022: Focusing on the Yield Efficiency Score

grower and advisor

In this episode of the Premier Crop Podcast, we listen in on a year end grower meeting with one of our partners, SciMax. These meetings are often done in a grower’s home at the kitchen table to plan for the upcoming year ahead. On the call today we listen to Peter with SciMax Solutions and his grower, Landon Aldinger, a 4th generation farmer in northern Iowa, as they discuss year end results within their row crop operation using data to drive results. They also talk about how growers can utilize a Yield Efficiency Score.

PETER BIXEL: Good afternoon. My name is Peter Bixel with SciMax Solutions, and today we’re north of Iowa Falls and visiting with a client of ours, Landon Aldinger.

LANDON ALDINGER: Hello. This is Landon Aldinger. I farm around the Iowa Falls area with my father Mike Aldinger. I am a fourth-generation farmer in our family. We currently run a row crop operation. I have some beef cattle and some hog operations. We also have a sales and consulting business here in town called Precision Farm Management.

KATIE DECKER: Tell me a little bit about how you got started with SciMax and why you started working with Peter.

LANDON ALDINGER: Yeah, so I would have met Peter through my father. I believe, the connection point was through Latham, correct? Yeah, Latham Hi-Tech Seeds offered a service that was called seed to soil. My brother-in-law Randy and myself and my dad and my dad’s Latham RSM kind of introduced us. Dad was actively working with SciMax at the time through Latham. We’ve kind of grown our relationship together over the years, adding various products.

KATIE DECKER: Do you still farm with your father?

LANDON ALDINGER: Yeah. We have a full corn and soybean farm and a few fat cattle here up at my place. We own some hog buildings that we do odds and ends with. And then we have a sales and consulting business. We sell a full retail line of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, any crop protection products. Then, we also sell Latham Hi-Tech Seeds and Wyffels Hybrids.


KATIE DECKER: Talk through how you guys work together.

LANDON ALDINGER: I call Peter and then he doesn’t call me back. No, I’m just kidding. I’m kidding.

PETER BIXEL: It was that way.

LANDON ALDINGER: No, it’s the other way around, usually. I use all the folks at SciMax to assist in creating that crop plan for the year, obviously. Planning from seed placement, a variable-rate nitrogen piece, our variable-rate seeding rates, just pulling all that data together and maximizing our potential profitability and efficiencies. Then, we get to this time of year, where we’re looking backwards and kind of addressing: “How did we do in analyzing that?” The analytical side is why I enjoy the relationship. It’s easy to go out and just pick corn and say: “I got 200 bushel, or whatever you got, and that’s great.” But what did you do to dictate that outcome?

KATIE DECKER: Do you have an instance of a problem you guys were faced with, and then once you started working with SciMax, how they helped you overcome that?

LANDON ALDINGER: Yes, my grandpa actually owned the fertilizer plant.

PETER BIXEL: They had a fertilizer plant, so their fertility levels were really good. As they’ve been pulling off more yield, it just helps Landon now that we’ve been watching the fertility levels by the yield that they’ve been achieving and just being cognizant of what those levels are and how to address them, using the tools to basically fix or continue to keep them where t

hey’re at. They’ve done a lot of litter. A lot of chicken litter too, as well, to help source a lot of that stuff, and then the hog manure that Landon mentioned. So I’d say just really concentrate on those fertility levels to make sure to keep them up because that’s the thing that I think helped Landon’s grandpa, dad and then him, just having that good base. That foundation has really helped set the operation up for success.

KATIE DECKER: How does SciMax really help you get the most out of the data that you’re collecting?

LANDON ALDINGER: Like I said, I think in any system there isn’t always just one variable for success that you can tweak or fine-tune. It’s taking a part of the entire system, what your manure management practices are, what your fertility levels are that he’s talking about, how you’re placing the seed, where you’re placing the seed at what rates. Same with nitrogen. And I think the ability to dive into each one of those segments of that system and analyze this worked with this other combination but didn’t work so well over here, you almost get a blueprint for going forward. I think, as we’ve seen hybrids evolve or their genetics evolve over time, we can really start to tailor-make it to the hybrids. That’s where I see the biggest focus for me, I guess, being a seed dealer, and I carry that onto my customers, too.

PETER BIXEL: Yeah, I think that’s helped Landon, knowing his hybrids inside and then just kind of putting out the practice on his own acres and then seeing: “Okay, if we push it to 38 or 40,000 or something, does it pay?” Maybe it doesn’t because, again, back to the good fertility, everything else is set. So, now if you change that one variable, did it pay? And he can take that to others to help their operation if they’re similar.

LANDON ALDINGER: Or a combination of variables, too. Sometimes that data gets lost in the noise, and it’s hard to kind of separate it out and see. So, I think their services have helped us that way immensely.

PETER BIXEL: This year has just been a challenge because you don’t have Ethan and Tyson going through, each one of them, individually. Two people at Premier go through it all, and I know they have a lot. They go through each one, verify and then, if there’s a question, they send it to their in-house statistician. Then, they send those out, so it’s been taking like a month to get those reports back.

LANDON ALDINGER: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of stuff in there.

PETER BIXEL: Yeah, we just did it on population this year. That’s all that we looked at. We had two farms. Leto’s and Bradford, I think, were the two that we did.

KATIE DECKER: Can we talk a little bit more? Just go a little deeper into the decision making. How is Peter helping you make those decisions, both agronomically and economically, on your operation?

LANDON ALDINGER: I come from an angle of the seed perspective, being a seed salesman. I want to know everything I can about every hybrid and where it likes to live and how it likes to operate. We’ve done a lot. I think, probably, the bulk of the work that we’ve done with you is the variable-rate planting populations; that and the nitrogen piece for ourselves and customers. I mean, how many times do I call you and just on random stuff, too?

PETER BIXEL: Well, yeah, it’s not necessarily just about, I mean, from fungicide recommendations to product things. I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here, but just anything in general. What do I use in my operation? I’ll tell him what I use, but it doesn’t mean he has to or, by any means, needs to. It’s just good, I think. It’s the same way back from him to me, not just me to him. It’s just a sound barrier or somebody to talk through things with and see if your plan or if your strategy makes sense.

LANDON ALDINGER: I think maybe more than one key aspect of that data-driven decision is just forcing operators to think in those terms: doing trials and setting them up and comparing products. I’m looking at two fungicides right behind you, and we had head-to-heads out there, and we learned. I mean, we’re going to look at the data, but I can look at it just visually and see that there was a difference. I think people are really good at just doing the visual 10,000-foot view, but you really have to dive into it and then start doing the whole, from the economics and the profitability side, which is where it really comes down to rubber meets the road.

KATIE DECKER: Can you tell me a little bit more about the trials that you’ve been doing? You don’t have to give me any specifics on certain products or varieties or anything, but maybe why you decided to do the trial and some things that you’ve learned.

LANDON ALDINGER: I’m just thinking in terms of this last year because we probably had a little bit more, but there’s always the fungicide head-to-head. There are always new products, comparing them to old standards and then running the cost analysis of how they compare versus yield. Standard stuff. Varieties. We do a lot of head-to-head populations within those varieties. At Leto’s, we had the high-yielding stuff.


PETER BIXEL: Landon was tissue sampling every week and then. He had a plan put together of what to apply and when. It’s different from what he was doing on other acres to see if he could push it or what we’d see.


KATIE DECKER: What do you think is the value of working with Peter and SciMax, in general? Why would you work with them over a competitor or someone else?

LANDON ALDINGER: Right now, I would put it mainly on trust. We talk, probably, I don’t even know how often but quite often. He’s just a trusted advisor, and I don’t really like that term, but it is. I know I’m getting the honest truth when I call him and he gives me his recommendation. And if it’s something different than what I see, then we try to dive into: “Why are my results different than what your results are?” But I think there’s just a trust factor right now, and that’s why we’ve continued to partner with them for the long term.


Free Resources:

021: Does Carbon Sequestration Pay?

carbon sequestration

Today we are talking with Dr. Jerry Hatfield on the topic of carbon sequestration. Also on the show are Dan Frieberg and Renee Hansen from Premier Crop.

DAN FRIEBERG: Great to have you with us, Jerry. It couldn’t be more timely to be talking to an expert. There’s just so much buzz right now about carbon credits in agriculture. Could you just give us any perspective you want to share? I know you probably have talked about this for decades. For everybody else, it’s kind of the latest buzz. There’s just a lot of attention to soil carbon or how we can sequester carbon.

JERRY HATFIELD: We kind of have this interesting view of carbon. We have all this carbon in the atmosphere. When people say we’re going to sequester it in the soil, I think they magically think it’s going to go from the atmosphere into the soil and be stored there. But you have to realize that in agriculture, we take carbon dioxide and we combine that with sunlight to create carbohydrates. This is where plant growth comes from. When we put it into the soil, it’s basically because we’ve transported it from the leaves down into the roots. Then we take those root exudates and feed the microbes that put that carbon into the soil.

It is a very active process. It requires that we have a living plant. The only way in which we pump CO2 from the atmosphere is with deep wells. People actually just dump and pump air down into the deep earth. In agriculture, it’s really a very active process. And because it is an active process, we have a combination of sequestration, as well as cycling. A lot of it gets sequestered into soil organic matter. It gets built into those aggregates, but a lot of it is really recycled very, very quickly. We have microbes that chew it up. They put it into aggregates, and then they decompose and it gets recycled.

We have to realize that, in agriculture, we do build it up over time. It’s a very dynamic process and has all these different implications for us in terms of improving our soil structure and nutrient cycling. That really is where the value of carbon is coming from.

soilcarbonImage from reneweconomy.com.au

DAN FRIEBERG: When we till soils, do we expose soil carbon to the atmosphere? It seems like a lot of the attention is obviously around not tilling. What’s the tillage relationship to sequestering carbon?

JERRY HATFIELD: There’s an estimation that about 40% of that organic material is going out of the roots as root exudates, which is basically sugars that are feeding the microbes. Of that, a large percent is going into CO2 that’s trapped in that soil volume. So, when you till, all you’re doing is basically releasing a lot of that CO2 that’s been trapped in there. Then it goes right back to the atmosphere very quickly.

The other part is that when we till, we expose a lot of that soil to the air. The microbes really begin to change that organic material and digest it very quickly, so we see another puff of CO2. We actually have two mechanisms when we till. That immediate release is really just trapped CO2. The longer term is the spring of activity of the biological community that respires, as well.

DAN FRIEBERG: Some extension person was saying that if we no-tilled, if every acre in the world was switched to no-till, we could reverse climate change. That’s obviously a huge advocate for no-till, but it was almost like this single change in practice could change climate. I mean, it’s that impactful.

JERRY HATFIELD: I’m not sure I buy that it’s that impactful, and don’t get me wrong. I think that no-till is part of this, but if we think about no-tilling corn and soybeans across Iowa, we’ve still got a large part of that growing season in which nothing is happening. I mean, we may not be disturbing it, but we’re not feeding that microbe. When we really want to build organic material, we’ve got to capitalize on capturing solar radiation and CO2 and putting it in there.

So, we need that extended crop rotation to be able to really change that. Personally, I don’t believe that no-till by itself is the path. I think it’s one component of the system, but I don’t think it is the panacea, saying that if we kept everything else and all we did is change tillage that we solve climate change. I don’t believe that’s really the case at that point.

DAN FRIEBERG: A lot of growers and advisors are familiar with cover crops from a nutrient perspective. Just having a growing plant to grab nitrate as part of a nutrient strategy in the upper Midwest is a way to make a leaky system less leaky, but what you’re talking about is the additional benefit of cover crops to the soil carbon.

JERRY HATFIELD: From the carbon capture perspective, just think about it this way. If we don’t have a growing crop out there, we’re not capturing sunlight. Just look at Iowa, from the time in which we plant that corn and soybeans in the spring until we harvest them. Then, if you look from last frost to when that corn plant really comes up, and then from maturity until it really freezes in spring, we actually have about a third of the solar radiation that’s available to grow something.

So, a cover crop is really, thinking about it, all we’re doing is using that photosynthetic process to capture a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. In doing so, we obviously affect the nutrients. We affect the water, but I think we’ve got to start putting it into a much larger perspective of: “What are we doing in terms of the dynamics of carbon, nitrogen, water, all simultaneously?”

Screen Shot 2021-02-16 at 4.38.41 PMUpper Left: No-till; Lower Left: Cover Crop; Right: Row spacing

DAN FRIEBERG: As we talk about this, people go to soil health. I mean, they talk about soil health. The frustration for me, sometimes, is soil health tends to be practice-defined, like what practices do you implement? I know there’s different tests. We’re trying to quantify soil health through a test, but when it comes to soil carbon, I know some of these programs are talking about soil testing as a part of that. They’re obviously talking about more than organic matter. So, there is a soil carbon test, right?

JERRY HATFIELD: We’ve had a soil carbon test. I mean, we look at organic material. You can look at soil organic matter. You can look at particulate organic matter. You’ve got a lot of this soil CO2, which a lot of the tests are based on. It’s basically, I believe, a surrogate for the amount of biological activity we have in the soil because those are respiring organisms that generate CO2. So, you’ve got all of these pieces coming together, and I don’t know. When we talk about soil health, I think we need to stand back a little bit because I think everybody says: “Here’s a soil health test.” Well, what do we want that test for? Because a lot of the components of soil health, I think, need to be much more related to soil function: supplying water, supplying nutrients, supplying support, lack of compaction within that.

I think we need a much more holistic view of what we want our soils to do and not get hung up on saying: “What’s the perfect test?” I think that’s what confused a lot of people. “Oh, what’s the one test that I need to go out and run in my field to determine if I got soil health?” Well, you can look at how well that plant is growing. You could look at water infiltration. You could look at a number of different parameters. Just like in us, when we go to the doctor, he just doesn’t say: “Well, I’m going to look at your left earlobe, and that’s the indicator of health.” You look at all these other things that give us a metric of health. I think it’s the same thing in soil. It’s a suite of practices that give us a direction towards functionality.

The other thing is that not every soil within the field is going to respond the same, just like every human doesn’t respond the same to what we do. Soils are going to respond. If we had a really sandy soil in that field compared to clay soil, and we do the same thing on top of them, we’re going to see different rates of response just because of the parent material that’s there. So, I think we need to get that understanding out there, that it’s a dynamic process. It’s also a process that has a lot of moving parts to it, and there are certain attributes that put us down that path, but there’s also going to be different rates of responses we go on, as well.

DAN FRIEBERG: I suggested one time that yield might be a surrogate for soil health, but it was really me trying to say there are areas of the field that just are so consistently high-yielding. To me, it’s probably how they mineralize nutrients and how they hold water and all that. It’s like some of these really consistent high-yield areas. Something is going on underground that is phenomenal, and it’s just “you’re in, you’re out,” and everything’s working.

JERRY HATFIELD: As we understand more and more about spatial variation within fields, we are seeing parts of that field that are the consistent high-yielding zones of that field. I’m always intrigued by the consistent high-yielding parts of that field that are legacy barnyards, where the cattle lot was. People say: “Why, that was 50 years ago. That was there.” So, what changed in that and all of this? The other part of this is we have consistent low-yielding parts of the field, as well, and I think that we can learn a lot by probably looking at the outliers. Why are those high-yielding spots the way they are? Why are those low-yielding spots the way they are? Then, you’ve got the zone that Bruno Basso and the group at Michigan State have come up with.

We’ve got low-yielding stable zones. You’ve got high-yielding stable zones, and then you have unstable zones that really are dependent upon what the weather is during the growing season. Some years they may be high. Some years they may be low, but I do think that one of the pieces in this, in terms of soil health and these high-yielding parts, is those also tend to be much more stable zones in terms of year to year. They don’t have those big fluctuations, and those low-yielding parts don’t have fluctuations either, but they’re really non-profitable zones. These unstable zones, I mean, they could be 280 bushels one year and 120 the next year, and you go: “What happened besides the weather? What’s in that buffering capacity in soils?”

I think that we need to be back thinking about what triggers that soil to be able to do that because, sometimes, it’s raining basically the same across the field. How do we begin to tease that out? I think a lot of us are trying to figure out some of these dynamics. Is it all biological? Or is it physical? Or is it chemical? In reality, it’s all three of those things coming together, but I think that if we want to move agriculture forward, in terms of efficiency and profitability, that we need to start looking and maybe examining from different viewpoints of the system.

DAN FRIEBERG: Yeah, it’s every geography. As we grow as a company and we get in states we haven’t been in before, we just always know that agronomy is local. There’s not a one-size-fits-all, but north-central Iowa, Jerry, those zones, they flip back and forth a lot. A lot of times, they’re the potholes, so they tend to be low-lying areas. They’re organic matter rich. They’re nutrient rich because, seven years out of 10, they’ve got too much water. So, nutrients have built up, just from lack of crop removal. Then, you get a dry year, and they are off the chart. They have so much organic matter and so much water-holding capacity that they will be the best part of the field in a really dry year. They’re the unstable ones that flip back and forth.

