Information Management to Maximize Your Yields

Every Acre is Unique

By Dan Frieberg

Foundations of agronomy and geography are the starting place for data-driven decisions.

I believe data driven decisions will power change in every aspect of crop production. Your data can be a valuable business asset that leads to greater profitability.

There are some key foundational principles in using data to drive decisions in crop production that are worth reviewing. The first is centered on uniqueness. Just as we each have unique fingerprints and DNA, each part of every field is unique.

Much of your data that can be used for making better decisions is being collected with a device connected to a GPS receiver. Most of the software that reads the data files is a version of a geographic information system (GIS). The difference between this software and a database you might use for your livestock operation or some other aspect of your farming operation is the first word – geographic. Your data is stored tied to a unique geographic place in the world. While there are other areas that are very similar, none of those are exactly the same.

Why does a product work so well in one place, but not at all in another? Why does the ideal rate of an input change within parts of your field? Many times, the answer is as simple as “geography matters”! If you treat all you acres as if they are same, you’ll lose out on efficiencies and profits.

The second principle to consider is best illustrated by the rain barrel. The rain barrel, with staves of varying heights, is a visual way to illustrate the real-world reality of what limits yield in any one place within a field changes. Nitrogen is limiting in the southeast corner of the field but not the center. Population is limiting one place but not another.

The rain barrel concept is easy to talk about but challenging to put into practice. Our goal is to maximize return on every dollar invested. Ideally, we are adjusting every input to not only match the uniqueness of the geography but also to match the combination and limitations of the other staves in the rain barrel in each part of the field.

The irony of our leap forward in planter technology is that, in many cases, we now have more uniformly-spaced, nutrient-deficient plants that anyone would ever have imagined. A one-time investment in upgrading planters has been easier to justify than the continuous re-investment in fertility, especially on rented acres.

An appreciation for these two principles will lead you to collect as much geo-referenced data as possible.

Are High Yields More Profitable?

By Dan Frieberg
Premier Crop Systems

Do you ever consider why there is so much focus on producing ever higher yields per acre? What’s your reason why you focus on yields? Is it a feeling of social responsibility to help feed the world? Is it from a sense of pride? Winning a contest? Are you wired to achieve – a constant quest to do better? Is it a leftover from your school days or parenting – always wanting to have a great report card?

For more growers that we work with, I don’t believe any of those motivations are what’s most important. They’re generally pretty quiet about their high yields. For them, it comes down to a simple business reality – high yields generally drive the most profit.

Business and economics professors have ingrained in us that some business costs are fixed and some are variable. Fixed costs are the same regardless of unites produced. Sometimes, they are referred to as “sunk” costs because it’s what you sink into the business just to be in business. In crop production, we frequently consider our investment in land – either through ownership or rent – as our largest fixed cost.

Owner the decades, we’ve replaced labor with larger equipment that has helped fuel dramatic productivity gains. But that increasing investment has increased the fixed cost of crop production in many operations.

Farm economics professors will frequently list nutrients, seed, crop protection products, fuel and hired labor as variable costs. But for most operations, that’s not an accurate characterization. What percent of seed cost is truly variable? What percent of herbicide costs is truly variable? What percent of nitrogen cost is truly variable?

My point is that everyone plants hybrid corn – so the real seed cost that is variable is the portion above the cost of a high-yield, non-traited hybrid. In corn production, most growers are going to apply a minimum of 100 lbs. of N per acre in some manner. The portion of your nitrogen investment that is truly variable might be the final 50 -75 lbs/ac. Choosing the cheapest herbicide program can be an example of “playing with fire” (boosting weed resistance for higher future costs). So is your herbicide program really a variable cost?

Lenders can be quick to encourage cost-cutting. But cutting nutrient, plant health and pest management investments can cut yields. In a high fixed-cost business, dividing those fixed costs over more unites of production is usually the path to higher profits.

We frequently lead our customers to spend more input dollars only on the best field zones. That is possible when you can track and record those cost/investment differences like we do, then share a profitability analysis (see graphic above) at the end of the growing season.

