MFA Precision Head Talks Precision Ag, Cover Crops at 2018 4R Summit

The 2018 4R Nutrient Stewardship Summit, held June 11-12 in Des Moines, IA, featured a post-event reception at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.

Although implicit to anyone that spends a good chunk of their career in agriculture, the link between advanced precision technology and conservation implementation on the acre is often lost in translation to outsiders looking in.

Truth be told, it’s just not as attention-demanding from a consumer point of view to talk about things like zone-based variable rate fertilizer applications, or edge-of-field bioreactors, when you can hit on people’s fear of the unknown and talk about things like GMOs and input price transparency. Those aforementioned topics tend to garner more eyes than most of the what I’d go so far as to characterize “meatier” subject matter contained within this very website, but I digress…

Last week I had the chance to attend The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) 2018 4R Nutrient Stewardship Summit in Des Moines, IA, where the intersection of precision ag tools and the effort to keep farm nutrients out of waterways couldn’t have been more clearly communicated.

Simply put, without many of the technological advances from ag tech and the equipment manufacturing world, we’d be damn close to SOL when it comes to precisely placing plant nutrients in what’s an inherently leaky system to begin with.

At the event I happened to catch up with MFA, Inc. (No. 8 on the 2017 CropLife 100 annual rankings) Director of Agronomy Jason Weirich, PhD, to ask his thoughts on how precision technology can result in less nutrients leaking off farm fields and entering waterways.

“Strictly when you look at what we’re doing in the state of Missouri, our geography across MFA, we look at variable-rating all of our nutrients, whether that’s being P, or K, and we’re looking at split applications of nitrogen,” Weirich shares. “We’re a heavy anhydrous state also, so we’re looking at fall-applied and spring-applied anhydrous, and even looking at VRT anhydrous. And then split applying that, so if we’re putting on 50 to 60% of that on in the fall, and then we can come back in near planting with a top dress based off data from remote sensing, NDVI, or optic sensors like GreenSeeker – whatever it may be.”

Weirich adds that the mega-cooperative (185 retail outlets across 5 states) is deploying sensing technologies like GreenSeeker mounted on its top dress rigs to help its team of agronomists and sales specialists dial in nitrogen recommendations with quality, more granular data sets.

“We’re using a lot of Adapt-N too, looking at water movement, how much rainfall we’ve gotten, the amount of organic matter in the soil, things like that,” he adds. “So we’re doing quite a few different things out there across the board in our geography, and then we’re hammering out about 450,000 precision sampled acres just this year alone.” (Editor’s Note: Weirich says last year the cooperative sampled around 386,000 acres)

MFA is also variable rate applying nutrients on just upwards of one million acres in the Show Me State alone, Weirich estimates, calling the figure “a pretty significant chunk.”

What I wanted to learn from Weirich specifically is how he coaches his Precision Advantage team to talk conservation and technology with the grower.

“It’s really simple, and it was talked about a lot here today, it’s yield,” he argues. “We do a grid sample where you show the grower that map of ‘Hey, this part of the field doesn’t have as much phosphorus or as much potassium as other parts of the field’ and it really becomes a simple story when the maps come back and they show past production histories and the father or grandfather sitting there says ‘Oh yeah, we used to spread manure on that part of the field, that’s probably why it’s not calling for any phosphorus.’ When you have those conversations and it starts clicking (for the grower) it’s an easy thing to do.”

A large part of the focus of the meeting in Des Moines was cover crops, how retailers can integrate a cover crops business with what they already do well, as well as how to properly keep grower expectations in check when implementing a cover cropping program.

“I’m a big fan of cover crops, but with cover crops come some other challenges, right,” Weirich proposes. “We talked a ton today about all the positives, but we didn’t really address some of the negatives, like soluble P loss. Is that one of the negatives to cover crops? Sure. But it’s not something that we can’t work through with a grower.”

“Then, we also have to think about the weed control aspect of it,” he continues. “Are we planting a weed out in the field that will become a headache down the road? At MFA we’re all about cover crops, we think it’s a great way to preserve that soil and preserve our nutrients in the soil. It’s a good trap crop. But I think we also need to prepare our producers and make sure we are up-front about some of the negatives that are out there. We have all of these positives out there, and as we’ve witnessed first-hand some guys will go gangbusters in Year One and do the entire farm (in cover crops), and then they’ve got a train wreck next year. We’ve got to manage those expectations.”

That “train wreck” Weirich referred to is the dreaded yield drag that many corn growers often experience after a winter spent growing cereal rye as a cover crop (research shown at the Summit indicates this yield drag can vary from single digits into the high thirties in some cases). A topic of much discussion at this year’s Summit, it begs the question of whether many growers, already hurting in a down farm economy, will readily sacrifice extra bushels for a more environmentally pleasing story to tell?

It’s all a matter of managing grower expectations and projecting that “trusted advisor” air.

“When you show them the maps, and you show the grid sample data, and those maps come back and match up perfectly to what’s been done on that field in the past, then you can start talking about bushels per acre, and maybe the ground that traditionally hasn’t always been producing the best needs better fertility,” he reasons. “Understanding our soil properties and talking in terms of yield to those producers is positive, but yet we’re also increasing our conservation and being good nutrient stewards with the crop.”

Leave a Reply

Americas Stories
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
Pest-Monitoring-Map
AmericasStrider, Syngenta and Trends in Digital Agriculture
September 5, 2018
I recently attended Strider Day in São Paulo, an event hosted by Brazilian agtech company Strider. The event offered two Read More
John Deere ExactApply
AmericasSciFi in Ag: Self-Reacting Spray Nozzles to Fight Dicamba Drift
September 5, 2018
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Lumsden: Pursuing Precision on Canada’s Vast Western Prairie
August 23, 2018
I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty obsessed with adoption in this industry, aren’t we? Whether it be on 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