JERRY HATFIELD: Well, and then we get them flipped back and forth. You mentioned the water and everything. You pick it up in the spring, and then you struggle getting a population in that part of the field. Sometimes it gets drowned out, but if we can get that crop to start growing, I mean, it has nutrient-cycling capacity and water-holding capacity that is right off the charts.

DAN FRIEBERG: Jerry, going back to the carbon credit thing, will no-till kind of be a foundation for somebody to get carbon credits?

JERRY HATFIELD: I believe that no-till will be part of that process. I think it’s some of the work that Don Reicosky has done, and Morris showing that it’s basically the amount of tillage that you do. If we’re doing full-width tillage, we have a lot of CO2 going in. You’re doing strip-till. No-till is really pretty small. We’re going to have to have some tillage to magically get that seed and fertilizer into the soil. It’s a matter of the width of that and how we disturb it. In the soil, actually, the biology responds very quickly to a lot of the different things, but I do think that reduced tillage is part of this overall process. We see a lot of impacts when we till in the fall, CO2 being released into the atmosphere, that basically we release as much back as we stored the whole summer.

We basically reset the counter to zero at every fall when we do intensive tillage. So, if we want to build it up, we’ve gotta get that piece out of the system. I think that will become part of it. I think that diversifying crops and getting more carbon from the atmosphere into the soil is another part of that. We could say, well, if it’s no-till, we just go to fallow without any tillage, and I guarantee you we won’t change the carbon any. We won’t release any, but we won’t store any because we need that biological system as part of it.

DAN FRIEBERG: Awesome. Is there any scientific debate about any of this? Is the science pretty locked down, as far as the carbon sequestration in farming systems?

JERRY HATFIELD: There is a great deal of debate, and I don’t think it’s going to go away. Part of this is people see different responses, and part of it’s climate-driven. If you think about that same practice that we have in Iowa and transport it to even southern Missouri, all we do is change the climate, and we won’t see near the response because we’ve had a temperature change. We have a lot more respiration going on and warmer soil temperatures. We have a different rainfall pattern, so we see all these different pieces. That’s one piece that adds variation to it, and then a lot of this goes back to these zones within fields.

We see different responses. We need to recognize that there are different soils instead of looking at the field average and saying: “What are those different pieces, and how are they responding?” Then the argument is over. “Are you accruing carbon in the upper six inches of the soil, in terms of that magic plow layer? Are you putting it down deep?” Then, what form of carbon are we measuring? Are we measuring soil organic matter?

A lot of this is in this particulate organic matter. It gets cycled very quickly, that a lot of people don’t measure. I think the scientific debate is going to continue along this path. We’re eventually going to settle in and say: “Here are some of the attributes around this, and let’s look at these attributes and not get hung up on saying that I use a red machine or a green machine to plant our crop.”

I would think that’s where a lot of this gets in, and the same thing in terms of measurements. Did you make this measurement? Did you make that measurement? I often tell producers. They ask what the perfect soil health test is. I say: “If you want to know if you’ve got soil health, just go out and look after your field after a two-inch heavy rain because if you can’t get two inches of rain into the soil, you don’t have soil health.” You’ve got all the aggregates that are stable. You’ve got infiltration going on, and everything else, and they go: “Well, yeah.” It’s kind of an aggregation of lots of different things that is there. It gets them to thinking about what they’re really looking at out there. Same thing in terms of yield that you mentioned.

When we improve our soil health, we see a lot more efficiency of nutrient supply and water supply late in that growing season. We see that plant maintain its green leaf area longer in the grain-filling period. I think there are things that we could get producers interested in just looking at. Asking the question, “What are some of the indications going on that you’re making a change in your system?”

DAN FRIEBERG: Do you see carbon credits as potentially a way to help pay and make the economics even for switching to cover crops and less tillage?

JERRY HATFIELD: If we can get the value of carbon credits up enough. I mean, I was just looking at some data the other day that were really good systems, maybe half to eight-tenths of a ton of this. If we’re only offering $15 a ton, that’s $12. It costs you $30 to put in a cover crop, so you’re still on the negative side of that, even though you can get the value over time. I think we’ve got to give back to producers.

Again, back to your zoning question of saying, how do you really begin to look at profitability across the field, and saying, how do I look at increasing profitability in those poor parts of the field? Is that reducing fertilizer applications because you’re not getting return on doing other things? You could trade that input of fertilizers for the cover crop to be able to improve those.

I think we need a different strategy about how we go about implementing conservation practices across the field. Or, accounting for the value of them and the potential impact, short-term and long-term. I think that therein lies some of the imagination that I think we ought to be using relative to farming systems. We tend to look at our conservation practices as kind of a generic sort of suite. We’ll just lay these on the field out there. But in reality, I think we need to be much more structured in thinking about how they’re going to work. Also how they could be implemented in much more of a dynamic way.

RENEE HANSEN: If a farmer is really skeptical of the whole carbon sequestration, what does he have to do? And is it going to benefit him?

JERRY HATFIELD: If you look at carbon from a benefit perspective, I don’t think we’ve talked enough about the benefits of carbon. We talk about carbon relative to carbon markets. We talk about sequestration but the value of putting carbon back into the soil. I often use this analogy, that if you get into carbon for the carbon market perspective, it’s like new running board money for your pickup. But if you get into improving carbon for the agronomic and efficiency piece, it’s new pickup money.

That’s the orders of magnitude that we’re talking about because we see that improvement in yield stability. We take those low-yielding parts of the field out. I don’t think we’ve explained to producers the real value of carbon and why that’s so critical as part of the field, in terms of nutrient cycling, water infiltration and storage, even overall vigor of the crop.

I think when we put those metrics around it, producers begin to see that these real changes are out there. Often we just sell it from the standpoint of carbon sequestration. It’s going to do good for the climate. But for the producer, they don’t care a whole lot about that. We must put it into that perspective of what it means for them. Then I think it becomes an important part of their decision process as well as an educational effort.

Screen Shot 2021-02-16 at 4.46.24 PM
RENEE HANSEN: Absolutely. I think that the value just hasn’t been seen or believed by them yet to understand. There’s so much talk about carbon credits that they’re questioning, “Is this for real? What do I need to do?” It’s just another payment back to the grower. What do they have to do to get it, and what do they have to do to achieve it?

JERRY HATFIELD: We need to realize that there are a suite of practices. Just don’t say, well, as we’ve talked about that, the only way you can get there is no-till. That’s one component. Reduced tillage is one component of the system, crop diversity and putting more crop longer through the growing season there. Even adding bio-based fertilizers, manures, compost, things like this, do a major impact on this. Ultimately, we’re talking about allowing the biological system within the soil to do its thing. Capturing carbon and putting it into soil aggregates and organic matter.

This is a very complex problem that we need to look at. You’re going to see the same result if you did the same thing. I think we need to think a lot more judiciously about how we go about achieving our goals and looking at how practices and pieces and responses fit together. I think that’s part of that whole maturity of really evaluating our system and figuring out where we want to go and how we want to get there.

DAN FRIEBERG: Jerry, in order to change soil carbon, what’s a realistic timeframe? This is a long term. In the relative, it’s not something that changes very fast, right?

JERRY HATFIELD: Well, we actually see changes in carbon within one growing season. Now, measurement-wise, it gets a little difficult to pick that up, but we can see it because of changes in color. We can see changes in aggregates near the surface. Those are kind of the unstable parts of this. The stable parts are really much more in that two-to-five year timeframe. We really want to see depth changes. With depth, we’re talking about plus-10, and I think we’ve got to realize this, but things occur quickly. I was looking at some of the dynamics on root exudates relative to microbial activity, and those often occur within minutes of changing this.

So, you look at all this, and I think we’ve got to realize that we’re dealing in a set of different time constants all the way across our platform. It goes back to the thing on soil health. What parameters are really changing within that? Because we know some parameters are going to change a lot more quickly than others. We see aggregate changes within a growing season. They’re not very stable, but they are changing. So, it’s a matter of what’s that time cost to get it to be much more of a stable aggregate?

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, so if a grower wants to start implementing some of these, there’s nothing set in stone right now, of what management practices they should follow?

JERRY HATFIELD: No. We talk about why there’s so much controversy within the science community. It’s that there’s not a common set of practices. A lot of people have not accounted for the fact of all the weather variation that occurred during their experiment. Sometimes, it’s the rainfall patterns that we talked about with the heavier soils. We get these wet springs, and then we get dry summers. That really influences the response. Sometimes, we get dry springs, but we get wet summers. I think that part of this is we’ve got to figure out how to start normalizing a lot of the different characteristics that are out there, and even in terms of cover crops.

So, if you run a monoculture cover crop of rye, how large was that rye crop? People say: “Oh, I planted a rye cover crop.” Well, was it 3000 pounds of biomass? Or was it 500 pounds? Just because you had a cover crop doesn’t mean you all had the same efficacy. If you’ve got a cover crop cocktail with a small grain and a legume and a brassica mixture, what was the real biomass that was generated out of that? So, I think there needs to be a lot of normalization of, instead of just saying we did this, what was the real efficacy?

Just going back to Dan’s comment in terms of yield, we need to look at the productivity of our cover crop system over time, and we have tools to be able to do that. I think that starts putting us on much more of an equal footing of saying: “Why do we see these responses across different places?” Well, it could be because we had different levels of input across that we didn’t even characterize.

RENEE HANSEN: So, overall, when it comes to carbon sequestration, does it pay for the farmer? Should they start doing it today?

JERRY HATFIELD: I think it does. I think it pays in lots of different ways. We start this path towards carbon sequestration. We change our infiltration rates. Let’s just start about: “What are we really trying to do in our agriculture across the Midwest?” It’s that we want to take as much precipitation and put it back through that crop to create yield. When we’ve got a soil that’s pretty fragile. We have low infiltration rates of less than a half-inch per hour. When we can just improve the infiltration rate up to two inches per hour, then we get a lot more rain into that system. If I can get rain into the soil, I can store it. If I can’t get it into the soil, it’s just runoff.

We start with realizing that our whole goal in agriculture is to do two things. One is to capture sunlight, and one is to put as much water through that plant as possible. If we get our soil set up so that we’re doing those things, it’s going to pay dividends to us. Then, you’ll end up saying: “Well, I’ll recycle more nutrients. I’ll do all these other things to kind of buffer against the weather variation that’s going on out there.” That’s the path that I think we need to be explaining to producers. What carbon really is doing at various steps along the way.

I believe that if we really want soils to be that carbon sequestering part, we need to be explaining to agriculture and producers. This includes the whole dynamic of carbon and how it’s going to benefit them in ways they haven’t thought about much.

Dr. Jerry Hatfield Bio:

Dr. Jerry Hatfield received his Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 1975 in the area of Agricultural Climatology, M.S. in Agronomy from the University of Kentucky in 1972 and a B.S. in Agronomy from Kansas State University in 1971. He is the retired director of the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. Dr. Hatfield worked in California at the University of California, Davis from 1975 to 1983 as a bio-meteorologist working in a range of different crops.

He joined USDA-ARS in 1983 at the Plant Stress and Water Conservation unit in Lubbock, Texas, where he stayed until his transfer to Ames to develop the research program of the National Soil Tilth Laboratory. His research focused on the interactions among the components of the soil plant atmosphere continuum and our linkage to air, water and soil quality. His focus has been on the evaluation of farming systems and their response to water and nitrogen interactions across soils and remote sensing methods to qualify field variation. A platform for his research utilizes the “genetics times environment times management” concept as a framework to work with producers to demonstrate how they can increase their production efficiency, increase soil health and develop resilience to weather and climate variation as the foundation for food security.

His outreach efforts have included participation in the National Climate Assessment as the lead author for agriculture for the U.S. and on the IPCC effort on greenhouse gases and climate change. Dr. Hatfield is an accomplished author with 498 referred publications and eight monographs. He serves as the editor for numerous publications, and he also ranks in the top 2% of researchers in the world. His numerous awards include being inducted into the USDA-ARS Hall of Fame for his research impact and the Hugh Hammond Bennett Award, along with being a Fellow in the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America, and serving as President of the American Society of Agronomy in 2007. Please welcome Dr. Jerry Hatfield.


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020: The ‘Why’ Behind Your Field Map

Lance examining the crop

Today we are talking with Lance Meyer, one of Premier Crop’s ag advisors in the Kansas region about the ‘why’ behind your field map.

About Lance: Lance is a Crop Advisor with Premier Crop, working with growers in Kansas on their operations. A K-State graduate and Kansas native, Lance enjoys helping those around him to improve their operation.

LANCE MEYER: Hi, guys. My name is Lance Meyer. I’m an advisor here in eastern Kansas, actually located in the little town of Wellsville, just southwest of Kansas City. I’ve been with Premier Crop for about a year and a half now. I work with growers kind of all over Kansas. I get out west and up north a little bit, so kind of all over.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, and Lance, where did you go to school?

LANCE MEYER: Of course, K-State. I mean, is there any other school? I’m the only K-State grad with Premier Crop right now, so it makes me feel pretty good. I went to K-State, did ag technology there, minored in agronomy and ag business. With Premier Crop, now I’m doing what I love and pretty much exactly what I went to school for. It’s going great.

RENEE HANSEN:  Today, we’re talking with Lance about the “why” behind your field map and how data and agronomic data can really help you move forward and help you be more profitable in the years to come. So, Lance, I’m just going to ask you some questions. Just tell me a little bit about what you have seen within the last year and a half while at Premier Crop, or even when you were in school, noticing different spots in the field through data. Can you explain that a little bit more?

LANCE MEYER: Well, first of all, it’s great that people are recognizing that there are these spots in the field. In precision ag, at Premier Crop, we call that variability, and that’s ultimately our main goal. It’s to manage that variability, and Premier Crop has a bunch of different tools. Some examples that a grower might see differences in soil fertility: that could be organic matter, pH or just your soil-supplied nutrients. That’s really different all over Kansas.

That’s one great thing about Kansas. You get kind of the whole diverse picture. So, in eastern Kansas, we could deal with some pretty acidic soils, and then, as you move farther west, you get into some really high-pH environments. So, there are a lot of different things there that are going on. Another thing here in Kansas: as you move farther west, you have historically high potassium in the soil. That’s a couple of things we deal with in Kansas, some other examples: weather also plays a big factor.

We have a lot of irrigation out west. There’s some surface water irrigation here in eastern Kansas. Then, you also get into those very drouthy environments out west and a lot of dry-land farming. That can play a big factor in it. Some other things: different genetics are used in hybrids, that sort of thing. Stuff that works here in eastern Kansas is not going to work in western Kansas, in most cases. There are some big differences also in crop protection products. Different hybrids respond to different fungicides. We noticed a lot about that this year, that some hybrids respond greatly to fungicides, and then some not so much. There’s a lot of variability across the state, and that’s one thing that I’m here to help manage and make the best decision for the grower.

farm data map layers

RENEE HANSEN:  We say, within Premier Crop, that agronomy is local, but farmers say it too because we have this vast information of data within our system. Ranging from Canada, down south to Oklahoma, East to Ohio, all the way to Colorado. And it’s so important that looking at data locally, specifically in Kansas, is so significantly different. What would be the importance for a grower to start using their data when working with you?

LANCE MEYER: Like I talked about, there’s so much variability. Even across the state, but even in each county. Working with growers in eastern Kansas versus western Kansas, I mean, agronomy is completely different, and that’s really what I love about Premier Crop. You don’t have to be an expert on anything because we are using the data, and it’s pretty much screaming at us, telling us what we need to do. The Premier Crop software is really a big part of that, along with our industry agronomy experience. But the farm data really gives us the analytics and the insights, telling us what we need to be doing for each grower.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, so you talked a little bit about the software Premier Crop and, coupled with what you are able to offer, what tools does Premier Crop have to help a grower learn and why?

LANCE MEYER: For the businessman farmer of today, the guy that really enjoys using his data but might not necessarily have the time to do it. The operations that we work with are CEOs of their farm operation. Our advisors work with the grower to collect the farm data, manage the data, organize the data and make sense of the data, letting the farmer farm as they want to, without any time invested. We take care of everything, from variable-rate recommendations, cost tracking, to delivering the analysis in an easy way that the grower can understand, because we all know that looking at data can be pretty overwhelming and hard to make sense of. So, that’s a big piece of what we do, delivering farm data in a way that it’s easy to understand for the grower.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, I feel like some of the growers that I talk to in the field, just even around here in our area, even some of my friends that we’ve reached out to, I feel like they just don’t know where to get started. What would you say is the first thing? How easy can it be?  We take care of it, but what are some of the first steps that they need?

LANCE MEYER: Managing farm data is actually, really, pretty simple. The baseline of everything that we do is tied back to a yield file or the yield map. So, that’s essentially the only thing that we need to get started, that one or two years of historical yield data. I think there are some 80% of growers out there that are capable of collecting yield data or are collecting yield data. They just don’t actually know it. I would think that the number’s actually higher than that, given the amount of people that I talk to and the conversations I have with people. You just have to have some yield data to get started. There are also other layers that are great. Having soil data will give us more insights. The baseline is just yield data, and that’s the majority of growers out there.