In corn and soybean production, you can spend your way poor but you can’t save your way into prosperity. Frequently, the only way to lower your cost per bushel and increase profits is to produce higher yields.

To learn more, contact the Solutions Specialists at SciMax Solutions! 

It’s Time to Scrutinize ROI

By Dan Frieberg
Premier Crop Systems

Increasing return on investment for every input is clearly on the mind of every grower. They are in an economic squeeze, but that doesn’t mean they won’t invest more in crops. It does mean they are scrutinizing every dollar they spend. The current success measure now goes beyond yield increase to include which inputs offer better return on investment.

During Premier Crop’s 20 years in business, one of the most dramatic changes has been the evolution of the biotech seed industry. University of Illinois research shows per-acre seed investments have increased 4 to 5-fold in that time. While yields have increased, seed cost per bushel produced has also increased 4-5 times. Part of the increased cost/bushel has been offset by reduced herbicide and insecticide/acre investments.

But this is not your father’s seed investment! The times and economics associated with managing your seed investment have changed and deserve more attention.

The return on investment for managing your seed investment within fields through variable rate seeding has never been higher. How do you know your ROI on variable rate seeding? For Premier Crop, the answer has always been tying input cost to the as-planted or as-applied fields, adding all input, land, management costs to generate a cost per bushel map for each field.

Why cost/bushel versus a profit map? Our experience is that the first step in a solid grain marketing plan is knowing your cost per bushel of production. Grain marketing in most operations can be a 12-month process and we want to be able to deliver results and analysis as soon as the yield file is processed.

Consider this field’s story:

To learn how to boost your farm’s ROI, contact the experts at SciMax Solutions today! 

The Best Tools to Increase Farm Efficiency

By Mike Manning

Some questions that get asked often about precision ag, and precision tools in general, are “what makes sense for my operation?” or “how do I get started?

The best way to answer these questions is by evaluating your current situation.  How you respond to the following questions should guide you toward your next logical ‘precision ag steps’.

  1. Do you have spatial soil samples (grid or zone) on any of your fields (<4 years old)?
    Are you making variable rate fertilizer applications based on these samples?
  2. Does your combine, or your custom harvester’s combine, have a GPS equipped yield monitor?
  3. Is your planter equipped or capable of variable rate seeding?
  4. How are you evaluating or verifying your current production?
  5. How are you evaluating or verifying the efficacy of your precision ag tools?
  6. How are you evaluating the economic return of your farm? Individual fields?
    “across your entire operation?  Agronomically, and economically?

I consider a good spatial soil sample the foundation of precision ag.  By definition, precision ag is all about site-specific management; measuring, analyzing, and managing field variability.  As mentioned in our previous blog post, Buyer’s Remorse, states the definition of precision is; the quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate. What better way to start that with a spatial sample?

Two predominant methods prevail in the spatial soil sample world; grid sampling and zone sampling.  In my experience, I consider the 2.5 acre grid sample the best ‘right-size & high resolution image’ of soil fertility you can collect.  While other grid densities and zone approaches work in different geographies (and can meet your needs in different growing environments…dryland Kansas or dryland Saskatchewan wheat come to mind), the 2.5 acre grid sample offers what I consider the best match of agronomics and economics.  It typically provides the “Goldilocks” scenario of high sample resolution, enabling you to see what’s going on within the field, while being cost effective for the grower.

grid soil sample benefits

grid soil sample benefits at 2.5 acres

Your number one priority with any spatial soil sample is to measure the variability of soil fertility within a field.  Regardless of how uniform a field may appear (table-top flat, same soil type, negligible topography change), universally, soil fertility is variable, ceteris paribus.  More importantly, through your years of farming that ground and perhaps yield monitoring, you know yield is also variable.  By measuring and understanding this variability, you can begin formulating successful variable rate fertility plans (VRT).

