Measuring Yield Efficiency Using a Visualization Platform

We are excited to announce the launch of our new Data Visualization platform, part of our three-tier technology strategy. This new platform allows growers to gain key insights that give them the ability to make informed decisions based off economics, seed, crop protection, fertility, operations and management.

The Data Visualization platform is focused on grower dashboards and group benchmarking ultimately showcasing a Yield Efficiency Score for growers’ operations.


yield efficiency as an ag tech disruption driver


“Data Visualization is a key to helping growers understand their yield efficiency as their measure of success using a Yield Efficiency Score,” stated Darren Fehr, director of sales and marketing.

A Yield Efficiency Score, by Premier Crop, similar to a credit FICO score, is a single number derived from multiple factors. Its purpose is to determine a grower’s return on investment on a per acre basis but from a spatial perspective.

Yield Efficiency is rapidly becoming the most important metric to measure grower’s success in order to enhance a grower’s operation. “Our ultimate success is the grower’s success. We are constantly looking to improve growers’ operations to maximize efficiency and help them be more profitable on the acres they have,” said Tony Licht, business development manager in Iowa.

Premier Crop’s Data Visualization platform and Yield Efficiency Score allows a grower to visually see anonymous group data and grower benchmarking. It provides a benchmarking score how a grower is performing against others as well as against their own fields. Using the grower’s actual data in five of their most important decision-making categories (economics, seed, crop protection, fertility, operations) to prove efficiency and effectiveness of crop production.


“Group data is powerful over that many acres, allowing us to benchmark with other producers anonymously, which is invaluable information to my operation,” said Brad Hagen, Minnesota corn producer. Brad works with Premier Crop’s partner, Central Advantage GS.

Change and Innovation in the Middle of a Crisis

Darren Fehr and Dan Frieberg talk about
how change and innovation
can be created through a crisis
in our latest podcast.


DARREN FEHR: Hey Dan, our topic of the day is all change is preceded by a crisis. It’s sad to say, but it’s funny how innovation takes wild turns and only at the advent of a crisis. Tell me a little bit about what you think this COVID-19 business is going to do, in terms of transforming the way we farm.

DAN FRIEBERG: Well, for me personally, it’s reminiscent of the 1980s. I started my career in the 80s and plunged right into the farm crisis. And so, it feels a lot like that, Darren. I feel like credit is going to tighten people. Growers are having trouble getting operating lines extended to cover everything they need. So, it just feels like that 80s crisis. There are differences. We have cheap interest. At that time, we had really high interest and high inflation, and there were a lot of other dynamics. But when your operating budget goes upside down, when it gets negative, it causes dramatic change. I remember the 80s well, and I remember having to just scrutinize everything we did differently. I mean, just through that lens of how hard it was to make money.

DARREN FEHR: Do you think a farm gaped cash flow is the biggest issue? What do you think are some of the biggest issues that farmers are facing that are really going to reflect on their ability to either grow, expand or need to get out?

DAN FRIEBERG: There are about three or four big ones for me. One is just keeping your operating capital intact. It’s just so easy to lose operating capital, and it’s different. Nobody wants to touch your land equity or any of that. I mean, there’s a lot of equity, but it’s just about whether you have operating capital and having your operating capital intact while a lot of people expand. To me, there’s this real false narrative, and it just repeats itself over and over again that farmers are great producers and bad marketers. They may be bad marketers, but the idea that everybody’s a great producer is not true, either. We see it in data. That’s what we do. We do a lot of data analytics, and we see huge swings in how efficiently people produce. So, to me, when you talk about innovation in the middle of a crisis, it’s about getting serious about producing efficiently. And producing efficiently is all in the details.

DARREN FEHR: It’s interesting that you talk about efficiency and production because we talk to so many farmers who say, ‘All I want to do is farm. Leave me out of the details or the administration because the data thing is complex.’ How do we work through this idea that I want to farm because of what I enjoy, but how do I do this efficiently? What does that mean?

DAN FRIEBERG: I totally understand exactly what they’re saying. Our experience as a company is that growers don’t want to do all the data work. They want us and their advisor to do the data work. They want to consume the output of their data analytics. They want us to provide analytics that are meaningful and advise. Then, the following step is to take action on it. So, it’s just that constant improvement cycle that we go through. They want to consume data analytics. I mean, all the detail that goes into having great data, that’s not what excites them. They’d much rather farm than they would be in the details of the data.

DARREN FEHR: Do you think that there’s enough emphasis placed on pre-production planning? We talk a lot about the ag technology that’s been invested in in-season crop monitoring. A lot of the seasonal, cyclical buying lends itself to think that there isn’t this early season, robust planning process. What do you think is going to change here after we get through this crisis that we’re facing, in terms of this planning piece?

DAN FRIEBERG: There are exceptions to this. One of the exceptions is high value crops and irrigation. With high value crops and irrigation, you can turn on a dime. You can adjust everything because you can treat the plant and feed it like it’s on an IV. But most of North American production is rain-fed, so planning is everything. Just having detailed plans and not missing any of the details in that planning process is everything. One of the quotes that’s battered around a lot is, “you don’t want the plant to have a bad day.” If the plant tells you it’s suffering, it’s too late. It’s like when people show these images of denitrification, and it’s like, ‘Okay, you’ve already lost yield. You’re right, you can correct that.’ But the whole goal is to never get to that place. And that’s the reason you do plans. The reason you spend that time making sure you got the plan right is so that you’re avoiding those train wrecks. You still have to monitor the crop. You still have to respond because there are things that happen. But even with plant diseases, you can plan for those. You can plan for insects. A lot of the decisions are all pre-budgeted. When I talk about managing operating capital, there’s a lot of input dollars at stake and how you spend those input dollars is what I’m talking about with how efficient you farm. These really tight, upside-down economics that we’re in just screams that you have to stretch every input dollar absolutely as far as you can. You just can’t be wasteful. It’s all about investing every dollar at the right place at the right time to get the best return.