RENEE HANSEN: And it can be so overwhelming because there are so many different layers of data, from soil sample data, yield data, planting data, as-applied data, and adding that all up yourself, the brainpower can be exhausting.

LANCE MEYER: You’re exactly right, and that’s our ultimate goal, to help take that lift off your shoulders. I tell growers all the time: “I’m sure the first thing they want to do after they get in from a long day is sit down at their computer and manage all this stuff.” And they’re like: “Yeah, no. That’s not what I want to be doing.” That’s just another little piece of the pie, I guess, the value that Premier Crop ultimately brings.

RENEE HANSEN: Especially when it’s “go time,” when it’s planting or harvest time. There’s probably something they need to be working on, rather than messing around with data.

LANCE MEYER: Yep, and helping with the monitor and all the technical stuff like that is big, too. Growers tell me all the time. When you get a problem in the monitor, and you’re sitting in the field for one or two minutes trying to fix something, that seems like an eternity for a grower sitting there, wanting to get going. I mean, that’s ultimately what they love doing, running the equipment. So, having a little bit of a setback due to the technical stuff can be a big deal.

RENEE HANSEN: When it’s “go time,” it is a race against the clock, no matter what is going on.

LANCE MEYER: That’s right. It doesn’t matter where you are. That’s everybody out there.


RENEE HANSEN: Another thing with the tools that Premier Crop is offering we’ve been talking a lot about yield efficiency. Lance, I want you to talk a little bit about yield efficiency. What does success look like when looking at all of these maps from historical yield, ultimately leading to yield efficiency?

LANCE MEYER: With the yield efficiency piece, we’re essentially redefining the success metric for today’s farmer. For so long, we’ve been focused on yield. Now, we bring this concept of yield efficiency that a lot of people might not understand. Yield efficiency is the amount of money returned from your crop that you have to pay land and management costs at the end of the day. Yield is the number-one driver of yield efficiency. As long as we can drive higher yields while still lowering our break-even cost per bushel, we’re becoming more profitable. Profitability, for me, is success with my growers.

These maps that Premier Crop gives us, they’re really our report card for the season, and that’s how I like to describe it with my growers. As long as we’re lowering that break-even cost per bushel and driving higher yields, I call it a successful season. Whether it’s $10 an acre or $100 an acre farm profitability. We know there are dollars left on the table on every acre. It’s just a matter of finding it with your farm data. Like I said, if it’s a smaller amount or larger amount, I consider that success with my growers.

Yield efficiency score showing profitability

RENEE HANSEN: Do you have a specific example? Do you have a great success story that you saw this year?

LANCE MEYER: There’s actually one big takeaway that really stands out from 2020 and also in 2019. And that’s on the fertilizer side, and managing our fertilizer investment. Make sure that we’re taking into account our crop removals when we’re making fertilizer recommendations. It’s a simple concept, but it’s hard to get across. Every year we grow a crop on a piece of land, we’re taking off nutrients in the grain. The soil supplied nutrients through that crop, and we remove that off from the amount the plant took up.

As we stated above, our main goal is to manage our variability in yield. Within that variability in yield, we’re taking off different amounts of nutrients in different parts of the field. If we’re applying our fertilizer the next season to account for the field average and crop removal, we’re ultimately under-applying in a lot of the field and over-applying on a lot of the field, also. This is actually a conversation I had with a soil sampling company, SoilView, Craig Struve, yesterday. He had a slide from Colorado State that says: “95% of the time, you’re going to be over-applying or under-applying fertilizer on your removal if you’re just applying that field average.”

That’s why at Premier Crop, using the actual yield file, is exactly what we’ve taken off the field to replace it the next season. We use this equation so we’re not mining down these better areas of the field and then over-applying in the worst areas of our fields. That’s one big example, I guess. That could be, like I said, $50 to $100 an acre right there. That’s one big thing that I found for this season, anyway. Like we said, a lot of growers can do this with their variable-rate technology they have, but they just might not necessarily understand it or believe it pays at this point.

RENEE HANSEN: Thank you so much Lance. Thanks for listening to the Premier Podcast, where everything agronomic is economic. Please subscribe, rate and review this podcast so we can continue to provide the best precision ag and analytic results for you. And to learn more about Premier Crop, visit our blog at premiercrop.com.


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019: Year End Grower Meeting

SciMax grower meeting

Today on the Premier Podcast, we’re listening in to a year end grower meeting with one our partners, SciMax Solutions.

PETER BIXEL: I’m Peter Bixel, SciMax Team Leader, and today we’re working with two of our clients, down here close to Des Moines, Iowa: Dale Meyer and Michael Myers. And I’ve been looking at their information, reviewing 2020 data this year and planning for 2021.

MICHAEL MYERS: I’ve been working with Peter and SciMax for, I think, around seven years, something like that. Time flies. I work with SciMax to help push us to the next level. It’s a really good precision ag database that they have, and adding VRT into our operation was a big part of that, using our yield data and going into our management zones and pushing the best acres as far as we can. We haven’t pushed them as far as we can yet, and that’s the goal for the future. It’s to push everything we can in order to get the best ROI and try to do the best job that we can.

DALE MEYERS: Before that, we were doing zone management for fertility by soil type. I mean, there was soil sampling, but it was, more or less, by the lay of the land and soil type. With the local co-op, we went to larger five-to-seven acre grids. They would spread it by areas, more or less, not necessarily by GPS but by a map.

Farm data for ROI

MICHAEL MYERS: Our precision ag and farm data was pretty rustic, overall. You just kind of guess where you were in the field. The biggest thing that helped us change was implementing yield data. As soon as we started picking that up, we needed something to do with it. Otherwise, what’s the point of getting it? Peter did a talk with Latham that made a lot of sense to us, that we could compile the yield data with our fertility, soil sampling, soil types, etc. And the biggest thing that he’s helped us with is to realize where we’re lacking, where we’re putting too much fertilizer on. I mean, it’s not a coincidence that our best yields have been over the past few years using SciMax’s precision ag tools.

Now, you have to have the weather to do that, but without SciMax’s help, we wouldn’t have averaged 240 as a farm average last year on corn. It probably would have been 210, 220, like your average farmer in the area would have been. But with us doing the extra things and managing better with their help, we were able to get more return. More or less, we’re not at the beginning of this, but we’re starting to take the steps that’ll start pushing us even higher, I think.

It’s not something in that we implemented everything right away, but we’re implementing some things more and more every year. We’re trying to build our soils on fertility-level more this year than we have in the past. And looking at the farm data he gave us today, I mean, if we continue the trend of what the farm data is saying, then that should pay off. Peter’s a really good guy to work with, too. There are other people that offer precision ag or something like it, but Peter’s the thing that kind of puts that all together, as far as SciMax marrying with Premier Crop and then bringing that to us. If he was a different person, I don’t know if we’d still be with them or not. I don’t know, but he’s keeping us for sure.

DALE MEYERS: I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the farmers of my generation operated on a status quo thing up to a point. Then, the yield monitors came in to where we could see: “Oh, wow. I never realized that the wet spot was affected so much by the excess water.” So, a lot of tiling has happened because of that, and then, also, the fertility side with different soil types. In parts of the field that are high yielding, we were pulling a lot more nutrients off than we thought. I guess, maybe, we just didn’t even think.

Precision ag kind of sharpened everything because you didn’t really know the advent of the yield monitor, as well as grid sampling and other things. Hybrids have improved, there’s no question about that, but, all in all, we’re doing a better job. We’re doing a better job of planting, as far as placement, depth and spacing, but particularly depth, or emergence at the same time. It’s easy for the seed companies to take a lot of credit, and they deserve a lot of credit, but the farm equipment’s and farm data management changed this picture a lot, too.

PETER BIXEL: Well, I think, studying the hybrids and placing them where they need to go makes a big difference, too. Before, maybe, if you were my partner, you just buy: “Yep, these three are good.” The dealer sold them to him. Where did you plant them? “It didn’t matter. You just plant them wherever you want.” No, there is a difference. You know that, Michael.

MICHAEL MYERS: Getting yield maps gives you a picture of what happened that year, and then making that into managing the zones, that shows us what has happened over many years. I mean we have a memory, but we don’t have a the farm data memory where we can go back and say: “Okay, this area of the field did this, and, on average, it’s kind of been a B area. Or it’s a C area or an A.” We can break that down, and then we can also look at the fact, and I mentioned it too, as far as fertilizer, where: “Okay, what did the field make? Did it do 200? Okay, we’ll put a flat rate of crop removal of 200 across the whole field.” Well, that’s not the truth.

The truth is that the poor areas did 160, the medium areas did 200 and the high areas did 240. I mean, it varies, right? But that’s kind of the idea. I, over the past several years, have really been putting a lot of thought to the fact that I would really like to see what our yields would be today if we would’ve started doing precision ag and variable-rate fertilizer five years ago because what we’ve been doing is taking off 240-bushel corn on a good area and putting 200 bushels of nutrients back on. So, we’re stealing away from our good areas and adding to our poor areas. In those poor areas, you’re never going to yield what the good areas are going to do.

So, we can better utilize our money as far as our investment into fertilizer, and then that should pay dividends in ROI and harvest time, too. That’s one of the biggest things, I would say.

PETER BIXEL: Their retailer in the past wasn’t able to really do the field history either, so now they’ve made a big change and adjusted things. Including adding strip-till.


PETER BIXEL: We’ve come up with tissue sample ranges by stage for corn and soybeans on each nutrient. So, this is that line, and then, basically, it’s just the group average zone, all we did overall here. You’ll get yours with this graph, and then we’ll always plot their individual data on here. It’s kind of interesting. I mean, we’re pretty close to the limit. We tracked pretty close on nitrogen. Really, we weren’t that far off comparatively.

MICHAEL MYERS: I’d like to see the guys that did the KTS. Can we group that data and look at it?


MICHAEL MYERS: Our application was right at V5, V6. So, we gained more stalk, but where is manganese?

PETER BIXEL: Right here. (pointing to the field map on the computer)

MICHAEL MYERS: My manganese went through the roof, like right in there. I put it in with the KTS. Then I put that Versa Max, and that’s got manganese in it, and I took my manganese levels from like 80 to 100 clear up into 140s, and they stuck around until probably V10. I graphed it all out myself. Let me grab it. I think I got a pamphlet right here.

Using precision ag to look at tissue sample data


PETER BIXEL: Well, we’re trying to define trends for just seeing what the plants are telling us. It’s no different than a blood test, which you could say: “Well, that’s overkill.” Yeah, but the plants, the weather and everything change so much every stage, depending on the growing season.

Like there in the middle of May, we didn’t hardly gain any GDUs for like two or three weeks because it was just cloudy and cool. Then, we took off, and we were growing like two stages from V4 to V6 in five days. The nutrients change by that stage. It’s kind of a way to gauge where the plants are at. Michael’s been pulling two different farms, and you pull in an A zone and just kind of track and see what they’re telling us. Not everybody, but the majority of us, will go, and apply what we feel the plant needs.

Then, like he’s looking now to see: “Okay, if we applied zinc and manganese right before this tissue sample, and we applied it and we came back a week later, did we see the uptake?” Did the plant tell us they got it? Like my zinc and manganese, I think it took like about two weeks, two sampling times, for it to really uptake. For my potassium, I’ve got to look back. I can’t remember this off the top of my head. I think it took about three weeks because potassium is mobile. It takes water to get it down the soil. We didn’t have a whole lot of moisture, obviously, but Michael and I Y-dropped to put it next to the row so it would hopefully get in faster.

MICHAEL MYERS: Yeah, I just remember on the home farm, on the treatment out here, that the manganese just went through the roof. So, I know I can raise those loads.

PETER BIXEL: Manganese has been one that we’ve kind of struggled with, especially later on, but this year. I think some of it was due to the dryness, too. We didn’t have as much water as the last two years. So, it wasn’t flushing it through this profile. We were able to keep reasonable. The black line is where we want to be at, and you can see that. You got the polynomial or you got just the average of the polynomial for our group, and so we were able to stay a little bit better on that.

The other thing, to me, that was pretty interesting was how boron’s been. If you look at the past years, we’ve been just horrible. We just tanked on boron. We would never come back up to where we’d like to be at but this year. Some of this, too, I believe, is we’re getting a lot more guys that are throwing boron in with their fungicide. Not everything, but some of that’s been helping bring those levels, I feel as a group, at least, up. We stayed pretty good, and the reason I think we stayed good on boron is that it’s mobile. We didn’t have rain, and we didn’t continuously keep flushing that deeper and deeper in the profile. I think we’ll talk and see what everybody thinks next week. We can quit at like V10, V12, just because nobody’s been significantly doing anything different after that point.

PETER BIXEL: I know it would have because look at what you did last year. So, Michael and Dale, they’ve been doing some different stuff last year. It definitely showed, I think, good stuff for all your treatment, boron and zinc already, and things like that. I guess it kind of tells me they weren’t, I wouldn’t say, normal conditions. They had more rain than you but not normal. I guess that just tells me that we’re still going to keep playing, but we also learned our normal standard practices. It’s probably still a benefit if you’ve got that one limiting factor, whatever that is. It’s potassium in their case. He said it was like 130 to 140 parts per million. Spend the money on it. Get the foundation built. Then, you can start to worry about wider operation or extra phosphorus.

MICHAEL MYERS: It just goes back to that. Every time we plant a seed, it’s got its maximum potential, and as the season goes on, that lowers, lowers and lowers. Well, with potassium, and I’ve thought about this a decent amount, it’s more important than about every of the other major ones earlier. Maybe phosphorus is there, too, but as far as potassium, most of its uptake is V6 to 12-ish. Phosphorus, sulfur and, obviously, nitrogen are all after that. So, which of the four biggest nutrients is going to pull our potential down the most in that first, until V8? Well, it’s probably potassium. So, if we don’t have potassium there, that potential is already capped.

PETER BIXEL: Correct. You can put on as much nitrogen as you want if you think it’s efficient, like you said. After that fact, it doesn’t matter because K has got to be there to move it up in the plant. When you grid sampled and then started doing the strip, I think it’s good, especially with what we’re doing and trying to build the 250 and stuff that we’re doing on the farms and using the management zones. I’m trying to continue to build that. On your beans this year, with new soil sample data, which is not the best year in yields and stuff like that, you were at 144 parts per million of potassium, and you went to 176. Pretty steady increase and a direct correlation. We saw that, yeah, you went from 27 bushels to 57, a 30-bushel acre advantage.

MICHAEL MYERS: On just a 30 parts per million difference.

PETER BIXEL: Correct. So, I think as we sample some other farms — I don’t think everything got sampled. I can’t remember the majority of stuff, but as we get the new stuff on the rest of the farms, it’ll be interesting to see. That was something I pointed out where, like you said, potassium, and we see this with a lot of clients, at 22 to 26. Not really a huge correlation.


MICHAEL MYERS: I was really impressed with how I did this fall corn on corn over here, and we vertical tilled at first. Well, we did that, so we could put anhydrous on.

PETER BIXEL: How deep did you do the vertical till?

DALE MEYERS: Through May, three to four inches.

PETER BIXEL: How deep was the strip-till in?

MICHAEL MYERS: About four to five. It can go six, just depends.

PETER BIXEL: That’s why I don’t think our lows aren’t as low. Maybe that’s some of the genetics or fertility, things like that, too.

MICHAEL MYERS: We’ve mentioned we have more potential on all of our corn going into July, except our corn-on-corn. It’s awful. Yeah, there’s a pond right there.

PETER BIXEL: Our corn-on-corn, for the group, averaged 165. Our first-year corn was 190. So, that tells you that we haven’t seen that big of a spread between those two for a lot of years.

DALE MEYERS: We’ve not had this consistent-looking crop at harvest time on corn-on-corn ever, that I can remember.

MICHAEL MYERS: As far as spacing and the beans being there.

DALE MEYERS: We had a good growing season, but that all started when it came up.

PETER BIXEL: Well, we didn’t have a lot of wet feet in great conditions, like you said, to come out on soil. You only had nine inches. With the weather Premier grabs, nine inches of rain is all I had. This area is definitely the lowest.

MICHAEL MYERS: Probably over half of that came before July 1st.

PETER BIXEL: It came before June. He keeps track of some calendars. He’d have every rainfall.

DALE MEYERS: The people that run the auction over here at Guthrie Center, what did he tell him?

MICHAEL MYERS: He was worse yet. What was it?

DALE MEYERS: They only had a couple of inches all summer.

MICHAEL MYERS: We had about an inch, an inch and a quarter in July, and then about the same in June. They didn’t even get an inch in either of them.


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018: Hybrid and Variety Selection Using Data


Today we are talking with Dan, Renee, and Tony about hybrid and variety selection using growers field data.