Spatial soil sampling and VRT, in and of themselves, may not save you money at the outset.  However, they will make you more efficient in the long run by reallocating the fertilizer dollar where it needs to go within the field.  In almost every flat-rate situation – we over-apply our poor areas and under-apply our best areas. This leads to input waste in the poor areas, and uncaptured yield potential in the best areas.  By adopting a sound VRT approach, and working with a trusted agronomic advisor, we can optimize both our fertilizer spend and our overall yield potential.

variable rate technology benefits and roi

In future articles, we’ll discuss the benefits of variable rate seeding, determining the right seeding rate, yield data, Management Zones, and whole-season systems based approaches, that incorporate all aspects of VRT, VR seeding, in-field trials, and comprehensive yield, agronomic, and economic analyses.

To learn more or to get started today, contact the SciMax Solutions experts at www.scimaxsolutions.com/contact-us

 

The art and science of variable rate seeding

Variable rate seeding could reduce input costs in low productivity areas and increase your yields in high productivity areas.

Yield Leaders Talk Strategy…

BE A STUDENT OF THE CROP, WALK YOUR FIELDS, AND RUN ON-FARM TRIALS.
An all-star cast of high-yield farmers had plenty of advice for growers at the 2020 Commodity Classic Wednesday, but the secret to high yields boils down to excellent agronomic skills. These farmers know what they’re talking about:
  • David Hula of Charles City, Virginia, has the world corn yield record, at 616 bushels per acre
  • Randy Dowdy, Valdosta, Georgia, has the world soybean yield record, at 190 bushels per acre
  • Jena and Levi Ochsner, Sutton, Nebraska, 251 bushels of corn per acre
  • Cory Atley, Cedarville, Ohio, 279.2 bushels of corn per acre

The full article is available here: https://bit.ly/2KzWo5H.

To learn how SciMax Solutions can help you be a student of your crop and develop the right strategy for increased profits, contact our SciMax Solutions Specialists today!

The Value of Precision Ag During Tight Economic Times

It’s important to ask the hard questions. Just how can you squeeze more out of your input dollars? The team of experts at SciMax Solutions, combined with the intense data analytics from Premier Crop, help manage that totality of input investments, driving higher yield efficiency or higher return to land and management. Give us a call today to learn more.

We also invite to listen in on a discussion on Premier Crop’s recent podcast. A link to the audio is below and the text of the conversation is also below.

The Premier Podcast

We’ve relaunched The Premier Podcast (audio), where everything agronomic is economic. We invite you to listen to Aaron Seifert, Business Development Manager in the West, and Dan Frieberg, Co-founder of Premier Crop Systems and VP of Technical Services, discuss the value of precision agriculture during tight economic times.

 

At the end of the day, one of the things I hope comes out of this, is a new appreciation for what agriculture does, and what the food industry and all of us are about, just the totality of what agriculture does for the American consumer and for the world.” – Dan Frieberg

AARON SEIFERT: There is some additional uncertainty with COVID-19 in markets and things like that. Where does precision ag bring value in these types of times? Producers are probably making very difficult decisions. How does precision ag bring value today?

DAN FRIEBERG: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. So for us, it’s all about trying to use the data and the analytics to just constantly refine everything. As a company, I don’t think we’ve benefited like other companies did. Between grain storage and artificial drainage, there have been lots and lots of equipment upgrades. But I think we actually grow quicker and faster when the economics are really tight for the grower. When budgets get upside down, like they are now with the economic crisis, it’s hard to make money. It’s really hard to make money.

For young farmers, it’s hard to make money to grow. It’s hard to make money to hire the next person. And when you get into really tight economic times all of a sudden, then it’s like, ‘Okay, I need to do something different. I’ve got to find ways to squeeze more out of every dollar I invest. I just have to.’ So, that understanding of how hard it is to make money, it helps us because, hopefully, growers are looking for a way to do that, and that’s what we do every day. We help manage that totality of input investment, including field trips and all that. We help manage and advise, and it’s all in the name of driving higher yield efficiency or higher return to land and management. How can we squeeze more dollars out of every dollar that we invest?