DARREN FEHR: You make a really good point here. By the time you see the problem, it’s probably too late. It’s probably because you missed some of the symptoms. Now, we spend a lot of time talking about what happens below ground, and we do a lot with nutrition and soil fertility. Is this an area that we can get better at or we can help people with more, in terms of the planning piece and planning to deliver, over time, higher organic matter or more efficient nitrogen use? What’s your take on our ability to help production efficiency below ground?

DAN FRIEBERG: We will look back a decade from now and think how crude we were in 2020. We will look back and think how crude we are. So, we’re going to continue to make dramatic advancements. For us, it’s all about how we characterize like-agronomic environments and how we treat them differently. We believe that the ideal rate of everything changes within geographies within fields. So, we are going to get better and better at all of this. Darren, so much of crop production and so much of the science behind crop production is a little bit siloed. And in the real world, it’s all integrated. So, if you even think of it in university settings, we have etymologists and we have plant pathologists and we have nutrition specialists. And even in nutrition, they tend to be specialized by nutrients. But in the real world, it’s all those things colliding together. And so there are all these interactions, and that’s what makes real-world agronomy so complex. There’s just lots of room for improvement, and that’s what we’re going to do. You share a common background that I have. We both grew up in the livestock industry, and sometimes it’s just shocking how much the livestock industry is so data-driven. People don’t realize just how data-driven it is. You come from the dairy industry, which was decades ahead of everybody else, even the rest of the livestock industry. The dairy industry was data-driven decades ago. And in many ways, with crop production, because of GPS and the ability to spatially measure yield in responses to different treatments, we’re playing catch up right now.

DARREN FEHR: So, does that mean that maybe the livestock business went through this kind of a crisis way sooner in its life cycle? I don’t even remember this digital transformation and the need of data in livestock, but it feels like we’re going to be very intentional here in transitioning to more of a data-driven industry in crop production. Is that the case, or is this just going to feel very normal to people who are farming, progressing and growing?

DAN FRIEBERG: Hopefully, it feels more normal. A little bit of what’s happened in livestock is it’s obviously become really specialized and consolidated into fewer hands and all that. But a lot of times, when we get in front of growers who are also actively involved and at risk in the livestock industry, they will draw the parallel. They’ll say, ‘Oh my goodness.’ It’s almost like a wake up call. And they’re not talking about just feed efficiency and rate of gain. They’re talking about knowing the economic numbers associated with that unit of production. And when we show them what we’re doing, they’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, you’re talking about treating my crop land the same as I treat a pen of pigs or a pen of cattle.’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re doing.’ We’re tying all the pieces together, not just production efficiency or nutrient efficiency. We’re tying economics to every part of the field.

DARREN FEHR: Isn’t it the same, like in sports, where you want to improve performance? There are certain metrics that you’re going to do to improve your end result. My golf game is really crappy, and I measured the end score, but there’s a ton of other metrics that I could measure if I wanted to get a lot better in certain parts of my game. And isn’t farming sort of similar to that?

DAN FRIEBERG: It is. It really is. I obviously work too much and don’t golf enough, like you. There’s a saying in golf, at least among us really crude players, “you drive for show and putt for dough.”

DARREN FEHR: I have no dough because my putting is horrible.

DAN FRIEBERG: But sometimes, in crop production, high yields have become the show. They become what you do for show. And to me, it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s part of the game.’ I mean, yields are really key, but it’s not just about yields. It’s about return to land and management. How do I make more money? The metrics that we use to measure have got to have an economic component because not all yield is created equal. You can throw the kitchen sink at something and have high yields, but that doesn’t mean you’re improving your operating capital.

DARREN FEHR: You’ve got to get down the fairway, and if you can’t chip and putt, you’re probably not going to score real well. To all of our listeners here, this is sort of the final word: if the seeds of innovation are born out of a crisis, Dan, what should farmers be thinking about today?

DAN FRIEBERG: Just focus on how to be more efficient, how to produce more efficiently. Keep scrutinizing. Darren, the other thing is they’re managing multi-million-dollar operations. I feel for them because they’re constantly learning a new skill set. As a manager, you’re managing more complexity and more people. They’re all turned into financial managers. In some cases, it’s just finding somebody to help you manage the details. In our case, that’s our value proposition: let us help you manage all the agronomic and economic details associated with crop production.

DARREN FEHR: Awesome. It sets us up for the next podcast that we’re going to have, talking about big data. And we can talk about COVID-19 and how the delivery of this exceptional data has helped us think through this crisis and how agriculture uses big data. So, thanks Dan for joining me today on our podcast. Stay tuned next week for our podcast on big data.

Please subscribe, rate and review this podcast so we can continue to provide the best precision ag and analytic results for you.

