Our approach to nutrient planning is based on the fact that we want to allow our advisors, partners, and growers to get ahead when it comes to planning for the next crop season. Some advisors are having this conversation early, even before growers start combining in the fall. As we dial our focus on helping growers create a plan before the growing season begins, we look at several things. Using a spatial soil sample as one of the foundation pieces is a large part of what we do. A spatial soil sample could be a grid sample where the field is divided into smaller sizes, giving you a number of samples within a field, two-and-a-half-acre grids are common in most areas. In other areas where the field is divided into zones, zone sampling can be driven by soils, historic imagery, or EC conductivity. Instead of capturing one sample for an entire field, they're capturing more intense, site-specific samples. Layering all these samples into one computerized system and letting data science derive the factors for you helps, rather than trying to figure it out on your own in those frustrating excel sheets.
New agronomy products are being brought to market every year, with claims of adding bushels to your bottom line. Every farmer is curious whether or not these products actually perform. Whether it’s micros, in-furrow, seed treatment, fungicide, or biologicals, farmers want proof that a product will perform on their own acres. Most are willing to try a new product or two on a few acres to see what will happen before they invest in every acre. However, how they analyze that data is essential to getting a clear picture to that product’s success.
I'm always looking for parallels – examples from other industries on how they use data to drive better decisions. While on the road, I listened to several Freakonomics podcasts. One that related well was titled Bad Medicines, Part 2: (Drug) Trials and Tribulations.
In 2005, Premier Crop trademarked a unique idea that has become a common practice with our customers. A trademark called Learning Blocks™. If you’ve conceded to the idea that your fields aren’t the same from fence line to fence line and you’re already managing your fields in zones, you’re ahead of the pack. But, are you checking your work? How do you confirm you are choosing the right rates for the zones in your variable rate planting or nutrient prescription? Do you just trust that the prescription is right?
There are many ways to trial new products on your farm. Possibly one of the most common is what you might call a split-planter or side-by-side trial which we’ll refer to as a split treatment trial. For example, two hybrids in the planter. Half on one side, half on the other side. A split treatment trial could also be done for seed treatments, fungicide, crop protection--anything that can run in a side by side. This could even be separate passes with a sprayer, stripped through the field.
Why should you test products on your own farm? Your farm is unique and you have the equipment capabilities and data to conduct those trials. With little risk, you can have a more robust dataset than many companies. I’ll explain…
Some people remember phone numbers or slender dates; I remember farm fields. Before the 2005 crop year, the program leaders for Central Advantage from Central Valley Cooperative in southern Minnesota asked me to help generate variable-rate planting prescriptions. The primary question was “agronomically, what makes sense?”