AARON SEIFERT: We’ve heard a hundred times that you can’t cut your way to prosperity, right? You can’t save your way to prosperity. So it’s not necessarily about spending less on the investment side, it’s about getting more out of every dollar that you are spending on every input decision that you’re making.

DAN FRIEBERG: And to me that always happens in the subfield. You can make really crude adjustments, like treating fields differently. That might be a starting place for some people. But to me, it always drives way deeper than that. If I’m going to drive economic change and higher returns, I’ve got to change things within the field. Not every acre is the same. Geography matters. Where you are in the field matters, and how you manage what you do in parts of fields makes all the difference.

AARON SEIFERT: That’s great. I think the focus on the efficiency pieces is always bigger. Regardless of what the market’s like, you always want to take advantage of the dollars that you spend, but it’s exceptionally important in times where margins are critically tight.

DAN FRIEBERG: And this COVID-19 thing is going to have a long tail, I believe. And I believe that it’s going to change our world. Over the 20 years of our company history, one of the big changes has been the connectedness of the world. The reason the virus could spread so much quicker is we are so connected as a world. And what’s going to come to the forefront is all these integrated supply chains and all the things that we take for granted. But one of the things that I think is going to play out is how much we take the food supply for granted. And I think we could have significant disruption in the food supply, including the meat industry.

So many people in the world have taken for granted how darn efficient the food chain is. Capitalism has an amazing ability to drive cost out of the system. But what happens? When you drive cost out of the system, you end up with a whole bunch of just-in-time delivery. It is the whole system. Why, all of a sudden, do we run out of everything at the grocery store? It’s because everything is managed so tightly. The whole supply chain is managed so tightly that it’s a well-oiled machine. But when you throw some big wrench into a well-oiled machine, you’re going to see more empty shelves.

You know, I couldn’t find chicken at the store last night. I mean, I could find drumsticks and wings, but I couldn’t find any other chicken. And it’s a big store! But that could happen over and over again. It depends on how this plays out. But at the end of the day, one of the things I hope comes out of this is a new appreciation for what agriculture does and what the food industry and all of us are about, just the totality of what agriculture does for the American consumer and for the world. What a job we’ve done at a very low cost. And hopefully, in turn, we end up with some higher prices. We sure need some luck that way.

AARON SEIFERT: Yeah, that would help out the outlook today for sure. The good thing is that ranchers are still ranching and farmers are still putting seed in the ground. Like you said, we’ve gotten so incredibly good and efficient at doing that. That’s where it just becomes ever more important to manage those growers’ operations better and better, taking every opportunity to learn from something and try something new and to continuously improve. Because if we’re not doing that, then our outlook looks pretty bleak if we’re not constantly improving.

DAN FRIEBERG: Yeah, we’re really fortunate. Farmers, by nature, are incredibly optimistic, but it’s hard. It’s hard to stay optimistic sometimes, but they are by nature. That’s why they do what they do. It’s fun. It makes it fun to work with them. When we get involved, we understand the economics because we deal with it. We deal with the economics. We know how ugly it is and how hard it is to make it work. Knowing the grower’s economics makes us better at what we do. It makes us work that much harder because we know how tight it is for the grower.

AARON SEIFERT: Absolutely. Alright, well we appreciate your time today, Dan. Thanks for the insight. Looking forward to the many changes to come, and we’ll see what happens here after COVID-19.

DAN FRIEBERG: Yeah, we can talk again sometime about the future, but there’s going to be a lot of change in the next 10 years for sure. That’ll be another fun discussion.

Contact SciMax Solutions for more information how to help your farm operation continuously improve and be more efficient during these critical economic times.

 

 

Determining the Right Seeding Rate

By Mike Manning from Premier Crop Services

As the calendar turns to April, and the 2020 planting season nears, many producers are finalizing planting plans. Your planting operation (hybrid and variety selection, seeding rate decisions, and the execution of it all) will lay a critical foundation for your 2020 growing season.

Of all the fieldwork we do in a given year, planting is one operation we only have one chance to get right (assuming you’re not a fan of replanting). Aside from properly setting up and configuring the planter itself, one of the most important decisions growers can make is determining the best seeding rate for each of your hybrids and varieties.