Three Top Examples of Agronomics and Economics with ProTech Partners

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, and 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. I enjoy being outside in my free time. 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, Kimber and I are going to discuss examples of “everything agronomic is economic.” 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 agronomic and economic sense on the farm. 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 “everything agronomic is economic,” 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 because 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, and 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 because, 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.” And 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. You want to see a return on every dollar you spend. But 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 to the 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. I mean, that planting population decides a lot, and you do need to factor in your planting population when you’re determining your nitrogen rates. And I know Dan Frieberg uses this example a lot. 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. So, for the tar spot this year, one of those tougher fields that he has was planted at the end of May, beginning of June. When I did my last fungicide check on it, when I did my last scouting trip, it was the end of July, beginning of August. We didn’t have any disease out there. We, the grower and I, 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. And then, looking at the forecast, it was supposed to be hot and dry, so 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, yeah, the fungicide is good, but we have to also think about what’s best for that farmer and 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. And 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. Because yeah, I can go out and I can tell you: “Yep, you need to plant 35,000 under the pivot, and 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, and 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, as far as the grower responsibilities. 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, but 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 taken and 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. How we do that, it comes down to what the grower wants to know. I’ll look at things — soil fertility — and make sure that we’re doing the right thing with our fertilizer because 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, to prove that I have been doing a good job. And if I haven’t, 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. I mean, the field average was right around a 20,000 planting population. I put some learning blocks in there for checks down to 16,000, but 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, so 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. I mean, go further out west into Nebraska and Kansas, where 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, and 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, but 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. And we also compare the B zones. And then we compare the C zones because we want to do apples-to-apples comparisons. And 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 looking at it, 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. And if they wanted to contact ProTech Partners or yourself for help with answering some of those questions that they might have and get in touch with you, how and where can they 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 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

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

The State of Ag and Business with Damian Mason

Today we will be discussing the ag industry with ag author, speaker, comedian, and personality – Damian Mason. Damian speaks on topics surrounding business and agriculture 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 own the homeplace now. I don’t live there. I live a couple miles north of where I was raised, on a 200-acre chunk of ground that my wife and I bought in 2006 and renovated. So, I’ve been a farm guy. I love the farm thing. I rent my ground out to a large-scale dairy operator now. I manage the timber here, and then I travel around the country working with corporations and associations. In fact, your husband has been one of my clients, and I enjoy that aspect of my work. I have a degree in agricultural economics from Purdue. 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. But 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. We have Uber Eats. We have good food in copious quantities. We still, in agriculture, 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. It was 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.” So, 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. So, 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. So, 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. That’s changed, guys. 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.” So, I think there is something to that. 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 that 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.” That’s probably what we’re going to end up having to do. 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. So, your pitch? Your company? I believe the angle is: “We help you get the most out of your great acres, so you can let your lesser acres revert to an environmental situation that, then, I can sell the environmental story.”

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. The media needs you to stay tuned, so they can keep selling you crap on the TV. There is a “pandemic fatigue” that’s set in. People — humans — are social beings. They want to get together.

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. And the other part of it is you can’t get drunk at the Marriott bar and complain about your boss on a Zoom call. You have to go and do that. So, 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. It’s something that I’ve gotten accustomed to doing.

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. But 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. So, 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.” And there’s a human factor to that, guys. 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. I mean, 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. But, 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.

So, 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. Europe is shutting down right now, and take Europe as an example. In Ireland, you’re not allowed to leave your house and go more than three miles. 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 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: I’m on every social media format. That’s not true. I don’t do Tik Tok. I’m on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on 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

What Does a Year End Meeting Look Like with a Premier Crop Partner?

“We use SciMax Solutions, a Premier Crop partner,
to push everything we can
in order to get the best ROI
and try to do the best job that we can.”
– Mike Myers, Waukee, IA

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.

MIKE 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 MEYER: 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

MIKE 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 MEYER: 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.

MIKE MYERS: Yeah, I guess for me, as far as all this, it’s all that I mentioned a little bit. 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.

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


MIKE 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)

MIKE 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.

MIKE 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. 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.

MIKE 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.

MIKE 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.


MIKE 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 MEYER: Through May, three to four inches.

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

MIKE 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.

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

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

DALE MEYER: 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.

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

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

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

MIKE 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.


Make sure to listen 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

Yield Efficiency at a Year-End Grower Meeting with SciMax Solutions

“I think people are really good looking at a 10,000-foot view, but when you dive deeper into the economics and profitability, that’s where the rubber meets the road.”
– Landon Aldinger, Farmer, Iowa Falls, IA

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. We have some beef cattle, some hog operations and 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, who, 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, like I said, but 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. We have 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, where we sell a full retail line of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, any crop protection products, and then 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, basically, 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.

Please subscribe, rate and review this podcast so we can continue to provide the best precision ag and analytic results for you.

Managing Profitability with Ag View Solutions

“We’re all about tying the economics to the agronomics, which just means when we’re adjusting nutrient rates and plant seeding rates and decisions about what we spend in different parts of the field, we’re tying that out at the end of the year.
– Dan Frieberg

RENEE HANSEN: Welcome to the Premier Podcast, where everything agronomic is economic. Today, we’re talking with Shay Foulk with Ag View Solutions on his Ag View Pitch podcast. We recommend that you go listen to the Ag View Pitch podcast and subscribe. They have numerous podcasts out there with lots of valuable information. Today, Shay is talking with Dan Frieberg and Brenton Rossman about the value of Premier Crop.

SHAY FOULK: Welcome back, everyone, to another episode of the Ag View Pitch. Today, you have Shay Foulk with some special guests from Premier Crop Systems. I appreciate everybody taking a little bit of time to join in. We have Dan Frieberg and Brenton Rossman, as well as Renee Hansen, tuning in. Dan and Brenton, I’m hoping here that we can get a good introduction from both of you and learn a little bit more about what Premier Crop Systems is. I’ll preface this by saying we really enjoy having this perspective and different conversations on what organizations can provide and what value they can bring to the farmers that are listening to this podcast. So, if we could just start with a quick introduction from each of you and get going from there.