DAN FRIEBERG: I always think, from a grower’s perspective, that the first analysis that you do is your own. It’s what your own results were from that crop year. What worked and what didn’t? It’s understanding analytics by hybrid or variety across their operation. The reason that it’s really great at a grower level is that, sometimes, a hybrid or variety in data shows up having done really poorly at a grower level, but the grower knows where it was planted. They have the benefit of knowing that the reason that number did badly, or looks bad, was because I planted it on my three worst fields. It may have been that they picked the number intentionally that had more defensive characteristics because those are really difficult fields. So, I think just looking at how your numbers did on your own operation is maybe a starting place.

TONY LICHT: Maybe to build off of that, Dan, from there, once I do the analysis on my own operation, then I want to think about: “How did it do for others around me in a like environment, somewhere pretty close to me?” Because if it happened to do poorly for me, but I find out it did well for others, where did it do well for others? How can I correct that?

use data to select seed hybrid

DAN FRIEBERG: Amen. Every grower in the system has the option of whether they want to be part of seeing anonymously beyond their own operation. Today, they all want that. Part of the value of what they get in the program is being able to see beyond their own operations. A lot of times, hybrid and variety is the very first thing they look for. They want to see beyond what their own experience was.

TONY LICHT: And depending on the number of hybrids or varieties they’re planting, sometimes if it’s planted on a small amount of acres, they completely forget about it. I mean, you think about the larger-acre hybrids, and it’s like: “Oh, I forgot about those new ones I planted. How did they shake up against the rest of my line?”

RENEE HANSEN: I mean, you’re talking about expanding beyond the operation, in a sense benchmarking against other areas or like areas. Can you explain or elaborate a little bit more about how Premier Crop utilizes the hybrid and variety selection with data? What does that potentially look like? Or what is the conversation with the grower?

DAN FRIEBERG: Renee, it’s kind of unlimited sorts. Initially, a lot of people might focus on soil types. If they have dominant soil types, it might be just hybrid and variety performance on different soil types. In some markets, for example, pH can be a huge driver on soybeans. High-pH areas or low-pH areas can have a huge swing, and varieties respond differently in those environments. Those are two examples of how people get started, but they probably don’t stop there.

They look at things like planting date or harvest date. So, if you’re a large operation, what inevitably happens is you end up with some fields that you know are going to be harvested last. They might drill down on late-harvest data. They’re trying to pick numbers that they know will stand and hold the ear late into harvest because some field has got to be harvested last, and a lot of growers literally plan.

They plan their harvest by the way they plan they’re planting. There are certain fields that are always going to get planted first. In the case of harvest, there are certain fields that are going to be taken out first. It might be the ones that are closest to the bin site. They want to get the bins. They want to get the dryer going, and so there are certain fields that will come out early. A lot of times, those fields that come out early will probably get more of a racehorse number that doesn’t have to stand. It’s the highest yield potential because they know they’re going to get it before they get very far into harvest.

profitability by hybrid or variety

TONY LICHT: As-applied fertility can also be another environment they may want to look at, as well. How did I treat this group of corn hybrids differently on as-applied nitrogen, maybe split treatment or in-season treatment, versus just “all in the fall” kind of a concept? Are there differences amongst the hybrids and varieties now? How did they react to the environment they were in, whether it be as-applied fertility or soil test fertility?

DAN FRIEBERG: What we do is just adding another source of analysis to what a grower considers. Their decision is if something did exceptional for them, they’re probably going to plant it again. They’ll look beyond their own operation to see and make sure it wasn’t a fluke, or see how it held up in other environments. One of the advantages we have is that we can tend to see the hybrid and variety performance in different growing environments in the same year. This means that you might’ve been in a really dry area, but you can go look and see how it did in a normal area.

Or, you happen to be unfortunate and you got hit by the wind. Sometimes, you want to jump out of your area because your own data isn’t as meaningful. Something might have happened that made your data not quite as useful.

TONY LICHT: I was just going to say that’s a great point. Case in point: the wide area this year that got hit by the derecho. Those folks don’t lose data for a year. They still have the ability to build on data, albeit from a little bit further than their real local geography. It might be from 20 miles away in an area that was not hit. It could still be considered a like-agronomic environment.

DAN FRIEBERG: There are really big dollar swings because we’re measuring the economics and the agronomics. The reason people focus on it a lot is, at the end of the year, there are just really big dollar swings on a per-acre basis. It could easily be a 100 dollar-per-acre swing in return to land and management or what we call yield efficiency. You can just see really large swings. When you start analyzing that way, from my perspective, it probably leads to having a strategy where you call more aggressively.

I grew up on a livestock farm and the term “cull,” “culling the herd.” In the livestock industry, you’re just constantly eliminating the low producers. When you’re making genetic selection, you’re eliminating the bottom 20 percent or whatever. In the case of hybrid and variety selection, I think, sometimes, we need to be more aggressive about calling some of the poor performers out if we’re really focused on trying to drive the highest returns.

Yield Efficiency Score

RENEE HANSEN: You both were talking about data. Can you elaborate a little bit more on the data features that Premier Crop measures hybrid variety with?

TONY LICHT: Everybody always thinks of just yield by hybrid and variety. But, there are a lot of other attributes that come along with that hybrid. Some examples are: relative maturity on the chemical resistance or the seed disease resistance, as far as rootworm traits, non-rootworm traits. All those things come along with it. So, the conversation goes beyond not just a yield by hybrid. Maybe there was a specific trait that really helped drive yield, or a certain plant date helped drive yield. What are the trends I can see across my farm from a given year? Then also across a series of years, as well?

DAN FRIEBERG: Over the years, you’ve lived through some of the trait issues, just where we had areas where the rootworm trait wasn’t holding up. We ended up going through several years where needing a rootworm insecticide was a big part of the strategy and a big return for growers.

TONY LICHT: Absolutely. As a grower, do I need to do a double approach here? Not just the trait, but seed-applied insecticide, and where? And what can I expect from those people that have been utilizing that? What has the success rate been for them, to determine immediately, like: “Okay, well, here’s kind of a return on investment I can expect to get back out of this.”

DAN FRIEBERG: The trait thing probably also comes up as people shift in herbicide strategies. Renee, people would use the data to try to quantify differences in herbicide if they’re considering Liberty or if they’re needing to rotate strategies from any kind of a pest management or weed management strategy. That’s another piece where they drill down in data a lot. They try to find the best performing genetics, as they’re switching strategies.

RENEE HANSEN: So, what would you say is the benefit to having all of this data to a grower who is utilizing Premier Crop Systems versus somebody who isn’t?

DAN FRIEBERG: It’s even the growers we work with, Renee. We are one part of how they make decisions in the seed world. A lot of times, they have seed sellers who they really trust. They have long-time relationships in local communities with seed advisors. So, a lot of times, the seed advisor is there, too. Most growers will want to plant 20 percent of their acreage to something that’s new. Every year there are new genetics coming out. Unless it’s been planted commercially, we don’t have any data on the new numbers. A lot of times, that’s what happens. Their local seed advisor or seed seller is positioning what they know about the new genetics from plots and what they’ve seen in small quantities as it got planted in the pre-commercial years.

TONY LICHT: A team can definitely help that grower out. We’ve always say that agronomy is local. So, that local knowledge with that seed advisor, combined with a lot of data points from a given area, can just help amplify the value proposition for the grower in getting the right seed on the right acres.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, and since we have a lot of data in our system, we clearly have seen. Over the years, with all of the data in our system, have you seen trends? And what are they?

TONY LICHT: There have definitely been trends in certain geographies of a stronger yield correlation by later maturing hybrid. But within that, there are all these “gotchas,” where there are a few early-season hybrids that perform within those environments very, very well — whether it be later maturing hybrids going further north or earlier maturing hybrids going south. So, definitely looking at not just a multi-year, but looking within and across those different years individually, trying to pull out those trends of what hybrids can be moved around either north to south to accommodate diversifying a grower’s portfolio.

DAN FRIEBERG: In the early years, you could literally see in the data. Sometimes, when companies had trouble with trait insertion, the non-traited versus the traited, you could actually see a yield decrease. I mean, companies are getting way better at that. I don’t think it’s as big an issue as it might’ve been in the early years.

TONY LICHT: When new traits come to the market, growers will definitely want to ask the question: “How do the new traits compare to my existing operation? Or how much more do they bring to the table for me?”

DAN FRIEBERG: Growers drill down on that really quick because what tends to happen is new traits come at a price. Usually, the company is wanting a premium for them. They’re trying to weigh that. Is that extra seed investment worth it? Am I actually getting a higher return?

RENEE HANSEN: Can you talk a little bit about yield efficiency — and Dan, you did elaborate on it a little bit — and how developing and making a selection for your hybrid or variety, how that can attribute to your yield efficiency score?

DAN FRIEBERG: Yield efficiency is just the dollar-per-acre return to land and management, meaning, after you’ve paid for the seed and nutrients and crop protection and field operations, what’s left. From a seed perspective, Renee, it comes down to: “What was the price point? How much did I have to pay for the seed?” And then, probably, the next piece is: “How could I manage the seed?” There are some numbers that just have a lot of flex, meaning they’ll flex ear size as based on population.

So, in a highly variable field, that might be a great strategy, just something that will really change. In other words, you can plant at a lower population, and if it’s a good year, you won’t take a yield hit. Versus a fixed-ear number, they’re really responsive to populations. It’s just even a bigger factor. Some numbers just require more. In order to produce at the top end, in general, you need more. You need more plants, but some numbers seem to be able to flex more than others. So, that goes into yield efficiency because if you can plant a number at a lower rate and still achieve the same yield, you could potentially add 10 or 15 dollars an acre in return.

TONY LICHT: To build off of just reallocating your rate around the field, as planters become more sophisticated, we can reallocate which hybrids go on which part of the field, assigning hybrids to zones or soil types and at different rates, as well. We’ve got a different cost point of the hybrid and a different rate to maximize the ROI.

DAN FRIEBERG: We have a lot of growers in the system that are doing multi-hybrid or multi-variety planting. Do you think that’ll continue to grow? Where do you see the trend on it?

TONY LICHT: We continue to be in a discovery phase with that. We try to figure out the best placement of hybrids, the different rates of hybrids. ELBs accelerating the learning of rate and also placement of hybrids helps us versus single-rate testing year over year. We definitely continue to try and find the bottom of the soybean population. The issue with that is, it becomes an unemotional decision. That’s at times looking at data points in January, February, March. All of a sudden, it becomes a little bit of an emotional decision in season.

If I feel confident in the data in January that I can drill down a seeding-rate population to 120 or 110 or 100 thousand, and, all of a sudden, I might get cold feet in April. If it happens to be a really great spring, and we can get out and plant early and do everything we want to do early, all of a sudden, it may be an uncomfortable situation of: “Boy, I don’t know if I have enough. I don’t know if I have enough information on planting this lower rate this early. Maybe for safekeeping, I should just turn the population back up just a little bit.”

So, it’s trying to balance the emotional decision versus the data decision back in the couple previous months to really drive and find the bottom of where we can go on populations. It’s just the same way in corn, in soybeans and corn. As far as wheat, how much we want to sow. I think everybody kind of knows where the optimal rates are, but where are the extreme rates, the highs and the lows that really maximize that yield efficiency?

seed yield efficiency

DAN FRIEBERG: I get copied in on a lot of the trial results. I see some 80,000 seed drops on soybeans that do exceptional, and they are learning blocks or replicated trials. It really gets your attention because if you start trimming 50,000 seeds, get a higher yield. It really drives the dollars really fast.

TONY LICHT: Seed treatments and soybeans have really, really helped us drill down, I think, our populations, as well. We’re better protecting that seed to ensure that every one of them matters more to get up and out of the ground in a timely fashion.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, ultimately, driving up that yield efficiency score, helping growers profit more. Thank you guys for joining us today. So great to see you, so great to have you, and we’ll be back again. Thanks for listening to the Premier Podcast, where everything agronomic is economic.


Free Resources:

017: The State of Ag and Business

damian mason speaking

Today we will be discussing the ag industry with ag author, speaker, comedian, and personality – Damian Mason. Damian speaks on topics surrounding ag and business to keep audiences up to date with a touch of humor.

RENEE HANSEN: Damian, welcome to the Premier Podcast. So glad to have you here. You have a wonderful background as a businessman, an agriculturist, a speaker, a podcaster, an author and a consultant, but also, I think, importantly for our listeners is that you’re also a farmer. So, can you just tell our listeners a little bit about your farm?

DAMIAN MASON: Yeah, so I was raised on your basic Midwestern dairy farm. We milked about 60 cows and farmed 500 acres, most of it rented. My grandfather came to this country as a herdsman, and my father was raised milking cows for other people on their farms. My father lost his arm as a little boy and got an insurance settlement. And when he was 21 years old, he put that down on a chunk of ground — not a very good piece of farm ground, the kind that nobody else wanted, which is why the Masons ended up with it. So, that’s a neat story.

I live a couple miles north of the home place, where I was raised. It is a 200-acre chunk of ground that my wife and I bought in 2006 and renovated. My ground is rented out to a large-scale dairy operator now. I travel around the country working with corporations and associations. I have a degree in agricultural economics from Purdue and I went into corporate sales in 1994. That all changed. I quit my corporate job to pursue a career in political comedy. I turned that into a business and then built on that and sort of created the next thing and the next thing. And here we are now. It’s been 26 years, almost 27 now, that I haven’t had a real job. I tend to still carve out a niche in the business of agriculture.

RENEE HANSEN: Pretty well rounded.

DAMIAN MASON: Yeah, and as you said, I spent six months taking improvisational acting and scene-writing classes at Second City Chicago. There was a time when I thought I might end up on Saturday Night Live, but maybe I’m too conservative. But it didn’t happen, and that’s the way this thing goes. But it’s been an interesting ride. As a comedian with an ag background, I tell my ag people I work with now the benefit is comedy teaches you to be an observer. Because comedy’s very first thing is observation. You begin with observing, and then you put your point of view and perspective on that observation, and you deliver it with a punchline. Easy to explain, hard to actually execute, and certainly even harder to turn into a business.

Comedy is just observation, point of view and perspective to deliver the punchline. Now, I do that about the business of agriculture as an ag commentator. I say, here’s the observation: “Oh yeah, I guess I heard something about that.” Now, here’s a perspective you haven’t considered. Here’s a juxtaposition: “Oh.” And then instead of a punchline, here’s the results. So, that’s kind of what we do now. That’s a big part of what I do. It’s sort of bringing the ag thing back to you with a different perspective.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, and that’s really why we wanted to have you on the podcast today. I think you offer a different perspective, and you also talked about execution. And I think that’s partially where Premier Crop is. We’re really trying to help growers with how they execute the way they do their business. And we’re trying to change the narrative a little bit of how they can be more efficient in farming. And I think you’ve got a really great perspective of being in the business of agriculture, talking about agriculture, farming. Can you tell and share with our listeners some of the trends that you’ve seen over the years?

DAMIAN MASON: Trends that I see: obviously, the trend to consolidation. That’s been going on forever and ever. 200 years ago, somebody sold their 10 acres and went and got a job at the textile mill along the river and handed their hoe to the neighbor and said: “Here. You go out there and hoe those plants.” So, that’s been happening forever. What I see as a trend that a lot of our ag people are kind of seeing but not fully embracing or accepting it as a reality or, worse yet, understanding what it means to them is a consumer-driven marketplace. All businesses are consumer driven. This idea of: “Oh, you work for yourself. You’re a farmer.” Well, that’s complete nonsense. If you work for yourself, you run out of your own money. You work for consumers. We all do. Premier Crop Systems works for its customers.

You, Renee, do not work for Dan. You work for those customers that pay for your product. We all work for customers. Ag works for consumers. 100 years ago, we did not have surpluses. That’s when we started having surpluses. For 9,900 years of agricultural evolution, we had food, but we still didn’t have very good food or very much food. Now, we have surplus food, and we have Whole Foods. We have Amazon and Uber Eats. We have good food in copious quantities.

In agriculture, we still think it’s 1900. We say: “We went out there and produced a whole bunch of corn. What the hell more do you want? Now, eat it.” And the consumer’s saying: “I can make a lot of different selections here. I can just get on my app and order up anything.” So, we probably need to catch up with them because forever we thought: “Hey, we produced this amazing amount of product. Now, just be happy.” Well, they’re not unhappy. They’re just more selective. Because if you give a child that’s never had a toy a block of wood, he’s got a toy. Now, if you give a child in America a block of wood who has every toy conceivable, they’re going to say: “What am I supposed to do with this?” That’s our consumer when it comes to food.

DAN FRIEBERG: Hey, Damian, I know this may be too raw to talk about right now, but what are we going to change? What’s going to change because of COVID in food and ag? And maybe we’re too much in the throws, and it’s too early or whatever. It seems like that’s one where there are probably insights that you might have that others haven’t even thought about.

DAMIAN MASON: COVID did a few things for every consumer in America, and I’m talking about North America. I’m not a consumer in Australia, although a lot of the exact trends extrapolate. First off, the American consumer has not ever — at least the ones that we’re talking about that are 50, 60, 70, 80 years old — has never gone to the store and seen barren shelves. That put the fear of God into people. So, that made there be a certain appreciation for food supply, but it also illustrated the food ignorance.