Historically, and still common today, seed selection and seeding rate decisions have been based on a wide variety of available resources. These frequently include seed plot data, ag retailer/coop trials (often in conjunction with major seed suppliers), seed advisors, and ‘neighbor input’, as well as a variety of seed company rate calculators available online. While a diverse selection of resources are available, how do you know if these seeding rates are actually suitable for your farm?

In 2005, as GPS-based variable rate planting entered the equipment market, Premier Crop introduced the Learning Block™ concept. Learning Blocks are 2 – 4 acre blocks placed in specific areas of the field (unlike strip-trials), giving growers and advisors the opportunity to test and verify responses to different seeding (and/or fertility) rates in a low-risk, easily executable experiment (IE +/- 3,000 seeds/acre). Combined with Management Zone based VR seeding, these Learning BlockTM trials opened the door for growers to measure and build their own population response datasets on their own farm. Importantly, Learning Blocks, also provided insight as to where those population changes should take place within the field.

In 2016, Premier Crop Systems unveiled a new tool called Enhanced Learning Block™ (ELBs)*. Building upon the traditional Learning Blocks concept, ELBs allow for testing multiple rates within the same block, all while incorporating the hallmarks of traditional experimental design; randomization and replication. These randomized and replicated trials increase confidence in the trial results, which ultimately guide better decisions. Perhaps most important, growers and advisors can execute research quality trials, with their own equipment, and within each of their own fields.

How important is knowing the right seeding rate? Does it really produce any more yield? Does it really save me any money? Am I any more efficient than I was before? The examples below illustrate the importance of determining, and knowing, the right seeding rate for each hybrid and variety on your farm.

In this field, we have two ELBs, each testing four populations, and replicated 5 times within each block. Comparing the target rates to the as-planted rates, illustrates the equipment is very capable of executing the trials.

Reviewing the post-harvest analysis below, we instantly see the seeding rate had a significant impact on yield (for this particular hybrid, in this particular geography).

Does seeding rate impact yield? The yield difference from 32,000 seeds/acre to 35,000 seeds/acre is 11 bushels/acre!

 

“DOES PLANTING THE RIGHT RATE SAVE, AND/OR MAKE ME MORE MONEY?”

Dollars and Cents

Accounting for seed cost, and using $3.50/bu grain price, knowing to plant this hybrid at 35,000 seeds/acre v. 32,000 seeds/acre is a $29/acre decision!

38,000 seeds/acre is technically the winner in this trial. However, is the additional seed investment risk (3,000 seeds @ ~$9.40/acre), worth the relatively modest gain?

Also, we see that pushing too far, to 41,000 seeds/acre, results in ~$35/acre loss compared to 35,000 or 38,000 seeds/acre.

The examples I’m discussing come from an irrigated Nebraska corn and soybean operation that has successfully executed over 175 ELB trials since 2016. In this case, the grower likely has more research quality, hybrid specific population response data, generated from their own fields, than the seed companies.

You can start building your own knowledge base for your own farm by incorporating Enhanced Learning Blocks™, and working with a trusted Premier Crop Partner, or Premier Crop Agronomic Advisor. Aggregating your own ELB results can take your on-farm knowledge to the next level.

Contact your SciMax Solutions Specialist to test your seeding rates. Our specialists can help you build own ELBs in your own fields.

NOTE: ELBs can be used to test a wide variety of products including Fertilizer, Crop Protection, and Seed through a variety of application methods.

  • Dry Fertilizer Applicator
  • Planter
    • In-Furrow and starter – multiple rates or on/off
  • PRE and POST fertility
    • Sprayer, strip-till, coulter bars, drop nozzles etc.
  • Crop Protection – Ground Applie
    • Fungicide
    • Biologicals
    • Other yield enhancement products

Why You Should Use Farm Analytic Software

SciMax Solutions uses the power of analytic software from Premier Crop Systems to reallocate your input dollars into higher yields. To learn more, contact a member of our SciMax team today and check out the blog post by Premier Crop’s Kevin Kruize below! 