DAN FRIEBERG: Sure, I’ll go first. Dan Frieberg, and I started the company in 1999. Really, Shay, it was kind of the advent of a lot of spatial files, meaning georeferenced files. So, if you think of a yield file, we were starting to be able to tie the yield monitor out to a GPS receiver. Then, soil sampling and variable-rate nutrient activity was going on. So, it was just all this agronomic data that now could be georeferenced to a spot in the world. It was just kind of born out of that idea of being able to tie it all out and build a database file that is a georeference for each field each year and be able to analyze the results and provide insights and turn that into action the next year. The company does just a lot of variable-rate activity. We just believe that the right rate changes within a field boundary. That’s how we got started, and I’ll let Brenton go from his perspective.

BRENTON ROSSMAN: Yeah, thanks. Brenton Rossman. I’ve been with Premier Crop Systems for five years now. Started with the company right after college. Primarily work with our retail partners in delivering our program through the retail channel. So, I live in northwest Iowa, which is where I grew up and have the opportunity to help on my family’s farm. I enjoy getting to utilize our tools and get firsthand use with them on our own operation, as well. Happy to be visiting with you today.

SHAY FOULK: Yeah, that’s great. When it comes to that georeferencing that you were talking about, Dan, I recently read a report that anywhere from 62 to 70% of farmers across the United States are utilizing some form of yield mapping systems or variable-rate applications. How have you seen the adoption of these technologies change over the last decade or so, in particular, I guess, through the Midwest here, where we’re generally located? What do you think that opportunity looks like in the future?

DAN FRIEBERG: I think we went through a period of high commodity prices the last time. The equipment companies, really, were one of the beneficiaries of high commodity prices. So, a whole bunch of people upgraded equipment, and every time that happens, they upgrade technology, as well. Then, that means that the technology they were using passes to the next buyer of that equipment. So, there’s kind of this ripple effect of more and more technology. That’s why surveys come back like that, but what we find is a lot of people aren’t really utilizing the data the way we think it’s possible. So, a yield monitor can become “Harvest TV,” where it’s almost like an expensive moisture sampler, which is great because you’re able to direct grain to the right spot for drying and things like that. But we think there’s so much more possibility to use your yield file as a way to measure agronomic and economic success.

SHAY FOULK: You better be careful, Dan. I might steal that “Harvest TV” and make a YouTube channel out of it. I like that term. Brenton, from your perspective as the farmer and the background that you’ve had with your family operation there, how long have you had some of this technology in the farm operation, and where do you see advancements from the farmer perspective moving forward?

BRENTON ROSSMAN: I would say my dad has been a fairly early adopter to the hardware side of the technology. Variable-rate drives on our planter probably the last 12 years, at least, I would say. Collecting yield since the nineties. So, we’ve been early adopters on that stage of the conversation, but as far as taking that information that we’ve been collecting, if you go into my dad’s office, he’s got notebooks and binders full of maps, all of this information, but now we’ll be able to use the data behind that information. So, where I see it going is just the ability to collect, analyze more of this machine data and information, have it stored in one location and then utilize the power of computers and software to, then, look at it in different ways so we can make decisions going forward.

SHAY FOULK: I think how you phrase that is a great segue into the next question that I have. I know some of what you deal with, with Premier Crop Systems, is looking at yield efficiency and how are we taking these variables and making really good decisions with it? So, Dan, I was wondering if you can kind of talk on some more specific things that Premier Crop offers to the farm operations that they’re working with. What does that look like today if someone was interested in finding out more about what you all do?

DAN FRIEBERG: Gladly. Shay, a lot of times, we use the phrase “everything agronomic is economic.” We’re all about tying the economics to the agronomics, which just means when we’re adjusting nutrient rates and plant seeding rates and decisions about what we spend in different parts of the field, we’re tying that out at the end of the year. So, we’re capturing that spatially. That cost is tied to the file. If we recommend and encourage you to plant more seeds in what we think is the best part of the field, we’re capturing that additional seed cost as an input cost. We can map it all the way to breakeven cost per bushel, and that would include land and management costs, but we describe yield efficiency as return to land and management at a benchmark selling price. The user interface lets the grower set their own selling price, so it’s calculating revenue minus what you invested in nutrients, crop protection, seed and field operations. Shay, we wanted a way to take land cost and management cost out of the benchmarking nature of it. We found that land cost can really be a real distortion when you’re trying to benchmark across operations. It’s really that same message. If we adjust inputs, we’re tracking the cost either up or down. So, we’re able, at the end of the year, to show whether that was the right decision or not.

SHAY FOULK: I was talking with a really good operation here in western Illinois, about 30 minutes before we were recording this podcast here. He made the comment that you kind of have to have three to four years of good information to make decisions off of it. And, of course, there’s low hanging fruit. Year one, you’re going to see some things that are pointed out: variable rates, quickly identify issues, particularly when it comes to soil sampling or plant tissue sampling, and learn more about your operation. You use the term benchmark there, and, with some of what we do, we’re very careful with benchmarking from a standpoint of no two operations are the same. But I think what, sometimes, people get confused with is benchmarking doesn’t have to be against other farm operations. Benchmarking against your own operation, and, like you said, that land cost can throw such a wrench in understanding how that ties into an overall system and what management decisions you can be making out of that. But I’m sure that information is extremely powerful once you have two, three, four years worth of information at your own benchmark and then making decisions for your operation moving forward. Do you have any comments on that?