Then, you had people taking to social media, saying: “Those farmers in Wisconsin who are dumping milk should be criminally prosecuted because there are people who can’t get milk.” And, of course, I go on social media and say: “Because you can’t take 8,500-gallon tanker trucks of raw milk to a food bank.”

They don’t understand the supply chain, which brings us, then, to what else it revealed. It revealed to us that our supply chain was amazing, it was tight and efficient. But just-in-time manufacturing, the Japanese concept that created their efficiency — if you look up “just-in-time” and do the research, and I took some economics classes and loved to study it — it really came to the United States in the 1990s. It’s like, why did Japan kick our butt on auto manufacturing? Because they had so little supply and so depleted capital after World War II that the Japanese country said: “For us to get our economy going again, we’re going to have to be very lean, very efficient and maximize what we have.”

They invented this concept of just-in-time manufacturing: getting a fender for a car one-and-a-half hours to the factory before it gets put on the car, meaning we didn’t have a warehouse sitting over here with fenders in it for 90 days, holding up our capital. We extrapolated those concepts to our food supply and said: “Let’s get those hogs to this facility, and they’re going to walk off that trailer. And within an hour that they walk off that trailer, they’re going to come out as pork chops down at the end of this plant.”

I might be off by a couple of hours, but the point is we got real, real lean. Well, that’s good and efficient for meat processors. But also, then, when we started having meat plant closures because the workers were infected with coronavirus — that plant got shut down in Sioux Falls that is five percent of our nation’s pork processing quantity — then, all of a sudden, there are people that are saying: “I’ve got to run and grab pork.” And then, we said: “Man, we’ve got some meat shortages.” And then Costco puts out signs that say: “No more than two packages of meat.” And everybody says: “What the heck is going on?”

We’ve got about 14 days of cold storage in the United States of America per my research. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago that said, right now, cold storage is a hot investment. Companies are going to buy and build more cold storage. And you say: “Well, that hurts efficiency. It’s going to drive up prices.” I think what we learned was food is so cheap in the U.S., with only 6.4 percent of our income being spent on food. We can probably throw a few more nickels per pound at pork chops to make sure we have them.

I believe that we’ll probably build up a bigger supply, and we’ll put a little more slack in the system — a little less J.I.T. and a little bit more slack. That’s my observation. However, we always, then, in food production, get back to: “How cheap can we make it?” And I think we should probably get more of: “How much can we build some slack in the system or put more supply in there, should we have more of these disruptions?”

DAN FRIEBERG: And to your point, Damian, there’s a lot of the commodity grains that have been what the U.S. has exported around the world. It seems like world trade is going to be redone, and I don’t know what we become. There’s a lot of talk about manufacturing being brought back to the country and that, post-COVID, every country might become less dependent on other countries.

DAMIAN MASON: Yeah, well, what happens? You go through a big scare, and then you say: “What did we learn there?” It’s a little bit like: “huff and puff and blow your house down.” I’m never going to be dependent on somebody else. I’m going to be more prepared. It takes a big scare to, then, say: “What are we? The three little pigs?” Remember, everything in life goes back to the three little pigs: the straw house, the twig house, the brick house.

The better you can build your brick house, the more you can, then, be insulated from foreign shocks, from derechos, from trade wars, from threats of war, whatever that should be. The thing is, over time, you tend to let your guard down. We probably, as the United States of America — this is one thing that I’ve been saying to my audiences for a long time — we are an export-driven ag because we’ve got 330 million people. There are 7.7 billion people on Earth. For years and years and years — centuries, in fact — we saw that we could make more food than we could ever use here, for the last several years anyway, and there are other countries that can’t.

Renee, Dan, let’s face it: Ukraine learned how to grow corn, and Brazil learned how to grow soybeans. So, the idea that we’re always just going to be able to put stuff on a barge and find somebody that’ll give us money for it is, frankly, a little short-sighted. And so, that’s where I say: “Let’s embrace the idea that our consumers will pay more and will want a more diverse product and possibly will, after things like this and threats of war and trade strife, buy an American product and pay more for it.” Now, will they pay more for an American soybean versus a Brazilian soybean? They don’t know the difference. So, it’s going to have to be the next thing beyond that, the value-added product that we can pitch and push and promote as an American value-add.

RENEE HANSEN: So, if there’s going to be so much surplus, farmers now are trying to be more efficient. They’re trying to grow more. They’re trying to get higher yields. What do you see happening? Do you think that farmers are going to start creating more diversity with the farms that they currently have? Because it’s hard to grow. And in this age right now, too, farmland is very expensive — unless you’re a large operation or you have the funds. You are able to purchase more land. What is your perspective on growing more with what you have or becoming more diversified?

DAMIAN MASON: The future is two things: it’s specialization — a niche product — or it’s a commodity, big-scale commodity. But to your point, using your product: precision agricultural data analysis. More output per acre through good data, right? That’s what your product is. That’s what your company does. It helps a farm operator get more out of the inputs, the nutrients and the dollars that they put into each acre. They get out of it. What is probably going to happen with an environment of environmentalism — and this is only going to steep up, and I’m not getting into political stuff, but I keep up — certain forces that are political want to be more involved in agriculture, more of a thumb on us to be what we’re allowed to eat.

Remember, there’s a certain young congresswoman from New York who preaches about cow farts and how there should be rations on how much burger we should be allowed to eat. So, if that’s the case, agriculture has a real opportunity. Your customers and your prospect of customers have a real opportunity here, Renee and Dan, to say: “Listen, here’s my environmental story. I took 10 percent of my most environmentally-sensitive acres out of production, and I enrolled them with the government conservation reserve program. And I could do that because my 90 percent more productive acres that are less environmentally sensitive are more maximized. In fact, I’m getting the exact same output off of all of my properties, all of my operation, as I did with 100 percent just with 90 percent because I am maximizing the output using better precision ag and data analysis and better practices.”

There will be less acres cultivated moving forward in the United States of America because of the environmental lobby, but also those lobbies, then, do tend to get government action. About two months ago, I got a solicitation from the government, NRCS, saying that if I had any land along a creek or river, I could put it in a 30-year conservation program. Now, up until now, Dan and Renee — you probably know this — it’s generally been a 10-year enrollment or maybe a 15-year enrollment. There is now a 30-year enrollment for certain environmentally-sensitive acres that also has rent escalators built in. Just like if I owned a shopping mall or a strip center, there would be rent bumps after a certain period of time. So, I think we’re going to see more of that.

DAN FRIEBERG: Damian, a part of your business is really focused on audiences and meetings. So, how do you adapt? How do you adapt, and how soon do you think you’ll be back on the road?

DAMIAN MASON: Yeah, it’s tough because one of my big things I was talking about is reinvention, and I know you’ve got to always do what you can to stay relevant to your customers. You’ve got to meet them where they are, not where you are. That’s one of my big points to agriculture. Again, they’re at Whole Foods. They’re at farmer’s markets. They’re at the Kroger still, but they’re not there just saying: “How cheap? How cheap?” American agriculture tends to think that because we’re cheap, we think our customers are cheap or whatever. They think we value production and quantity and how many bushels per acre we think they do. Well, they don’t care. They don’t know what a bushel even is. They don’t know that at least 56 pounds for No. 2 yellow corn and all those kinds of things.

I’ve got to meet my customers where they are. So, right now, my people still want me to deliver my commentary, my future, my outlook, my business ideas about the business of agriculture in a comedic fashion. I’m doing it sometimes on Zoom calls. I’m doing it virtually, and I’m doing less of it. We will get back to having live meetings because there is a human thing. An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday talked about the “pandemic fatigue,” as much as the scared class wants everybody to stay home and stay scared. I’m sorry. Stay home and stay tuned. Oh, I’m sorry. Stay home and stay safe. See, that’s really what I think it is.

Their idea I hear is people saying: “We’re never going to have meetings again.” Well, the Marriott still thinks there’s going to be and the Hyatt and the Hilton and the Westin. The corporate audiences are still going to do that. That will come back. Will I do as many meetings, one year from now, as I used to do? Probably not, but we’re still going to do some online stuff, and I’ve got a few other ventures that I’m dabbling into because that’s the reality. You’ve got to move. You’ve got to change, and the more important thing is you’ve got to meet the customers where they are. I started by saying that with our recording, that we’re a consumer business. All businesses are.

I tell everybody the best thing to remember is every dollar you’re going to make the rest of your life is someone else’s dollar right now. And so, be adaptive. It is a challenge. It’s been a challenge for me because, also, the rug got pulled out in a very quick fashion. We woke up on March 13th, and my wife said: “Did you check your email?” I said: “No, I’m making you coffee.” I had just gotten home the evening before from South Dakota. And she says: “The next five events are all canceled.” And then the next five after that, and the next five after that.

So, the rug got pulled up pretty promptly, and that’s an extreme situation. My sister-in-law owns a gym with her husband, and their business got rocked. Imagine if you were in the movie theaters business. 7,800 movie theaters, according to an article I read — two-thirds of them might reopen. Think about that. One-third of movie theaters are never going to reopen, according to what the predictions are, maybe less.

We’re all in a predicament, in terms of that. Now, the good thing about agriculture? Acres still get planted. In places like where you are, in Iowa, and Indiana, where I am, we get adequate precipitation. We still are probably going to be okay. We still have a certain demand. Our challenges are usually more about managing low prices and overproduction. That’s not all bad. It beats the heck out of the alternative, as we saw. We’re all dealing with some of the adaptations. I used to make a living dressed up as Bill Clinton, going to corporate events and standing on stage, saying: “How y’all doing? How y’all doing? I feel your pain. Hey, darling, let me show you what I do like to feel.” Anyway, I’ve made changes before to my career.

DAN FRIEBERG: Well, I think there could be a boom in meetings. I mean, just a pent-up boom because you go a year-and-a-half — or whatever we’re going to, a year — without it. I think people are going to be anxious to get back.

DAMIAN MASON: Now, I wondered that also. I said 2021. There’s enough scare, and I’m not altogether convinced that it’s pure. I think that there’s a certain amount of posturing and power grab going on to keep the electorate scared. But, yeah, what you’re talking about is pent-up demand, and there’s one thing we know about humans. They’re saying: “Oh, there’s pandemic fatigue.” Or: “Oh, I want to go see grandma.” Well, we’re worried about getting grandma sick. Well, grandma finally says: “I’m going to be dying in a nursing home. One of these days, I’d rather let my grandchildren come and see me at the risk that I get coronavirus.” So, there’s that reality.

You talk about pent-up demand. We’ve seen this before. In times of austerity, then, there’s that pendulum swinging back. You can remember this because we’re all old enough to remember this. There was a time when red meat consumption kept declining, and it was the scare tactics. It was probably not completely scientific. There was always a group. Remember, if there’s a crisis, there’s usually a group that’s profiting by perpetuating the crisis.

We were never going to eat steak again. And then, fast forward to things got really good. Remember the dot-coms and all that stuff? Late nineties? Every city in America opened up three new steakhouses, and I’m going: “Wait a minute. In the eighties, they told us we were never going to eat steak again.” Now, there’s a Sullivan’s and a Ruth’s Chris and this one in every town — Des Moines, Indianapolis, you name it. So, I’ve seen the pendulum swing before: austerity for very long, then, creates this thing where, then, people are like: “No. Done.” And then, it’s the other way around.

You’re right. We could end up, by a year or so from now, with people like: “Screw it. I participated in the pandemic. I’ve been through enough Clorox wipes to fill a landfill. I’m going out, and I’m going to have us a meeting.” Your customers want to get together. Your employees probably would like to do that. So, there’s a human factor, too. There’s no question that people want that. I remember, after 9/11, I saw it. With 9/11, people did not want to get on a plane. They did not want to be in a building that was of any size. And then, eventually, they said: “I’m not going to live in fear.” Now, some still did, but not the bulk of the people. They said: “Yeah, we’re not going to live like this. I still want to be a human.”

RENEE HANSEN: That’s kind of the pendulum swing with commodity prices, too.

DAMIAN MASON: We saw the swing where, probably — and I’m not a grain marketing person. I got a C in Ag Econ 320, which was grain marketing. I find it to be hideously boring. If you give me economics stuff, consumer outlook stuff, that’s my real direction. Sitting and staring at a computer screen all day and then getting excited over a three-cent move in the soybean markets? I’ve pointed it out before. These people that do that? I’d have to have some sort of pile of drugs right here just to make my life interesting if I had to sit and look at a screen all day and manage three-cent moves in the soybean market.

Being that said that I’m not a commodities marketing guy, we just ran up 10 percent and 25 percent on the corn, right? You can sell corn for 25 percent more, roughly, than you could just in July, let’s say. How would you think that it’s going to go that much again? If it were me, and I had an operation to run, I’d be looking at trying to forward contract everything for next year, also, because a long time ago, somebody smart told me: “You don’t go broke. Your business doesn’t go under by taking profits.”

So, I think that we’re probably where we’re going to be. Also, what fundamentals are going to change? Are we going to have another billion people on Earth? That’s been a prediction I’ve been hearing my whole life. No. Did the pandemic create a baby boom? No, actually divorce rates are up 34 percent. Divorce filings are up 34 percent in the United States. People didn’t stay home and make babies. They stayed home and decided they didn’t like each other.

We’re not going to have a population boom in the whole globe. In fact, for the next year, the economic devastation will cause us to eat less meat because in my book, “Food Fear,” I talk about this. The last time we saw meat declines in developed countries was during the recession between ‘08 and ‘12 to ‘14. Meat consumption went down by 10 percent here in the United States. If meat consumption goes down 10 percent here, what’s it doing to a lesser developed country, a country that’s more harmed economically by the pandemic, that didn’t have a government throw $6 trillion of relief at it?

Let’s say their meat consumption goes, and they don’t eat but half of what we eat anyhow. Let’s say their meat consumption goes down by 20 percent, and they only eat half as much meat as us anyhow, but it’s a country like India, let’s say. Now, corn and soybeans become meat. If those countries are eating less meat, why would corn and soybean prices remain high?

So, I believe that, if it were me and I was a commodity producer, I would take advantage of this marketplace to sell as much stuff forward as possible because I’m looking at it. Again, I’m an observer. Comedy taught me to be an observer. I know what meat consumption does, and I know these economic situations we’re living in right now. They keep saying a “V-shaped recovery.” We’ve been saying that since March. How can that be? A “V” doesn’t go from March until Halloween. I think that we’re going to have economic hardship, globally, for quite some time.

People are saying: “Yeah, but why would that hurt meat consumption?” Well, beef, for instance — most beef is consumed away from the home, not in the home, and that’s in the United States. Presumably, it’s that way in Ireland, as well. That’s why meat consumption patterns are going to change a bit. That’s my observation. Every observation, I can give you a reason for “why,” the data behind it. That’s what I always tell everybody. You can disagree, but don’t think that I haven’t at least pulled the data.

RENEE HANSEN: Well, and I would agree. I do agree with that because you do. And you reference it a ton in your book, “Food Fear.” So, I’d love for our audience to check out Damian Mason’s book, titled “Food Fear.” And Damian, why don’t you just tell our audience how they can get ahold of you?

DAMIAN MASON: All right, they can go to damianmason.com. If they happen to be watching, it’s on the screen right behind me. But if they’re not watching, they’re just listening, it’s Damian: D-A-M-I-A-N. Damian Mason, like a bricklayer: damianmason.com. I’m on every social media format. That’s not true. I don’t do Tik Tok. I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I got a fan page there. Check it out. I’ve got LinkedIn, the whole deal, but also my website. I put up videos on YouTube. You can go to YouTube, Damian Mason channel, and hit subscribe. And you’ll see the videos that I put out with various commentary and whatnot. I would love for you to do so, and I very much appreciate you having me on today.

RENEE HANSEN: Yes, we really appreciate your time today, too. Thank you so much for all of your information and trends and knowledge that you continue to share.


RENEE HANSEN: Thanks for listening to the Premier Podcast, where everything agronomic is economic. Please subscribe, rate and review this podcast, so we can continue to provide the best precision ag and analytic results for you. And to learn more about Premier Crop, visit our blog at premiercrop.com.


Free Resources:

016: Examples of Agronomics and Economics

grower and advisor

In this Premier Podcast episode, we’re talking with Matt Bowers, Premier Crop’s Eastern Strategic Account Manager and Kimberly Beachy, with ProTech Partners in Indiana. Matt and Kimberly discuss the top three examples of agronomics and economics.

MATT BOWERS: I am the Strategic Account Manager for the eastern business unit for Premier Crop Systems. I recently joined the Premier Crop team earlier this year after working in the seed industry. I grew up in western Ohio on a family farm and currently reside in central Ohio with my family. And today, I’m speaking with Kimberly Beachy from ProTech Partners in Indiana.

KIMBERLY BEACHY: I am an agronomist at ProTech Partners. I work with growers mainly in southern Michigan and northern Indiana. I’ve been with ProTech just over four years and have previous experience in seed production and product stewardship. I grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Newton County, Indiana. Nice, good, black dirt like they have out in Iowa, I found my love of agriculture there. I went to Purdue and got a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and then continued my education at Iowa State. I have a master’s degree in seed technology and business through their online program. My family enjoys spending time outside. We spend a lot of time outside on the playset with my husband and my daughter.

