acre test program in 2008, the co-op has pre-booked an additional 5,000 corn acres for its first sprayer equipped with a GreenSeeker RT200 sensor-based variable-rate application and mapping system.

“We are adding the ‘profit’ acres by increasing sprayed acres from 18,000 to 23,000,” says Tim Danberry, sales agronomist for the co-op. Not only is the co-op spreading fixed costs over 25% more acres, it is able to charge $9.50 per acre for variable-rate sidedressing, a $3 premium compared to its normal sidedress charge. The extra income should be ample to defray the cost of the GreenSeeker RT200 system, which lists for $22,500, plus freight and installation.

If the 2009 GreenSeeker program turns out as expected, it could be expanded in the future, he adds. “If we show the benefits from GreenSeeker sensors we saw in 2008, I could see this program going to more sprayers at the co-op down the road,” he says.

The window for GreenSeeker-based sidedressing fits after the first Roundup Ready corn and soybean herbicide applications. “The machine was basically sitting at that point,” he says. “Now we have a 10- to 12-day window where the machine is putting on an extra 5,000 acres. We sell more product and keep the sprayer moving.”

Variable-Rate Value Proposition

Based on 2008 results, Danberry is telling customers they are likely to end up with an extra $20 per acre in their pockets from variable-rate sidedress nitrogen (N) savings, higher yield, or a combination of the two.

“Any time you can talk about dropping a $20 bill back in a grower’s pocket, you get his attention,” says Danberry. “That, plus the variable-rate sensor technology behind GreenSeeker, made selling a sidedress program relatively easy.”

Sidedressing had been far from popular in the co-op’s trade area until N costs skyrocketed. “Two to three years ago, farmers wanted simple and easy,” says Danberry. “Put my N down, plant the corn, and be done with it. With higher N prices, there is definitely a lot more interest in sidedressing.”

Last Year’s Results

Results on 900 acres in the pilot program helped the co-op and its customers gain confidence in GreenSeeker, which uses six boom-mounted sensors to assess crop vigor and adjust sidedress N rates on the go.

Danberry, working with crop consultant Bernie Paulson of McPherson Crop Management, Janesville, MN, chose fields likely to benefit from GreenSeeker-driven sidedress applications. These included fields with a history of manure applications and those with varying soil types, which can have organic matters ranging from 2% to 40% in this south central Minnesota region.

Most fields were chosen ahead of time, but others were added to the test after Danberry and Paulson, a GreenSeeker dealer, noticed N deficiency symptoms.

Across the board, the test fields, which included 80-foot non-variable-rate comparison strips, showed a positive economic response. “From a yield enhancement standpoint, we were pulling anywhere from 6.8 bushels to the biggest response of 21 bushels per acre (A),” says Danberry.

One field stood out. The 240-acre field, which had a history of cattle manure applications, had been fertilized with 120 pounds of fall N, plus cattle manure. Nevertheless, parts of the field showed N deficiency symptoms.

After getting the grower’s permission, Danberry sidedressed an average of 6.8 gallons/A of 28% N, with a range of 2 to 17 gallons/A. Four weigh-wagon yield checks across the field showed an average yield response of 14.2 bushels/A, raising the yield to 200 bushels/A.

“The application and nitrogen cost about $25 per acre, but it returned about $50 in extra yield,” says Danberry. “Normally, we would have applied 12 to 13 gallons of 28% to bring that field back. With GreenSeeker, we definitely distributed the N in the right place to maximize N efficiency and maximize yield.”

Long-Term Opportunities

Danberry and Paulson expect GreenSeeker technology to offer additional opportunities beyond sidedress N application.

For example, Danberry thinks GreenSeeker could be used to drive variable-rate fungicide applications in soybeans. In areas with poor crop vigor, fungicide could be eliminated, while in more vigorous parts of fields, the rate could be increased to the label maximum. “I see some interesting possibilities,” he says.

Paulson, who has several clients who use Crystal Valley application services, says the technology will help him improve scouting efficiency. “We hope to use the system to create crop vigor maps any time the GreenSeeker rig goes over a field,” he says. “If we identify low-vigor areas during a planned sprayer application, we can pinpoint areas for follow-up ground scouting.”

In the end, providing GreenSeeker technology strengthens the co-op’s reputation, adds Danberry. “By offering this sensor technology, our customers see we are working to improve their bottom lines, not just sell them product. So it’s a win-win.”

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