DAN FRIEBERG: I think, for me, the internal benchmark, like you say, is by far the most powerful. Amazingly, the growers love to benchmark against each other. Sometimes, I don’t understand why, but they love to be able to see beyond their own operation. So, whenever they look beyond their own operation, it’s anonymous, and they don’t know who they’re benchmarking against, and it can be extremely local or regional or a fairly good-sized group. So, benchmarking, growers love that piece of it, and they love the economic piece too. Personally, I think the most powerful is within your own operation, just field by field and then drilling down within a field by management zones. Shay, the one thing I would tell you is we’ve come up with a way to start making decisions even quicker. In 2005, we started putting check blocks inside prescriptions, and we trademark that as learning blocks. A learning block is just a comparison area. It’s like introducing an experiment into the field, and we’ve just automated the process. That’s kind of what software is really good at, is automating processes. But what it does is it lets you, in a single year, it lets you go to school in areas of the field. It’s really, really popular. If I suggested you plant 39,000 in the best part of the field, you’d have anxiety about whether that was too much or not, or whether it was worth the seed investment. But you’d try an acre. You would try an acre of 39,000 in a heartbeat just to see if it worked or see if it paid. So, learning blocks, now we’ve added more to that where you can do replicated trials. You can do multiple rates and have it be replicated, but it’s really opened the door to how do I get there quicker? How do I get on that journey of making decisions and getting this constant feedback? Every year is different. So, what you said a little bit ago is exactly right. Three or four years of data is way better than one year, but you can get started really quick. We’ve had people start where, like on variable-rate soybeans, they were so unsure of what to do that they just seeded the field at the normal rate, and they put a bunch of learning blocks in just to experiment with different rates.

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SHAY FOULK: That’s great. One thing I want to go back to on the benchmarking, too, is a reason why a lot of farm operations that we work with like that exterior benchmarking. I’m not saying benchmarking is bad, so I don’t want that to be misconstrued here. But the reason they like that additional benchmarking is, sometimes, as farmers, we are the CEOs and the shareholders and the managers and the laborers all in one. Not every operation is a collaborative opportunity amongst different farmers. Not everybody has a community infrastructure where they can ask questions and look at economics in comparison, or maybe they don’t even have a family member to rely on, anywhere from first-generation farmers to someone that has just had to take on a lot of responsibility. So, I can see that benchmarking being a very valuable tool and then taking that information, like you said, with these learning blocks and applying that as quickly as possible. Brenton and I were talking here offline. One of the challenges with the learning process with some of this data is when it gets to variety or hybrid-specific crop analysis because in the industry, I mean, three to five years is about the lifetime that we’re seeing in these, and you can’t always make good decisions. About the time you learn what a hybrid does or how it responds, aside from the information that you’re getting from the seed companies, right when you get comfortable with it, there’s something else new out. And you have to take advantage of that because of the genetics and because of the advancements that we’re seeing in chemistry and herbicide resistance and things like that. So, I guess, Brenton, can you talk about that a little bit from a farmer perspective? It sounds like there are other things that we can quickly learn. Then, as we learn these products, the variety and hybrid-specific products, we can continue to make good decisions off of that, correct?

BRENTON ROSSMAN: Yeah, and that’s one thing. A passion of mine is on farm trialing and learning as much as I can, trying to put data into practice on our own farm to make the next step faster with a hybrid in year two or year three if this was its first year in season. What can we learn about all the different agronomic situations or scenarios on our own farm? How do hybrids perform differently? Lighter ground, heavier ground. High soil test P and K versus low soil test areas. We’ve done a lot of population trials on our farm, and it’s interesting. Definitely not bashing seed companies or anything, but we’ve done trials where we plant a certain hybrid at 35,000. That may be the suggested rate. On a certain soil type in a certain environment on my own fields, we see the highest return at 31,000 seeds per acre, so a lower seeding rate. Just having the ability to do some of this testing on our own farm, learning about the local environment, I’m going to trust the data from my own farm and use that for making decisions going forward.

SHAY FOULK: Well, and Dan, you said it really well at the beginning of this podcast. You have variability within your field boundaries. Whether it’s a 10-acre field, a 4,400-acre field, it doesn’t matter what size it is. There’s variability, and farmers know how to manage that instinctively, especially as you get time and experience in there. But if we can take that information from learning blocks or farm management zones and make better decisions off of it, hopefully we can learn quicker, and hopefully we can save money. Are you guys generating profit maps at this point?

DAN FRIEBERG: We do. Right now, it’s breakeven cost per bushel.


DAN FRIEBERG: So, we kind of focus that way, and it goes back to that we want to deliver the map the second yield file hits versus when the crop is marketed. A lot of growers sell over a 12-month period, so they don’t actually know their selling price, a lot of times, until months after harvest.

SHAY FOULK: That’s where the marketing decisions can be key, though, on knowing that cost of production and having it dialed in. Of course, that’s what we spend a lot of time working with growers on, and Chris and I will be the first ones to tell anybody out there. We run a system called Profit Manager, and you don’t have to use Profit Manager. You can use university systems. You can use any number of programs that are out there, but knowing that cost of production, and then how it ties back into the whole operation, is key and, I think, looking at it at a breakeven cost. If I know, as a farmer, instinctively, what my cost of production is, if I have that dialed into the penny, for me, let’s say it’s $3.72 or whatever it is on corn. If I’m looking at an area of the field that’s saying, hey, your breakeven is $5.43 here, that’s pretty eye-opening because we market in bushels. We’re not marketing off of dollars revenue per acre most of the time. Some operations do it that way, and they are successful at that, but it can be a pretty easy way to look at that. So, I think that’s interesting from the profit mapping perspective. How long have you been doing that?