MATT BOWERS: Good. Well, I don’t have as much black dirt where I’m at in Ohio, but it sounds like a good background of growing up on the farm. Today, Kimberly and I are going to discuss examples agronomics and economics.” And I was wondering if you could start out with telling us how ProTech Partners help their growers focus on the agronomics, as well as the economics.

KIMBERLY BEACHY: Let’s first define those two things. What is agronomics? That’s everything that we do in the field that’s making good management decisions. It’s deciding how much fertilizer to apply and where we’re going to put it, planting rates, crop protection, tillage systems and how we incorporate all of this into the farm. All of those things is how we grow our crop. The economics side of it is the money. I mean, farming is a business, and just like any other business, you want to make sure that the money coming in is greater than the money going out so you get to farm again next year. That’s the goal for the farmers that I work with. They just want to do it again next year.

So, how does ProTech focus on agronomics and economics? We do that by analyzing their data. And we use that knowledge to help them make decisions on their farm. We’ve been collecting data on the farm for years, not just in spatial data like yield files or with prescription mapping, but through grid sampling. It’s another spatial data collection, and also record-keeping.

Knowing what we’ve done on the farm in the last five, 10, 15, 20 years can be really valuable knowledge as we plan into the future. But if we never take that data and use it to make decisions, then it’s not doing us any good. It’s important to take the time investment of collecting your farm data and made a return using your data. Our ProTech advisors work with the growers to analyze the farmers field data. We add their costs to the layers of data including their product cost, operations cost, management cost if they have any land-specific cost, and tie that to their yield file so we can really see what is making sense on the farm from an agronomics and economics standpoint.

It’s really pretty easy to tell if something yields better, right? You see a bump on your yield monitor, but it’s a lot harder to know if that yield bump also had a little bump in the pocket book. I mean, if it paid for itself or if a decision we made is a cause to the yield bump, maybe we didn’t produce enough bushels to offset the cost. That’s where ProTech can step in and really drive that home, making sure we’re making economic decisions, not just sound agronomic decisions.

MATT BOWERS: Okay, so we’re not necessarily all about the bright green or dark green, I should say, spot in that yield monitor. We’ve got to see what’s tied behind there and what’s backing that up, right? It sounds like ProTech has a nice program to help growers really look into their farm as a business because that’s what farming is. It’s a business, right?

What I hear you saying, though, is that every pass across the field matters agronomically, but it also has a cost associated with it. And that’s something that we need to manage and look throughout the year. So, can you give me maybe your top three examples of  agronomics and economics in your opinion, when you’re going out and you’re meeting with your growers?



KIMBERLY BEACHY: I think the best way to look at it and take us through this process is to think of the growing season. I want to touch on planting, fertilizer and also a crop protection fungicide pass. We’ll hit those in the order that they happen. So, first off, let’s talk about planting. That’s when we take the seed out of the bag. It has the highest yield potential that it’s ever going to have.

So, everything that we do is to try to protect that yield potential. Planting population is a big part of that. If you overcrowd your plants, you’re going to make them compete for resources, and you’ll reduce your yields because they’re competing with each other. There are not enough nutrients out there and not enough food to feed those plants, but on the flip side, if you have too low of a population, then you’re reducing your yield potential by not having enough out there in the first place. You can’t produce bushels of corn if you never plant the seed to begin with. So, with the planting side of it, tying agronomics to economics is about finding that right rate in the right part of the field, and we do that with management zones.

Within ProTech, a management zone is not just a seeding rate like it is in a lot of other places. We truly manage the field and the operation off of those zones. So, we break our fields into high-producing areas, which are A zones, and lower-producing areas that just don’t do as well, maybe it’s a wet spot, or it’s shaded by trees, or there’s a family of deer that lives next door and likes to eat it all the time.

MATT BOWERS: You must be talking about Ohio there, then, because we have the deer spots, and every field is ringed with trees.

KIMBERLY BEACHY: Yep, and that’s why you just have that C zone around the outside of your field, then. But we have those areas, and then the middle, kind of those average-productivity areas, we’ll label as a B. It’s pretty consistent. Year in and year out, it does pretty well, but it doesn’t have the capability to be those rockstar areas of the field, where we’re going to see maybe even 400 bushels on a yield monitor when we go through them. So, we break our field into management zones, and then we manage nearly everything we do based on those zones. So, in an A zone — those are our high-producing areas — we’re going to push our planting populations in those areas. We’re going to plant more seeds because those parts of the fields have the capability to produce more bushels.

In the C zones, we’re going to pull back our population. We know those spots, whether it’s animal feeding or shading, or it’s a wet spot or a sand hole, something causes it to not have the yield potential. It’s something that we can’t fix. If we can get a part of the field from a C zone to a B zone, or a B zone to an A zone, with fertilizer or any management practice, we will do that. Those C zones are C zones because that’s just what they are. That’s the best they can do. So, by labeling it a C zone and understanding that part of the field is not going to produce as well, we can manage our risk there by lowering our planting population.

That will save us money on seed cost. To tie it back to the economics, by lowering our population, we have reduced seed cost, which helps our bottom line.


MATT BOWERS: The fertilizer ties along with that, then, if we’re lowering our population where we’re lowering our fertilizer. Maybe we’re not lowering all-over cost, but we’re translocating those to the A zone, right?


MATT BOWERS: And moving those over and spending where our bang for our buck is more beneficial, right?

KIMBERLY BEACHY: Yeah, and I’ve had that conversation with a lot of growers. When variable-rate technologies came out, the discussion was: “Oh, it’s going to save you money. We’re going to reduce your fertilizer usage.”

We found that’s not the case. What we’ve done is we’re better investing that planting dollar or that fertilizer dollar. We’re putting it in the areas of the field where it needs it, where we can get a return on that investment. So, we’re really driving farming into that business idea, where we want to see a return on every dollar we spend. With farming, in general, if we’re doing a straight rate across the field, we’re treating every acre the same, and we know that that’s not the case. Every acre is not the same because when we drive through the field, even if you don’t use a yield monitor, you can see variation in the amount of loads you’re taking off. I mean, you can tell how good the corn is or how bad it is as you’re driving across the field.

So, why would we treat that the same on our input side if we’re not taking the same amount off of it at the end of the day? And that’s how variable-rate technology lets us do that. And that’s why it’s so important to tie it into not just planting but also into your fertilizer, and that’s how we really do tie the agronomics and economics in agriculture.

MATT BOWERS: So, your second reason — you’ve kind of got into that there because you’re tying it with the population, with your fertilizer and variable rate and our fertilizer rates, as well. Is that also — for you, with your growers — is that also with nitrogen in how you handle nitrogen?

KIMBERLY BEACHY: Yes. I started talking about it because it all ties together. You do need to factor in your planting population when you’re determining your nitrogen rates. If you invite more plants to dinner, you have to have enough food to feed them. So, if we have a higher population in our A zones, we need to account for the added food that they’re going to need, the added nutrients and dry fertilizer and nitrogen, especially. We need to increase that nitrogen rate in those A zones. And I think we can also push the nitrogen rates a little higher in the A zones because we have the capability to produce more bushels, not just because of the higher population but just because the ground is better. By pushing that, yes, you’re taking a little bit more risk, but it’s a smart risk.

By pushing your nitrogen rates in your A zones, you have a better opportunity to have a return on that nitrogen dollar than you would if you were pushing nitrogen rates in your C zones. So, that’s really how we focus on it. It’s looking at our nitrogen, how our nitrogen is used in the field. We could go out and apply at a straight rate, but we’re going to be overfeeding our poor-production areas and underfeeding our high-production areas. Really, if we feed to the average, then we’re missing out on high-end yields, and we’re overspending on those low-end yields.


MATT BOWERS: Great. Now, you had mentioned fungicide passes and looking at fungicides. And I know you and I have had some conversations based around fungicides and timing in years and how the weather is that year and what stage the corn or the soybeans are at. So, why don’t you touch on a little bit of that, as far as electing that pass and the cost and the benefits of what that would be.

KIMBERLY BEACHY: And I have a great example of that from this year. Where I’m at in northern Indiana and southern Michigan, we’re kind of in that epicenter of tar spot. It started here a few years ago. We’ve had really high infection rates in fields the last couple of years, and we can really see the value of fungicide. But we have to make sure we’re spending that money wisely, that we have to look at the year.

So, to have a disease infect — I mean, in college, we learn about the disease triangle or, in a plant pathology class, you learn about the disease triangle — you have to have the host and the pathogen. Up here, we have that. We have corn, and we have tar spot. We have that pathogen, but what we don’t always have is the right environment. There are instances where applying just a plant fungicide pass is the right way to go. And I had plant fungicide passes in my high-production corn, especially with the high-production fields that are irrigated, because they’re going to have more leaf wetness from that irrigation water.

But where it’s a little harder to make those calls is on your tougher acre. I have a grower that has some high-production irrigated fields that his yields can be, I mean, phenomenal, averaging 250 or higher across the field. But he also has some ground where, if it doesn’t rain, he’s going to be happy to hit 100-150 bushels per acre because it’s really sandy, dry soil. And those are the acres that you don’t always think about as being important when it comes financially. But if you’re not making as much money off of it, then you can’t treat it. You can’t spend as much money on it, either.

For the tar spot this year, one of those tougher fields that he has was planted at the end of May. When I did my last fungicide check on it, it was the end of July. We didn’t have any disease out there. We, were looking at what’s in the field and looking at the weather that we had up to that point. It’d been a dry summer. It’d been kind of hot, so he’d already lost some yield potential there. Looking at the forecast, it was supposed to be hot and dry. We weren’t going to have the conditions that were necessary for tar spot to really take off. So, we decided that it wasn’t economical to make that fungicide pass.

Well, fast forward a few weeks, he sent me a picture from a leaf in that field, and it had tar spot on it. And the weather changed, and it got a little cooler. It was rainier. We had some leaf wetness, extended periods of leaf wetness in that field, and the tar spot that was in the area took off on his corn. But at that point, it was too late in the season to make a fungicide application. So, that’s where, working with an advisor, it’s not just thinking about the agronomics.

If I was just thinking about selling a product, I would say: “Yes, spray the fungicide.” If I was just thinking about what’s best for that corn, the fungicide is good. But, we have to also think about what’s best for that farmer. What’s best for that farm as a business? And that’s where, this year, that fungicide application just didn’t make sense. And yes, we did have the disease come in, but we’re going to manage. Now we know that it’s in the field because tar spot does live in the residue. The spores can overwinter in the crop residues, so we know what we have to do to manage that for future seasons.

MATT BOWERS: And because it came in so late. And, yes, it was there, but economically, even if you sprayed at that time, you probably weren’t going to see the benefits of what you usually would, had that infection come in earlier in the season when that plant wasn’t already headed to maturity, right?



MATT BOWERS: Looking at these examples, why are analytics so important to dive into once we’ve finished out the year? The combines run through. We’ve got some results coming in. Tell me about that.

KIMBERLY BEACHY: Analytics is how we look at that data. We pull your yield monitor data off. We look at everything you’ve done through the year. Whether it’s fertilizer, lime, your planting, any other nutrients you put down or crop protection products. We really dig in and see what the economic benefit was of that, if you had check blocks out there.

For planting, built right into my planting maps, I’ll put in little test plots for the grower. It’s built right into the prescription, called a learning block. And we use that information to check higher and lower populations within a management zone to see if we have the right rate. I can go out and tell you: “You need to plant 35,000 under the pivot. That’s what you’re going to do, and I’m right because I’m right.” But we need to prove that we’re right. And we need to prove that what we’re doing is the best thing that we can do. There’s a lot that goes into agriculture. I mean, weather is a huge factor, and we can’t control everything.

Even if you are pretty locked in on what that population is, having different checks in a field through different years, you can use that historical data, then, to check and say: “Yeah, in this year, if we’re looking at a cold, wet spring, this is the best population for me to go with.” And we can learn that and look back on that data. Even if we don’t use it the next year, we still have that historical information.

The nice thing about the learning blocks is it’s not just going to tell us what yielded better. I mean, it will tell us what had a better yield, the high or the low population, but it’s also going to tell us which one had a better return on the investment. So, did we produce enough bushels with a higher population to offset the added seed cost? We can find that out. Really, on our end, it does take some work, but it’s a lot easier than piecing through all of your data and trying to do it on your own.

MATT BOWERS: So, with that in mind, growers are busy. They are going from one thing to the next, and there’s always something to do, right? With analytics, sometimes, going through the data and sifting through it can be a headache and something that is so tedious that they’ve got better things to spend their time on out on the farm. So, is that something that ProTech Partners and yourself, that you guys can help manage and pull out the things that the farmer needs?

KIMBERLY BEACHY: We go get the data. We clean it up. We put it in the system. They just need to hit “record” when they’re running through the field and let us know what they’re doing. And then, I ask my growers. I have an idea of what I want to show them at the end of the year. Once I’ve analyzed their data, I want to know what they want to learn from it, too. So, I ask them throughout the season: “What do you want to learn? What questions do you have?” Because we have the tools within our system to ask any question we want, really. Any question that we ask we can find an answer to.

It’s not just about figuring out what I think is best or my decision about: “Well, I think this is what we should do. I think this is the best option going forward.” That’s part of it, but there’s also teamwork with their grower there to decide what’s important to the grower. And they tell me what’s important to them, and then the best part is I go find the answers for them. And I come back with a nice, little, concise report and show it to them, and then we chat and make decisions from there.

MATT BOWERS: That sounds great. Yeah, not every operation is the same. Not every operation has the same goals. Everybody thinks everybody is after max bushels, and that’s not always the case. It depends on the grower, right? So, if you could take and tie this all in a bow and explain how it all comes together for planning for next year, how does that look?

KIMBERLY BEACHY: We start planning for the next year’s crop. We’re already doing that. As we start seeing harvest data, we’ve already put all of the other activities from the year into our system. So, once we get that yield file, we’re able to get it entered and go and really start help driving decisions. I’ll look at things and make sure that we’re doing the right thing with our fertilizer. That’s a big part of my responsibility with my customers. It’s giving them fertilizer recommendations, giving them seeding recommendations. So, those are the questions I’m really making sure I want to answer. If I didn’t have the best rate, well, what’s the best rate going forward for next year, so we can make changes into our crop plan for 2020?

It’s a “do it and check it” process. We go out and do something, and we check our work, and then we make corrections for the following year. And we try new things if we have something out there. As an example, I have a low-productivity field. One of those ones on the sand that didn’t yield 100 bushels this year on it because it was tough ground. It’s like a beach. And we had some low, what I felt was pretty low, populations. The field average was right around a 20,000 planting population. I put some learning blocks in there for checks down to 16,000. Though I want to take that a step further next year.

Just by being in the field and looking at the crop, I could tell that we were over. Our population was too high for a dry year. So, what can we do? We’ll lower it a little bit on our prescription next year, but we can then add in more learning blocks to test it even lower. And depending on how crazy the grower wants to get, we’ll maybe test the limits of his planter and see how low he can go.


KIMBERLY BEACHY: Because that learning block is a small area. It’s a small area too, and it’s built right in. So, they just have to okay it on the front end when I create the map. Once that prescription is in their monitor, they just have to go. It’s very little thinking on their part, but we’re constantly checking our work. ProTech is different in the fact that our agronomists — we go in the fields. Most of our ProTech programs include scouting. The agronomists are the ones going out in the fields doing the scouting.

We’re also doing the soil sampling, creating the recommendations. And we’re not just seeing what’s happening on paper or on the computer screen. We’re out there living it in the field with the crop. And we do take pride in being able to check that for the grower. ProTech is different from other precision ag companies because we truly manage by our management zones.

It’s not just a seeding rate. So, when I talked earlier about how we tie our planting rates to our nitrogen rates, we’re also doing that with our dry fertilizer. We manage our dry fertilizer based off of those management zones, as well. We’re pushing fertilizer rates in the A zone, maybe looking for higher soil-test levels, reaching for higher soil-test levels. But in the C zones, where we’re not going to produce as many bushels, we don’t need as much. We don’t have as much crop removal, so we don’t need as much fertilizer in general. And that’s one of the things that sets us apart. We don’t just go out there and make a recommendation based on a country’s worth of knowledge.

ProTech believes that agronomy is local. And what we do here in Indiana and Michigan is a lot different than what guys do in Iowa. Go further out west into Nebraska and Kansas. There are different crops, different amounts of irrigation, different soil types. We do what’s best for our growers here because that’s what’s best for our growers. We know that based on our experience in the field, in this area.

MATT BOWERS: So Kimberly, what I hear you saying about ProTech is that you guys work on a sub-acre level. You’re not just looking at an entire farm’s collective yield data and results at the end of the year, or even just that field. You’re looking at the results in each management zone that you guys set up. Is that what I heard you say?

