Consultant-Grower Success Story in Georgia

In 1999, Debbie Waters was one of only a handful of believers in the power of precision agriculture in the Cotton Belt. Her time spent honing in on the benefits and best practices in her region as precision agriculture coordinator for Southern States Cooperative’s southern territory earned her a SiteLiner Award for precision excellence from our sister publication, ag retailing magazine CropLife.

In 2001, Waters made the decision to strike out on her own. She formed Innovative Crop Technologies (ICT) in September of that year. “I prefer to work with growers to build a whole program,” she notes, saying that separating herself from the application side of the business freed her to be a more effective consultant for growers. “I wanted to truly work out the best precision agriculture programs on the farm, not just soil sampling and spreading.”

While Waters’ story is that of a consulting firm, it provides valuable lessons about the importance of grower focus in delivering precision services.

Proving the value of precision has been a constant uphill battle for Waters, first as part of a retail outlet and now as the leader of her own precision consulting firm. Her situation now, apart from the actual application of products, allows her to focus on services and products that benefit the end user.

Waters’ group deals in all the essential precision agriculture equipment, and performs the basic services as her clients require. Soil sampling, crop scouting, and nutrient management, yield monitor sales and service, and field mapping are part of the core program. But out of the 80 growers she works with directly, only a small percentage use the full program.

“What we see is that more and more growers are getting into doing their own application and soil sampling,” says Waters. “And growers that really are going at it hard are pretty much doing the entire farm.”

Most of ICT’s progressive growers are using yield monitors, and lightbars for guidance have made a significant impact. “They are getting more comfortable using a global positioning systems (GPS) in general, which makes them more receptive to the whole program,” says Waters. “They are no longer scared of the equipment.”

Tools Of Intelligence

The ICT structure separates out responsibilities for equipment sales and service from agronomic service to keep things organized and keep people focused.

“I have a partner, Brian Kelley, that heads up the equipment side, especially the lightbars and automatic steering,” says Waters. “I do work with yield monitors, but basically I am the data management side.”

Waters biggest task involves making fertility and application maps as well as yield maps. “We do that not only for farmers, but a lot of the dealers in this area,” she says.

In terms of base geographic information systems (GIS) progrmming, Waters stuck with SST Development‘s SSToolbox and SGIS from AGCO Global Technologies for Agriculture as her systems of choice. These were the same programs she used at Southern States. In the field, ITC uses Site Mate from Farm Works Software for all soil sampling and crop socuting.

“Most of the growers that we set up to do their own soil sampling have their own iPAQs and Site Mate programs,” notes Waters.

She is also pushing hard on yield monitor adoption. “Most of it is cotton, but I think we have six growers down here that grow a good bit of grain and they all have grain monitors,” says Waters. “We use the yield to create management zones instead of grid sampling.”

In the field, Waters has automatic soil probes installed on her entire fleet of four-wheel all-terrain vehicles. “And we use only Trimble 132 antennas,” she says. “A lot of the growers are using the cheaper NavMan — the little iPAQ sleeve antenna — and that’s OK for them because it is on their own farm, but if I am out there mapping, they want accurate acreage.”

More recently, Waters has been looking into automatic steering products. Currently, her company is using Trimble’s Autopilot offering.

Building A Program

For better or worse, Waters has found that successfully implementing a precision program in the Cotton Belt means creating them one grower at a time. However, the general structure of the program is similar.

“On the service side, once samples are pulled — some we do it, some they do it, sometimes someone else does it — and we have the results, we sit down and figure out the best plan,” says Waters. “Do they want to straight rate or variable-rate everything, or work out a blend and then hit the low spots? We are really trying to customize the program for what they are comfortable with, and what they can afford.”

One of the more popular “customizations” is when the grower wants to pull his own soil samples. “We train them and set up their equipment,” says Waters. “And when Trimble, Mid-Tech, AgLeader, or any other manufacturer puts out an upgrde, we upgrade the equipment and software. Also, we’ve converted a lot of grower-owned spreaders that were only capable of doing one rate to be capable of doing variable-rate.”

Waters employs lots of part-time labor — especially early retirees looking to stay active in agriculture and college students — along with her full-time field staff to ensure they can cover service calls.

Adopting Automatic Steering

Waters’ group embarked on auto-steering technology in October last year, something she says takes a while to get off the ground. “You don’t jump into a market like that unless you know that you have the parts all in place and you are really capable of service them,” she says.

The challenges are worth it now, says Waters, as interest is increasing. “In the past, growers were saying that it’s just too expensive, but now they are seeing — especially with strip-till on cotton — that they really can pay for automatic steering technology and get a rapid return,” she explains.

“One big niche area of interest is in planting and digging peanuts,” she notes. “Using RTK-level accuracy automatic steering when digging the peanuts, vines aren’t cut so not as many peanuts are lost.”

What will drive further adoption of automatic steering technology? “First, it makes equipment operation easier,” says Waters. “Once they get over their fear of the equipment, operations are easier, and allows some operations to drop equipment and labor.

“The two units we have in place now are used for strip-till,” she continues. “Before, these growers only option to cover more acres with the new heavier stye implements was to use the larger track tractors, now because of this technology, they can take their smaller, more versatile tractors and pull whatever implement. For example, they can strip eight rows, plant 12, and pick six without a problem.”

Other Precision Tools

Like any advanced precision practitioner, Waters is looking at other techniques and technoloies to help out her growers:

Remote Sensing. “We’ve been trying to get some acreage in place, but it may not be until next year,” Waters says. “We scout about 16,000 acres in the summer, and if we can get our growers interested in remote sensing it will help us direct our scouts in the field a litle better. Not only for insects, but for Pix applications. Some of the fields we scout are 200- to 250- acre fields and it’s real easy to miss a spot that might have needed Pix. And Pix is so important on some of the newer varieties, if you miss a spot you really reduce your yield.”

Data Management. “This season, we have expanded to the point where we’d really like to have access to the databases from various locations,” says Waters. “We have two guys on staff that work with a certain set of growers, and they need to have access to the database where they are instead of having to come to the main office. This coming season we are looking at using AgFleet, and Internet-based mapping system, that will provide that access. Our big issue with that is getting access to high-speed Internet service to our home office.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.

Leave a Reply

PrecisionAg Institute Stories
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
Bruce-Erickson-video
Excellence AwardsPassion for Teaching: Purdue’s Bruce Erickson
August 1, 2018
PrecisionAg Award of Excellence recipient Bruce Erickson is driven to share his knowledge of precision technologies and techniques with students, as well as the larger agriculture community. Read More
Trending Articles
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower-Retailer
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
Business ManagementIvy Tech, Farmers Partner to Help Precision Ag Educatio…
September 20, 2018
Harvest time has taken on a new meaning for some Wabash Valley farmers, and Bobbi Hunt-Kincaid hopes her family’s first Read More
Sensors
Sensors/IoTThe Answer to Agriculture’s Daunting Challenges – Soil …
September 20, 2018
According to the United Nations, 9.6 billion people will live on planet Earth by 2050. Feeding these mouths will require Read More
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
PenelopeNagel
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
Wingtra
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
Farmer-tablet
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for PrecisionAg.com’s sister site, AgriBusinessGlobal.com. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
ICON-Link-Licensing_featured-image
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Reflex-Connect-Agri-Inject-featured-image
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 ac…
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
EventsAg Experts Discuss Big Data Challenges in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Agricultural experts at a Houston conference praised the advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles, sensors, and data-collecting technology used in precision Read More