DAN FRIEBERG: We actually started doing that in the very beginning. Almost killed the company in 1999 by doing it because what we ran into when we rolled it out is, first of all, back then, there was a lot of disorganization among growers. So, you would ask a grower for the cost information, and they would hand you a folder full of seed invoices and say, here, you sort it out. Back then, there were just a lot of growers who weren’t super organized. We’ve transitioned a lot in the last 20 years. But the second thing, Shay, is it really ratchets up the trust level between the grower. When you’re starting to track, when you really are getting to breakeven cost per bushel, that’s the most private information. If you put your actual land and management costs into it, too, that’s really private information. It’s the P and L for the field, so it’s super private. We kind of walked our way into it. Now, a lot of times, people start out, and it’s a faster transition now than it was back then. But they kind of have to get confidence before they’re really willing to share every detail about their operations.

SHAY FOULK: Yeah, and I understand that. I mean, farmers have a certain level of independence that they like, and there’s a reason, sometimes, that they’re in the industry because they’re their own boss. They can make the decisions. They can choose who they share the information with. So many operations we’ve seen have taken the understanding of, maybe, I can’t do all of this as effectively as someone else can by helping me. I talk with people all the time on that. When it comes to the reservation of sharing numbers, folks like us with the consulting side, or you all with the data management, we don’t care personally what John Farmer’s numbers are in north central Iowa or southwest Indiana. I mean, we don’t have the capacity to do anything with that information nor would we want to. We keep that wholly private, and having conversations with you all offline, too, I think, is one of the reasons I wanted to conduct this podcast. It’s just understanding that anytime you can get linked in with a company that really, truly values what the farmer is looking for and providing the value in that relationship and ensuring that they have that privacy and that the numbers aren’t going to be shared, and you’re just here as a provider to help them grow, that’s an excellent business model. I really appreciate it from that perspective. Go ahead, Dan.

DAN FRIEBERG: Shay, when you were talking about the high-cost areas of fields, you were talking about breakeven cost per bushel, and then you said, but what if I have an area that’s $5.42 or whatever. That happens. That’s real. We typically don’t tell any grower that we’re going to save them money because, a lot of times, if we save money on one part of the field, we invest it in another part of the field. But there are parts of fields where not investing as much is the only way you can lower your breakeven cost per bushel. You just can’t continue to invest the same in those parts of the field. You still have to farm them, but, for us, it’s all about making sure that the investment in crop protection and nutrients and seed is right for that area of the field. Sometimes, those are the best success stories, just learning to manage your investment in those poor-producing areas. Again, on a per-acre basis, you’re going to spend that money on the best part, but investing less in the worst part of the field, sometimes, is the only way to lower your breakeven.

SHAY FOULK: Brenton, I’m going to pick on you for a couple of minutes here. Dan, having tons, decades of experience here and starting the company, for you, with the — and I’m not saying Dan doesn’t — but having the real boots on the ground and talking with farmers all the time and having these conversations, what would you say makes Premier Crop Systems different from others in the industry that are doing some of this? What do you think the future of this type of business is? How do you see it continuing to provide value to farmers?

BRENTON ROSSMAN: I think the first thing that partners I work with, or growers I come into contact with, is they appreciate our independence as a company not tied to any input sales. We sell our service and our solutions. So, that’s important to me, and I think that’s important to a lot of our customers, as well, and also having a system that is not a canned output. Output from our system changes based on the grower’s goals. Advisors have the ability to customize their delivery, maybe, as Farmer John, for example, has a real interest in dialing in his fertility rates and maximizing his efficiency with that aspect of his operation. But Farmer Tom down the road is much more interested in the seed side of things, so just the ability to have a holistic solution that is completely customizable. I just think the business model, or that mentality, going forward will just continue to have success as the farmer of the future continues to evolve, and the younger generation, like myself, becomes more involved and wants to make decisions from data, has questions and really wants to dive into this information.

SHAY FOULK: One thing I would add to that is, you said it there in a little bit of a different way, but even though we’re moving towards making better management decisions, it doesn’t make things less complex necessarily. There are more and more high-management situations and high-management decisions to push the yield or to push the yield efficiency in some cases, too. I think, as we start experimenting and working with more of these things, whether you’re putting liquid in your planter, or you’re having a multipass nitrogen system, or you’re trying any number of biological products or a lot of the great programs that are out there right now, I think it gets even more important at that level of managing that information because, not only on a cost of production side, but from an information overload side. Is what I’m doing really working? Is what I’m doing really having the yield efficiency outlook that I want and providing the revenue back based on the time, effort, money in management that I’m putting into it? So, I think, as we gain the complexity in these operations, you have to have some sort of data management system that reports back to you or that you can take those numbers and do something with it because it has to be actionable. Dan, I think you hit on this early on. We’ve had this yield mapping information for 20 years or more at this point. We’ve had variable-rate planting information, and yet, today, I still get questions probably once a week on, well, where are your soybean planting rates at? Or what are other farm operations doing for nitrogen and fertility management? There’s nothing wrong with asking those questions, but in order to take that next step in the farming operation, we have to take actionable information and do something with it. So, Dan, I don’t know if you have any other comments on that.

DAN FRIEBERG: No, just everything you said is right on. It’s also like what you were talking about. Before the podcast, I was asking you about your experience with cover crops because that’s a big one we get. There are a lot of growers who have never done anything with cover crops, so they’re wanting insights or wanting to know the economics, and we’re constantly trying to figure out how we help prove it out quicker. That’s exactly why I was asking for your experience, because there’s just a lot of attention right now on cover crops.