Do you get frustrated when you feel someone is biased towards a product, service, or certain brand? Biased information can end up being very frustrating and even costly to your operation. Now think about how you make decisions on your farming operation. Do you have any bias on how different fields respond to a certain seed, fertilizer, or crop protection product? Allowing your bias to persuade field decisions can be very costly and frustrating as well. Your knowledge of your own farm is invaluable. Using farm analytics can enhance your decision making by removing or challenging the bias with objective analysis.

I am guilty myself. It is easy to make assumptions and decisions based on previous experiences. However, using Premier Crop’s analytics platform, you can begin to dissect the different yield environments on your fields. “This means what you see…. completely different in the field across the road, fence-line, or even within the same field!”

WHERE DO I START?
You can start anywhere! Do you have computers or hard-drives full of unused files or binders full of printed maps? Organizing and analyzing this data, and using it to make more informed decisions could be the biggest ROI on your farm. You don’t have to be an expert on computers or an IT wizard, all you need is a trusted partner to help take the complexity out of your data so you can validate or challenge your own assumptions in order to optimize profit. You can view our Five Steps Guide to Get Started here.

WHAT ABOUT MY AGRONOMIC ADVISOR?
The traditional field agronomist is still a valuable resource for your operation, providing scouting services, and making product recommendations. The difference with an Agronomist and a Precision Ag specialist is an agronomist has years of experience scouting for and monitoring the physical characteristics of your fields. A Precision Agronomist can take those physical characteristics and visualize them over your field and compare them to see how ALL of the layers are working together. When you combine the two with a powerful farm analytics platform, you can really increase your Return On Investment!

I once had an experience working with a grower and his agronomist reviewing yield maps and grid sample data. During the discussion, the agronomist looked at me and said “You know, I have been scouting these fields for 20 years, and in one hour, you have just identified many of the key issues I have spent years identifying by presenting his data in an organized fashion and bringing these data layers together.”

YEAH BUT, DOES ALL OF THIS PRECISION AG PAY?
At Premier Crop we focus heavily on PROVING what you’re doing on your farm. We frequently encounter a situation where a grower has been frustrated with precision in the past. Their frustration is usually because there is not a good analysis of the precision practice implemented. One example we commonly see, and have proven, is an $100/acre swing in profit by yield increases and seed savings with variable rate seeding, simply by optimizing the seeding rate to unique areas of the field. The dollars that are left on the table can be shocking if you’re not implementing VR Seed and VR fertility practices, AND verifying “it works” by marrying your agronomics to the economics.

BRING IT ALL TOGETHER!
Implementing a farm management system that organizes your most important farm information in one place can be eye-opening at first. You might be surprised that your original biases/thoughts/intuitions may not have been as “true” as you thought. Premier Crop Systems helps simplify and visualize where to best spend your input dollar and how it can improve profits across all of your acres. Yield Efficiency is how much is left over after costs are subtracted from your revenue to spend on land and management. Below you will see our Yield Efficiency by Field across your farm. Do you really know what fields are making you the most money?

Premier Crop Systems is proud to be the leading farm analytics platform since 1999. We continue to advance and improve alongside our partners and growers on a daily basis. Together, we help you gain more insight to your operation for confident, and profitable decision making. We learn every day in every new environment we get to work in. Let us come alongside you to reduce the complexity and add another dimension so you can exceed your own expectations. Contact us now to schedule an information meeting.

 

Ready to get started? SciMax is here to help you use the power of analytics to make better decisions. Contact us today!

Save the Date! SciMax Regional Meetings

Save the dates, regional meetings for SciMax Solutions clients have been scheduled!

East Area
January 14, 2020
Britt Country Club
2360 James Ave – Britt
9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

West Area
January 15, 2020
Milford Community Center
806 N Ave
9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Central Area
January 16, 2020
MaxYield Tires & Auto Center
310 4th Ave NE – West Bend
9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.