KIMBERLY BEACHY: Yes, that’s correct. When we really dig into the data, we’re not looking at it by the home field versus the back 40. We look at the A zones across those two fields or across the fields on the whole operation and compare those A zones. We also compare the B zones and C zones because we want to do apples-to-apples comparisons. If you’re comparing a whole field against another whole field, there could be differences. One could have irrigation. Soil types could be drastically different. Then you’re not comparing apples to apples. So, by comparing those management zones to each other within a field, you really can narrow in on what is best for those particular acres.

MATT BOWERS: Great. Well, Kimberly, we’ve had some great information that you’ve provided us today. Hopefully, the growers have some good questions that they might be asking themselves about their own operation. How and where can growers find you and get ahold of you?

KIMBERLY BEACHY: Well, I am on Twitter @Kimberly_Beachy, but I’m not very active. So, it’s probably easier to get ahold of me by email. That is kbeachy@frickservices.com. And then if you want to learn more about ProTech, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Our Twitter handle is @ProTechAgronomy, and we have a website at protechpartners.net.

MATT BOWERS: Great. Well, thanks, Kimberly, and thanks, everyone out there, for listening. And, as always, remember to be safe out there and make it home tonight.

Thanks for listening to the Premier Podcast, where everything agronomic is economic. Please subscribe, rate and review this podcast so we can continue to provide the best precision ag and analytic results for you. And to learn more about Premier Crop, visit our blog at premiercrop.com.


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015: Utilizing Your Yield Monitor and Yield Data

yield monitor
Today we are talking with Dan and Renee about the significance of using a yield monitor in the field to gather your yield data. 
About Dan: Founder and current VP of Technical Services. Since founding PCS in 1999, Dan has witnessed many changes and transitions in the ag data industry.
If you are enjoying the show, tweet us using #PremierPodcast.

RENEE HANSEN: Today, we’re talking with Dan Frieberg, and we’re talking about yield monitors and how Premier Crop can help support a grower while utilizing their yield monitor. Dan, can you just explain a little bit about how growers can notice differences in the field, whether it’s a good spot or a bad spot?

DAN FRIEBERG: What’s happened over the last 22 years, since we’ve been in business, is yield monitors have become really commonplace. Almost every combine now would have a yield monitor, but a lot of growers don’t really use them very effectively. It’s almost like some people use it just as a way to measure moisture, to keep track of moisture and direct grain. It’s where the grain is going based on moisture. Somebody else described yield monitors as “Harvest TV.” It’s just something they look at as they go through the field. I would tell you that every grower has seen 90-bushel beans, and every grower has seen upward to 250-bushel to 300-bushel corn in some part of the field. They’ve seen those numbers flash in good years.

For me, if I’m a grower, what I want to do is, if I had the time — I mean, if it weren’t so rushed in harvest — I would love to stop the combine and figure out what in the world is going on in that part of the field. What makes that part of the field so much more productive than the rest of the field?

When they go through the really low-yielding parts of the field, generally, they have an idea already. They remember the growing season. They saw that area. It had weed escapes, or it was moisture-stressed. So, a lot of times, they know because of soil differences. They know the lower-yielding areas. Sometimes, though, with the super high-yielding areas, they’re unsure. They know their sweet spots in the field, but they don’t know what makes them a sweet spot.

So, one of the foundation pieces that we like to do with yield monitor data is just put that data file, the yield monitor data file, together with a whole bunch of other layers of data and really try to help the grower see the differences in the field beyond. The yield monitor tells a story, but you really don’t get the complete story until you combine it with the rest of the data. So, for us, it’s a big foundational piece, but a lot of growers aren’t using their yield data. I think it’s just because nobody’s ever led them to understand how they could use it, all the different ways they could use the yield data to their advantage.

RENEE HANSEN: I was riding in the tractor earlier this fall with my husband, and his dad was running the combine. His dad was seeing 90-bushel beans, and the field actually ended up doing record-high soybean yield in his lifetime. And he’s 73, and he’s never seen beans that high. And so, you mentioned you would want to stop. What would you do if you weren’t so rushed? What would you do to stop and look at, when seeing the yield monitor hit 90 in beans?

premiercrop in the tractor

DAN FRIEBERG: For me, Renee, a lot of times, it’s what’s below ground. I want to know what is different about that area. And, most of the time, that difference is underground. It’s a combination of what you might learn off of a soil test. It could be soil-type related. Sometimes, it’s really hard to understand. What we try to do, though, is identify those consistently high-yielding spots.

Year after year, there’s something about that area. A lot of times, Renee, the topsoil is deep there. What’s called the A horizon, the very first layer of topsoil, that is really deep there. The reason I know that is because, in a dry year, they have enough topsoil that they have enough water holding capacity in that area of field to carry it through a dry year. They also tend to be well-drained because, in a wet year, the water is not going to stand there. So, they’re well-drained because of natural slope, or they’re well-drained because of soil structure. Or they could be well-drained because of tile, but they tend to be well-drained, as well. So, I automatically know those two pieces usually fit together. In those areas, you’re not hitting the clay layer right away. You have enough topsoil to carry it through the dry year.

For us, those areas just beg. They beg to be managed more aggressively. There’s a lot of growers who — just in general, we climb, in yield, a couple of bushels on corn, maybe a bushel on soybeans. Just nationally, we tend to be on this upward trend over the last 20 years. We try to talk to growers about how, if you’re going to take the next leap, if your farm average — let’s say your farm average on soybeans this year is 65, and you want to move your farm average to consistently above 70, don’t the best areas of your field have to get in the 90-bushel range? If you’re going to climb five bushel across your entire operation, I’m guessing the best areas have to do more than five bushel because the worst areas, they may be maxed out already.

So, climbing up, being able to continue to climb overall yields, it probably means the best areas have to do even better. We just love to use the yield file as a way to quantify those areas. And then those become areas that we’re just much more aggressive, much more aggressive with everything, to try to take them to that next yield plateau.

RENEE HANSEN: You also mentioned utilizing more than just this year of yield files and using more historic yield to layer more years of yield and data. So, why would that be so beneficial to utilize your yield monitor, to continue to put in all these years of data? Because the grower already has it, they have years and years of data, probably on a jump drive or maybe in the monitor. What can they do to utilize all of those years, and how easy is it to get it into a system like Premier Crop?

DAN FRIEBERG: We try to make it as easy as possible. We love to grab that historic yield data. If there’s one piece of data that growers have a lot of, it’s historic yield data. It’s on thumb drives in a desk drawer. Who knows where it is, but the grower knows. It could be in a Ziploc bag, and it’s just a combination of all these different devices they’ve had over the years. But we just love to grab it because it starts to let you see spatial differences, differences within the field and consistent differences. If you have more than one year, the reason you want to look at more than one year is just to be able to see consistency over different weather patterns.

There are always outliers in data. Yield files aren’t perfect because there can be man-made differences in a yield file, meaning, for example, you could have a hybrid or variety change that creates an artificial. Like one variety fell out of bed and just didn’t do well, and that area of the field looks bad, but it had nothing to do with the area of the field. It had everything to do with the genetic issue. There’s always an outlier, so the more years of yield data, the more you can sort out the outliers. You can sort out the year that had the windstorm or the year that had the hail event or whatever. It lets you have more — the more years, the more confidence.

premier crop actual yield history

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, you make a great point. It’s not only about the yield monitor, but it’s also about what you can visually see. Can you talk about a little bit of the myths of the yield monitor? I feel like some growers just may not trust what is coming off of their yield data.

DAN FRIEBERG: I imagine if I’m a grower, and I’m 10 years into this yield monitor thing. I’ve never used my yield data to make a decision, pretty soon I quit caring. Why would I calibrate my yield monitor when I’ve never used it? I mean, I’ve never really used it.

RENEE HANSEN: It’s like not having a score at a sporting event. Who’s going to care who scores next if you can’t see the scoreboard? Nobody knows. You need that score.

DAN FRIEBERG: That’s where we’re at. Once we start working with a grower who hasn’t cared about his yield data, and he actually start seeing why it matters, then, all of a sudden, he cares a lot. And then they calibrate, and then they really do pay attention. Then, it’s almost is like the switch goes on, and they want everything to be perfect. If the grain cart scale says that field did 83 bushels, they expect us to adjust the yield file to an average of 83 because that’s what the grain cart scale said. Once they start actually using the yield monitor to make decisions, then they care a lot about data quality. It’s just getting it right, getting all pieces of it right. Making sure that everything is right is a big deal.

So, yield monitors, once they start understanding that, then one of the things that I love is, with yield monitors, we’ve entered this era. It’s no longer: “Trust me, this works.” If you’re a grower, you get sold a lot of stuff. Somebody is always driving up the driveway to sell you stuff. It’s different hybrids or varieties. Crop protection plans, nutrients, additives, micronutrients, and biologicals too. It’s always this one — here’s the next thing that’s going to be this magic bullet.

And now, because of a yield monitor, you don’t have to just trust that it works. You can actually do trials in your own fields. One of our sayings is: “Growers say local data is best, but you can’t get more local than my fields.” And that’s what you’re capable of doing now. You’re capable of using your yield monitor to measure. To do trials and measure whether each of those things actually worked. It’s so much easier than it used to be. I grew up in the day of weigh wagons. You’d go measure out a strip in the field and grab a weigh wagon comparison. That was the early years, but now it’s just so easy to do the same thing at the speed of farming.

RENEE HANSEN: You said that was the early years of weigh wagons. I don’t feel like I’m that old, Dan, and I feel like we were just using them 20 years ago. It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, hauling them around in the pickup. But you also talked about it with yield monitors. And, like I said, my husband, when we were farming his field, his overall field had a record soybean yield. But why is it so important to not look at the whole field average and look deeper? I mean, you talked about it a little bit before in those parts of the fields, and I feel like that’s where Premier Crop really differentiates itself.

DAN FRIEBERG: Growers are seeing really huge swings between fields, right? So, one field does really great, and another field doesn’t. You can start to use your data to sort out why, but, even within fields, within a field, most of the time, there are just pretty dramatic differences.

Another way we use the yield file is we use the yield file as part of future nutrient applications. You can calculate nutrient removal off the yield file and build that in. It’s not the sole — we’re not talking about using the yield file as the only source of how you do nutrients, but it can be another layer of data. And growers are really in tune with this. You’re putting back what you took off, right? If you use the yield file, instead of treating the whole field — like if you know the field average was 85 bushel of soybeans, instead of just putting back removal for 85 bushels on every acre, using the yield file, some of the field will get 60-bushel removals, and another part of the field will get 100-bushel removals.

That’s really important because those high-yielding areas are removing more nutrients. And so, you need to be able to capture that in some way to make sure that you keep pace with just how much they’re removing.

RENEE HANSEN: Because, ultimately, that helps them profit more because they’re applying nutrients in parts of the field where they need to apply them more and less, therefore, generating consistently higher yields. Like you said, what was the percentage year over year?

DAN FRIEBERG: What we try to do is we try to put people on a steeper curve. Across U.S. agriculture, we continually step up yields every year. If you do a trend line, there are ups and downs within the trend line. The trend line might be two bushel per acre per year on corn, or three bushel per acre per year on corn. And we’re just trying to be on a steeper trend line. We’re trying to use data. Instead of two-and-a-half bushels per acre per year, can we make it a consistent six bushels per acre per year?

It’s not about higher yields. It’s about higher profit. Yields are a huge piece of that. It’s hard to improve profitability without doing better, yield-wise. It’s just about investing every input dollar within the field to try to get a higher return.

premier crop yield monitor

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, try to get a higher return with what they already have, with what growers already have. With what I have, I need to make more. I need to profit. I need to make more margin. Utilizing that yield monitor a little bit more than just, like you said, watching it throughout the field can really be beneficial to a grower’s operation.

DAN FRIEBERG: I always want to know “why.” Like when I see differences, I want to know what can explain the differences. There’s some reason why parts of the field are better and parts of the field are worse.

The quicker we can define “why,” or the better we can understand “why,” if we can, then that leads us to be able to develop a plan on how to do it better. We talk all the time about “we.” What we do is we analyze. We analyze data, and then we turn that into advice. And then we act on the advice the next crop year. It’s this constant cycle of driving for improvement.

RENEE HANSEN: Well, thanks, Dan. In closing, what would you say to a grower who isn’t utilizing some kind of system like Premier Crop with their yield data? What would you say to them?

DAN FRIEBERG: Don’t give up. I mean, some people, they literally are giving up, or they’re cynical or whatever. I would say it’s never too late to get started, obviously, and your yield files can be eye-opening in a way to do better. They’re a foundation piece to do better.

RENEE HANSEN: There’s always an entry point to get started and, sometimes, it’s just taking that first leap. Thanks for listening to the Premier Podcast, where everything agronomic is economic. Please subscribe, rate and review this podcast so we can continue to provide the best precision ag and analytic results for you. And to learn more about Premier Crop, visit our blog at premiercrop.com.

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014: Farm for Profit | Farm Finance

farm finance

Today we welcome Tanner and David from the Farm 4 Profit Show. This episode is a section of their show ‘What’s Working in Ag’ featuring our own Dan Frieberg. We are discussing farm finance.

Make sure to subscribe to their podcast: https://farmforprofit.com/

If you are enjoying the show, tweet us using #PremierPodcast.

TANNER WINTERHOF: All right, welcome back to another Farm 4 Profit episode. This is Tanner Winterhof.

DAVID WHITAKER: And this is David Whitaker.

TANNER WINTERHOF: Dave, we got a little advice from a couple of peers as we put this podcast together that it would be helpful if we identified ourselves at the beginning of each episode. So, for a new listener, I’m Tanner. This is the voice of Tanner, and I’m a banker in central Iowa.

DAVID WHITAKER: And I’m David, and I am a farmland sales auctioneer and a real estate agent in central Iowa, as well.

TANNER WINTERHOF: So, thank you, new listeners, for joining us. We really appreciate you checking in. We’ve got a little bit of an interesting time this year. We started out with the coronavirus. We had some weather events. We’ve got inland hurricanes and droughts. Everything’s all storming together, but we’re going to focus on something a little bit more exciting today. We’re going to jump right into what’s working in ag. Don’t you think, Dave?

DAVID WHITAKER: I think so. We’ll just call it hashtag 2020.

TANNER WINTERHOF: That’s all we got.

Farm 4 profit podcast focus on farm finance

DAVID WHITAKER: That’s what we’ll call it. We have a guest today. Who is our guest, Tanner?

TANNER WINTERHOF: We’ve got Dan Frieberg, and he is here to share with us a little bit about what’s working for ag in his company. A really neat background. He grew up on a farm in Iowa, graduated from Iowa State University. His career includes wholesale fertilizer sales, retail management. He also served as the CEO of the Iowa Fertilizer and Chemical Association, later the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, and other business consulting. One of his favorite beverages, if not the favorite beverage of Dan, can you believe this, is Diet Pepsi.

DAVID WHITAKER: There you go.

TANNER WINTERHOF: But what does this have to do with farm finance? What do you think?

DAVID WHITAKER: I tell you it has a lot to do with farming. So, Dan, tell us. I’m glad to see you’re an Iowa State grad. I’m glad to see you’re from Iowa. Anything we missed there, other than a good hair day and the Diet Pepsi thing?

DAN FRIEBERG: I think you got it nailed.

DAVID WHITAKER: Okay, great. Well, welcome Dan. Do you live currently in Iowa, still?

DAN FRIEBERG: Yep, just south of Des Moines.

DAVID WHITAKER: I got ya. And so, tell me a little bit about your company. What exactly do you do?

DAN FRIEBERG: We take agronomic data, help growers with agronomic data that they’re collecting to provide analytics and economics with farm finance. Then, that analytics turns into advice and an action plan for the following year. Most of what we do ends up with a variable-rate prescription that goes in a piece of equipment, whether it’s the grower’s equipment or it could be a retailer’s equipment.

DAVID WHITAKER: So, you’re basically working with the farm data. “Farm Data is the currency of the internet” is what I always tell Tanner. And you are taking that farm data, and then you are helping the farmer probably spend less money by doing variable rate throughout the field or making tough decisions to plant or not plant or certain things. That’s what I’m gathering. Is that correct?

DAN FRIEBERG: I don’t think we ever save growers money. I think that’s one of the mistakes that a lot of people made in precision ag in the early years. We’re 20-some years into this, and a lot of the early messaging was around saving growers money. And I think that’s an unfulfilled promise. In the case of variable-rate lime, it is something that we do that saves the grower money on liming costs. But, most of the time, I think what we do is, rather than positioning it as saving the grower money, it’s about investing within parts of fields to get a higher return.

So, instead of treating the whole field as though it’s the same, it’s about identifying areas that are capable of producing more and more efficiently. And then in other areas, it could be that that’s where you save them money because it just doesn’t make sense to continue to invest.

TANNER WINTERHOF: I grabbed it right off the website that Premier Crop was established in 1999. And what it says right there is this: “They enable the growers to think deeper about their data.” So, what I grabbed from that is using that variable-rate technology. The way to make that pay is not necessarily saving money but maybe reallocating those input dollars to site-specific areas, to where you could probably get a better return on your investment than where they might’ve just been blanketly broadcasted.