SHAY FOULK: Absolutely. Is there anything that I’m not asking or anything that you’d want the listeners of this podcast to keep in mind as we move forward? The podcast is distributed all over the United States and Canada, farm operations of any shape and size. What message would you want to leave the listeners of this podcast with, as we wrap up here?

DAN FRIEBERG: Agronomy is local. What matters in one part of the country sure doesn’t in another part of the country, or it’s different. So, nitrogen management would be a great example, where what strategy you use really changes based on where you are. There are major east-west differences. There are big north-south differences. That agronomy local message is really a key. When you were talking about benchmarking, and we were talking about sharing data, it’s one of the reasons growers love these aggregated data sets that we talk about, where you’re anonymously comparing to other operations. It lets you see hybrids and varieties that you didn’t get to plant. You probably had 30 or 40 elite numbers pitched to you, and you might’ve planted 10 of them. But at the end of the year, you’d like to know how the other 30 that you passed on did. It’s just all part of that learning faster. How does everybody learn faster? Having a data platform to help growers learn faster is just a big piece of where our hearts are at and where we believe our future’s at.

SHAY FOULK: From your point there, Dan, too, I want to bring in a point from Brenton and I’s conversation here a week or week and a half ago, whenever it was, of that independence. You’re not tied to a seed company. You’re not tied to a chemical company. So, regardless of which of those top 40 hybrids did best or varieties, or maybe it wasn’t even one of those that was pitched to you that just had a fantastic year, being able to learn from that information and seeing it and having it available and understanding how it might fit into your management zones on the farm operation. It can make some of those decisions a little bit easier. The other thing that’s really unique about this is, not only with it being non-identifiable back to a particular operation or not being able to see anybody’s particular numbers, is when it comes to managing those decisions. If you have 40 products in front of you, it can be really overwhelming, but being able to take that and make those decisions faster, I really appreciate that perspective. I’m going to turn to you, Brenton, on this. If someone’s listening to this and wants to learn more about Premier Crop Systems, how do they get a hold of you guys? How do they ask some of these key questions and see what your services look like?

BRENTON ROSSMAN: I’d say the best way to get a hold of us would be to just visit our website. From the website, there’ll be a link on there for contacting us. Then, we’ll get you in touch with the right person.

SHAY FOULK: Absolutely. Dan Frieberg and Brenton Rossman, I really appreciate the time today, guys. Hopefully, those listening to the podcast got some value out of this, whether you choose to talk to someone at Premier Crop Systems, or just taking the information that you’ve learned here and maybe thinking about it as a different way. We have an exciting, new 2021 season ahead of us, and we all get opportunities to make good decisions. And the farmer is the eternal optimist. So, getting linked in with some of these people that can help your operation and take it to the next level, I think, is so important to hear more about those of you in the industry who are doing some of these things. So, Dan and Brenton, I really appreciate the time.

DAN FRIEBERG: Thank you, great to be with you.

SHAY FOULK: Thanks to Renee and Molly for getting us linked in. Really glad that we can do this. And, most importantly, thank you to everyone on the Ag View Pitch for tuning into another podcast, and we will catch you next time.

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

Nitrogen Strategies for your Fields

“It convinces growers to spread those nitrogen pounds out over the course of the season or minimally making more than one application, and they see improved efficiency. We’re talking about less pounds of nitrogen to produce a bushel of corn, and we generally see higher yields at the same time. So, it becomes a win-win.” – Mike Manning

RENEE HANSEN: Hey, Mike, welcome to the Premier Podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about helping a grower have a nitrogen strategy. So, first, I know you’ve been on the podcast before, but can you just quickly introduce yourself and tell us what you do at Premier Crop?

MIKE MANNING: Hi, Renee. Good to catch up again. Mike Manning, Premier Crop Systems. I’m our Nebraska Account Manager and Agronomic Information Advisor. I support some of our retail partners in a few different areas and work directly with a good set of growers across the state of Nebraska.

RENEE HANSEN: Thanks for that intro, Mike. Also, I know there are a lot of people who follow you out on the Twitter world, and you’re known as who on Twitter?

MIKE MANNING: DataManning. You can find me on Twitter @DataManning.

RENEE HANSEN: Perfect. Great. Well, thanks for that introduction. So, let’s go into this nitrogen strategy and why we believe that a grower and why you believe and work with growers who should have a nitrogen strategy. Let’s just take it from the first step of planning and having a plan and a strategy when it comes to nitrogen.

MIKE MANNING: Well, you hit it right on the head. First, we have to have a plan about how we’re going to go about applying our nitrogen or what our season-long plan is for nitrogen management. The simple answer is there is no one-size-fits-all solution, especially when it comes to nitrogen management. It needs to fit into your rotation. It needs to fit into your logistics, your available labor, how you’re going to manage different cultural practices and other tools that you have at your disposal, whether that’s equipment limitations, irritation or rainfall limitations, yield potential. All these dynamics play together. One I’ve left out there would be topography and soil types. Also very important. A lot of nitrogen plans probably have fallen under that cultural practice of what a specific area has been accustomed to doing. Some examples of that might be 100% of total expected nitrogen needs applied in the fall with anhydrous ammonia or spring-applied anhydrous ammonia. I’d say, really over the last 20 years, you’ve seen more of a move towards split application of nitrogen. There’s a fair amount of research that’s come behind that’s, I would say, pretty widely accepted in the industry now that split application of nitrogen is much more common than it ever used to be.