DAN FRIEBERG: Yep, I think that’s exactly right. I think maybe the other thing that we do differently is we have the ability to combine agronomics and farm finance. Right now, it’s really difficult to make money in a lot of areas. If we’re spending more in one part of the field, we’re able to actually tie the cost, the added costs that we’re investing in that part of the field, to the analysis. So, at the end of the year, we’re able to really deliver what we’re branding as a yield efficiency score, which is just dollar-per-acre return to land and management. For us, it’s about what’s been missing. We think there’s too much focus on just agronomics and not economics. I think right now, especially growers, they appreciate the focus on economics to help with farm finance. We like to say everything agronomic is economic.

farm finance and profits

DAVID WHITAKER: Gotcha. So, that’s a new term for me, the yield efficiency score that you have. Tell me a little bit more. Is it 100 is the best and zero is the worst, or how does your scoring system work?

DAN FRIEBERG: No, it’s really just dollar-per-acre return to land and management.


DAN FRIEBERG: It’s yield, and yield is tracked, obviously, with the yield monitor, a calibrated yield monitor. So, it’s yield at a benchmark selling price that the grower gets to set minus what they spent on nutrients, seed, crop protection and field operations. It’s kind of what’s left over. When a grower sees a yield efficiency score of $400, and they know they got $275 in land cost, then they immediately understand what’s left, the return to them for farm management.

Premier Crop Yield efficiency score

TANNER WINTERHOF: So, if we’ve got a listener here who hasn’t been using variable-rate technology before as part of their operation, is that a large hurdle to overcome? Or do they pretty much have the technology on most of these farms to be able to implement that?

DAN FRIEBERG: Tanner, I think if $7 corn did anything for us, it was that there was a lot of investment in new technology in the cab. When we had that run-up in prices and in profitability, growers put a lot and they invested heavily in upgrading planters. In the process of what happened during that time period, there’s a lot of technology in the cab, but there’s a lot of growers who aren’t necessarily using farm data to the full advantage. They have the technology and the ability to do it. They haven’t started because they don’t know how, and they’re looking for solutions.

DAVID WHITAKER: You said $7 corn. A lot of people updated their equipment there. But, for our newbie farmer that’s out there, or even somebody that’s been doing it, if they’re in an older combine, whatever it may be, and they decide they want to upgrade and be able to use your systems, is there a minimum-like entry? Something that they’re going to need for farm equipment?

DAN FRIEBERG: For us, we use the yield monitor as a way of measuring, measuring whether what we did was the right thing.

DAVID WHITAKER: Do they have to have a WAAS GPS or a certain sub-inch or anything there?

DAN FRIEBERG: No, just a GPS, a yield monitor with a GPS receiver.

DAVID WHITAKER: Okay, fair enough.

TANNER WINTERHOF: Pretty simple to get in there. So, Premier Crop Systems really allows that farmer to really get the investment that they put into that technology and put it to work. You guys can really work with them to use the existing equipment that they have to their full potential. One of the other things that I had come across when I was reading is it really keeps that farmer from farming on averages. You really come down and do check blocks and break that field out into, I call them, profit zones, but maybe you have a different term. Could you explain what you do when you break a farm down?

DAN FRIEBERG: Yeah, a lot of times that is what we do. We just try to identify, whether it’s management zones. We’re bringing a new version of that, which is performance zones, but it’s really trying to identify like-agronomic environments or unique agronomic environments within fields. It’s very much not treating it all like it’s the same. Tanner, within every field, growers will tell you there’s a sweet spot.


DAN FRIEBERG: Every grower who’s had a yield monitor has seen 80-90 bushel beans. They’ve seen greater than 100 bushel beans, and they just wish they could figure out what it was about that spot that made it so great. And that’s kind of what we try to help them do, identify those really high-yielding sweet spots, and a lot of times those are the ones that will respond the most to additional input investment.

And then, conversely, there are areas that just don’t yield as consistently, and we try to solve the problem of whatever it is. We try to use farm data to help coach them on whatever those areas are. You’re in Huxley, and there’s a lot of potholes. There’s that north-central Iowa area. There are low areas. In wet years, they drown out. In dry years, they’re the highest yielding. They tend to be organic matter rich and nutrient rich because of all the years that they didn’t produce a crop. So, they’ll do great. They’ll do great in a dry year, but a lot of times we don’t invest near as much in inputs in those areas.

TANNER WINTERHOF: Yeah, take advantage of the resources that we have there.

DAN FRIEBERG: Tanner, the time is right, but it is tight on the farm. It’s really difficult to make money. That’s why farm finance and combining agronomics and economics is so important.


DAN FRIEBERG: We have growers who tell us that some of this economic stuff we’re helping them with is what’s helping them convince their lender to give them the full operating line. So, we’re all about helping growers step up their game, and we know how difficult it is on everybody’s part.


DAN FRIEBERG: You guys don’t remember. I lived through the farm crisis of the 80s, and I was helping growers get financing. It was a dark and ugly time.

TANNER WINTERHOF: One of the things that I’ve noticed in the farm finance industry is that we have had more people utilizing creative financing methods. They are combining the dealer financing on their seed. They are also getting some chem finance through their supplier, rather than getting their full operating through the bank. And part of that is our fault. We do get a little bit more conservative if we don’t have accurate records. So, I could see where Premier Crop Systems is valuable. And the fact that you can show me that, “Hey, we’ve got a plan. If mother nature cooperates halfway, we’re going to be able to put this plan to work and get us at least a crop that we can sell.”

DAN FRIEBERG: You guys know it because you’re interacting with growers. It’s a really high-stress time. When you see the farm suicide rate spiking, it’s reminiscent of just all the stress that’s going on with a lot of operations.

TANNER WINTERHOF: So, have you been advising any of your clients on what to do after the crop insurance adjuster shows up? Are you able to kind of help with a profitability calculation based upon what they’re learning after the derecho?

DAN FRIEBERG: Yeah, I mean it’s going to be difficult, like Corey will tell you. It’s going to be really difficult to get great data when you’re harvesting down corn. It really makes it difficult to have as much confidence in the data. It’s a struggle that way. Tanner, we’re right in the middle of it already because we’re starting to get ready for fall fertilizer prescriptions. If you’re not harvesting a crop, you’ve got nutrients that are in that crop that are going to get returned. So, you’re factoring that into your nutrient investment for next year, and so people are going to spend less on nutrients probably. But you’re trying to make sure you don’t short yourself in an area where you really need fertilizer manure to make it pay. It’s already started.

TANNER WINTERHOF: I’ve already heard guys talking that they might not be able to do as much corn on corn as they wanted to for fear of a volunteer coming up. Yeah, a lot of things are up in the air. I just got off the phone with a commodities broker who stated he’s got clients that just don’t know what to do. They’re in a limbo, waiting for the adjuster to show up, waiting for crops to dry down, waiting to find out what their options are.

DAVID WHITAKER: It’s an emotional roller coaster.

TANNER WINTERHOF: Yeah, any type of advice that they can get from a trusted advisor will go a long way.

DAVID WHITAKER: Yeah, it makes for an interesting year.

TANNER WINTERHOF: Well, Dan, I really thank you for joining us. I’m going to summarize real quick, and then let me know if we missed anything. But we’ve got Dan Frieberg with Premier Crop Systems, helping us out with our “What’s Working in Ag” segment.

The company, started in 1999, enables growers to think deeper and utilize their data to make better agronomic decisions from that detailed data itself. They put the technology investments that you’ve already got on your farm to work for you. They want to make sure that you don’t think about farming on the average. Get down to a profit zone by profit zone analyst and management style, and then make sure that if you have a farm that is set up to where variable rate can pay, that it is not necessarily, Dave, the concept of saving you money. It’s more allocating those resources into a better part of the field that might make you more on the profit side. How did I do, Dan?

DAN FRIEBERG: You did perfect.

RENEE HANSEN: Thanks for listening to the Premier Podcast, where everything agronomic is economic. Please subscribe, rate and review this podcast so we can continue to provide the best precision ag and analytic results for you. And to learn more about farm finance and Premier Crop, visit our blog at premiercrop.com.


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013: Nutrient Planning

anhydrous ammonia

Today we are talking with Dan and Darren about nutrient planning and its importance during this part of the growing season.

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DARREN FEHR: Good morning, Dan. We’ve done a number of these already, so we’re kind of cooking here in this podcast world. I want to talk this morning about nutrient planning. So, let’s start off this morning, Dan, by going through the process that our advisors have undertaken for several years. What is their approach to nutrient planning? You can talk about nitrogen separately from phosphorus potassium, but give our listeners a little bit of an overview of the nutrient planning process.

DAN FRIEBERG: 2021 nutrient planning is one of the first things that’s tackled because a lot of advisors want to get ahead of the curve. They want to be able to have had that planning discussion with growers before they get in the combine. Growers start identifying which fields go into what crop, and then the next piece is usually addressing nutrient planning. There are parts of the Midwest that really have drought. There’s a big chunk that’s also going to have wind damage where they might not harvest a crop. Those are additional considerations, but, for us, nutrient planning, especially in the fall, a lot surrounds phosphorus and potassium, and those are two of the three major nutrients.

Sulfur’s probably the other one that’s really become the fourth major nutrient. Sulfur and nitrogen are mobile nutrients, so there is some fall application in heavier soils. But, certainly, phosphorus and potassium would, a lot of times, be the first nutrients to hit the field. The approach depends on what kind of a crop you’re removing. But, certainly, a big piece of what we do is we use some type of spatial soil sample as one of the foundation pieces. A spatial soil sample can be a grid sample, where the field is divided into smaller sizes, and you have a lot of samples within a field. Two-and-a-half-acre grids are really, really common in a lot of areas.

In other areas, zone sampling might be more common where they divide the field into zones, and those zones could be driven by soils or historic imagery or EC conductivity. But the big thing is, a lot of times, instead of capturing one sample for an entire field, they’re capturing a lot more intense or site-specific samples.

DARREN FEHR: Let’s just start here, when our advisors are working through nutrient planning at this time of year. Pre-harvest, is the removal estimate based on estimated yield? How are we going about creating that first draft, if you will, of the nutrient plan?

DAN FRIEBERG: What feeds the crop is a combination of soil-supplied nutrients. This means there are nutrients in the soil that get released, and there’s fertilizer, or manure-supplied nutrients. So, what we’re trying to do is balance what the soil supplied versus what we supply with either manure or commercial fertilizer. If you think of low-testing areas, they should be more responsive to applied nutrients. This meaning you should get a bigger yield response in a lower-testing area than you do a higher-testing area.

Another piece of what we do is use yield files to actually capture the removals, and sometimes that’s last year’s yield file. It could be two years of yield removal if you’re on a two-year cycle. It could be just one year of yield removal. And for some people, literally, because we’re getting yield faster and faster, it can be this year’s yield file. Meaning, because we’re capturing yields every second, we’re able to calculate the phosphorus and potassium removal off that yield file. So, two of the major pieces would be using some type of spatial soil sample, and then using a yield file to not guess at removals but to calculate actual removals.

DARREN FEHR: I think there are nutrient prescriptions made on many millions of acres here in the Midwest and across Canada. What are some common mistakes that are made, or what are some things that growers should make sure went into their nutrient plan? You mentioned a couple: some type of a grid sample, some kind of a soil measurement to understand where we are, and the other one is attributing a yield file to overlay an understanding of productivity. What else is necessary that growers should ensure that their trusted advisor is including in their nutrient plan?

DAN FRIEBERG: Darren, we spend a lot of time on dividing fields by productivity level. We’re able to define is that there are some areas of the field that just respond to more nutrients. What we tend to do is have a different equation for each productivity area within a field. For some people, they go to the grower with three different equations, and it could be color coded or metal. However they describe them, they go to the grower with three different equations and prices by each equation for nutrients, and they say: “Pick between these three.” We’re like: “No, you can run three or four equations inside a field.” You don’t have to choose aggressive versus conservative for the whole field. You can treat parts of the field really aggressively and parts of the field really conservatively.

This is just all math. Having more complex equations is a big part of what we do. It really goes to just this idea. I mean, if you think about nutrients, in general, across the country and across entire countries, we tend to have recommendations that are a little bit “one size fits all.” What we’re able to prove is that the ideal combination of soil-supplied, which is what we measure through a soil test, and fertilizer, or manure-supplied, changes within field boundaries. It makes sense to us that some areas of the field just respond more to nutrients than other areas of the field, and we want to take advantage of that.

DARREN FEHR: We have talked a lot about agronomy as local in the past. And because we believe that, in site-specific recommendations, paying attention to every field, specifically in every different productivity area inside of every field, it makes it important to create unique prescriptions. And when you talk about equations, they are based on productivity, based on soil analysis, based on removal rates. When you think about the rate of nutrients that should be applied, how do you decide? How do you know if you have enough, too much or too little?

DAN FRIEBERG: For us, it comes back to being able to do trials in growers’ fields. Sometimes I sound like I’m critical of land-grant universities. I’m not. I’m a land-grant university product. Land grants were a big piece of educating and bringing science to agriculture, and they still are. They still have a really key role, but it’s this transformation. Instead of taking research that was done somewhere else, we’re actually able to put replicated trials in growers’ fields.

One of the things we hear all the time is you can’t get more local than my fields. That ability to use analytics to inform our recommendations, and then turn around and put a rate trial in different areas of a grower’s field, is a key piece of our strategy. Doing scientific trials within each part of each grower’s fields is just a big piece of our culture and this idea of continuous improvement.

Darren, you asked me earlier what some of the common mistakes are. In the area of variable-rate nutrient application, the I believe the single biggest mistake is that we’re going to test your field, and then we’re going to make variable-rate applications. And the map that looked like there was so much variation, it’s all going to be one color someday. We’re pulling down the high areas and building up the low areas. Four years from now, your field will all be one color.

The goal of variable-rate nutrient application and why you would do a soil test was never to achieve a part-per-million number. Even though equations use part-per-million soil test values, nobody gets paid by that. The grower doesn’t get paid because they got their phosphate to 30 parts per million or 25 or whatever the number is. The goal never should have been achieving a part-per-million number. The goal is to produce yields as efficiently as possible. In areas where nobody has been doing much sampling, and they’ve been doing uniform applications, we typically find that the lowest fertility areas are actually the highest yielding.

create a nutrient plan

And the reason they’re low fertility is those high-yield areas have mined down the nutrients. The field is treated uniformly. I put the same blend on every acre. I’ve done it for the last 10 years. The point is, you haven’t been removing nutrients as uniformly as you’ve been applying them. Those consistently high-yield areas have pulled down nutrients. The consistently low-yield areas have allowed nutrients to build up in the soil test. You capture that when you soil sample it, and that can be a foundational piece. But, what we also find is that those areas that are consistently higher yielding, it’s hard to keep up with them. The more you apply with certain nutrients, the better the yield.

Our point is never to try to even out the field and make it one color on a soil test map. Ours is all about: how do we generate more dollar return for every dollar we invest within those areas of the field? And if we never catch up soil test-wise, that’s great because if we never catch up, that just means we kept producing better and better yields as efficiently as possible.

DARREN FEHR: Since we started doing enhanced learning blocks…I don’t know, what are we in? Our fourth or fifth year?


DARREN FEHR: What is the insight that surprised you the most when you looked at how we advanced or accelerated that rate for nitrogen or other nutrients? Especially when you learned how much money we left on the table? Tell me how that journey has been for you.

DAN FRIEBERG: The dollars per acre are way bigger. The dollar per acre returned to the grower is way bigger than I thought. I was obviously a really big advocate that everybody should be using the technology available to do better agronomy. I didn’t realize that the dollar-per-acre swings for the grower were as big as they are. We’re seeing 80 to 100 dollar-an-acre swings by single nutrients. When you realize there are that many dollars in play, it just leads you to want to do it better. We got to get even better at this. We’re just beginning to understand and to tap into what’s possible.

DARREN FEHR: We are also surprised by getting a yield response when we are ultra-aggressive on our rates. We’re still getting a yield response in some areas of the field that are very high-producing areas. We’re constantly surprised at how much yield response we can still get by being ultra-aggressive and applying a very, very high rate.

DAN FRIEBERG: But just think about what you said because it’s really key that everybody understands it. If you do that everywhere, if you take that attitude everywhere, you’re wasting dollars. What we’re talking about is there are areas of fields where everything is working. Everything is working, and those areas just seem to keep climbing, and you see it in trials. You see responses to being even more aggressive. So, it does surprise you.

DARREN FEHR: Okay. Thanks, Dan, for sharing a little bit of your insights today on nutrient planning for any of our listeners that do get a prescription created by their supplier or adviser. And if you want to take that to yield and prove it paid, contact us at www.premiercrop.com. This is kind of what we do. We take a prescription. We take the planning process and prove it out in their analytics, and we’d love to do it for you. So, thanks Dan, and we’ll talk again next week.


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