With what I work with in Nebraska, it’s almost universal. I know that’s not the case in some of the rainfed states and different management systems and on different soil types. I wouldn’t even say growers that are limited to owning their own equipment. Even one split application, maybe anywhere from 50 to 75% of their nitrogen upfront in the spring pre-plant or early post-plant and, then, a single side-dress application. Probably, more commonly, what I see for that nitrogen delivery method is some form of upfront pre-plant. Pretty common to come back with a weed and feed pass, where we have 32 or 28% nitrogen, potentially some Thio-Sul mixed in with an early post-planter, early post-emergence application. Then, perhaps another trip back across the field with a coulter bar at about V5. In the great state of Nebraska, with our irrigation, we tend to put it on season-long. We’d like to fertilize through our pivots, generally, at about 50% of our total N needs.

RENEE HANSEN: So, Mike, you’re talking, I mean, you’re going right into application timing. How does somebody plan for their application timing? Obviously, in Nebraska, they do have the capability to do that because they are working with a pivot, but for the rest of those who don’t have some kind of irrigation system, how do you plan for those different application timings? What are you looking at to make that plan? Are you using data from the past? Can you do it year one after you use the data, or do you need to be in a system for numerous years to develop a bigger plan, a bigger strategy?

MIKE MANNING: You’ve asked some multifaceted questions there. So, let’s kind of break that down one by one. Let’s just go. Let’s say we’re making the decision to go between a single application, like we historically have, and two applications. We’re going to split some portion of our total nitrogen pounds. The best way I explain it to growers is that our corn crop has a season-long nitrogen requirement. The closer that we can supply our synthetic nitrogen to that growing crop, or to the crop as it’s growing through the course of the season, the better efficiency we’re going to have. There are definitely places in Iowa and Illinois with very high organic matter, very strong holding capacity and some very nice flat-level fields. Dan Frieberg shared it many times in the past. Well, we kind of call it our surrogate data. Why are we seeing, in the group data, these 100% nitrogen fall-applied ammonia always showing up as the highest yielding in the database? Well, we were making those applications to some of our best fields that we could go place all that nitrogen at that time, in the fall, how to be available. And there are prime acres to begin with. The acres that were receiving a split application, or had some other balance of nitrogen pounds throughout the season, were those rolling hills mixtures of sand and clay and just more marginal acres that needed to be managed with a different stroke anyway.

Probably one of the biggest things I see, as it convinces growers to spread those nitrogen pounds out over the course of the season or minimally making more than one application, they see improved efficiency. And by improved efficiency, talking about pounds of nitrogen to produce a bushel of corn, and we generally see higher yields at the same time. So, it becomes a win-win. To what I think was one of your second questions: how many years of data do we need to have, or how do we arrive at our total nitrogen requirement? Again, we can kind of break that apart in a couple of different pieces. For somebody that is making a single application, I would say just take a couple of fields and plant a split application. Again, how does that fit into your labor and logistics workflow? For growers that own their own equipment with the sprayer, it’s pretty easy to convert. Not too much more difficult to incorporate a weed and feed side-dress nitrogen going on with your post herbicide. For guys that hire it out, that hire their spraying out, it might make sense for them to acquire a coulter bar and go make an application in season. Or at least go rent one and try it. Take a handful of fields and just try it for a couple of years. Now, if you have 6% organic matter on perfectly flat earth, you’ll probably completely disagree with me. If you farm anything other than that, I would put my money on split applications just about every time.

RENEE HANSEN: The split application is really becoming more popular. You mentioned that in the beginning of this podcast, that you’ve definitely seen the trend move the line more towards split applications. So, you did mention this also about nitrogen efficiency based off of the field. So, can you talk about why having a plan, a nitrogen strategy, how that makes you more efficient with your nitrogen to gain more yield?

MIKE MANNING: Combination of factors. I’d say, bottom line, it does. A split application helps us be more efficient, but if we’re measuring the results off of our farm, we can actually see what those real efficiency values are. With Premier Crop, we talk about zone management a lot, managing fields by zones. Zone management makes sense. Just for my standard disclaimer on that, we’re not talking about zone soil sampling. We still have a grid soil sample underneath of that. One of our favorite methods for arriving at Management Zones is principally looking at historic yield data. For the most part, the best area of the field has always been the best area of the field. The poorest area of the field has always been the poorest area of the field. Using other pieces of spatial data to maybe augment that, whether that’s grid sample data, EC, EM data, soil survey maps, where applicable. We can use that to help augment and guide zones.

So, now we think of our traditional Premier Crop ABC management zone approach. We start seeing efficiencies. You start breaking that out year over year, especially in those corn years. If I see consistent efficiency of, say, 0.75-0.8 pounds of synthetic nitrogen per bushel produced in my A zone, maybe 0.9 or 1.0 in my B zone and maybe anywhere from 1 to 1.2 pounds of nitrogen in my C zone, I see that consistency. We can confirm our zones. A, we know our zones are behaving how we believe they ought to be behaving. B, we’ve dialed in management, probably with a variable-rate seeding approach, as well. And C, now we can start incorporating these nitrogen efficiencies that we’re observing within the field. That becomes, well, A becomes an efficiency driver. And, all of a sudden, let me do some quick math. If I’m producing 280 bushels in my A zone, but my efficiency is at 0.7 pounds of nitrogen, I really only needed 196-200 pounds of synthetic nitrogen in that A zone. In that C zone, that’s at 1.1, and it’s producing 225. I probably needed 240-250 pounds of nitrogen in that C zone. At the end of the day, it’s spatial management. As things change in the field, we’re adapting our management to it and, then, marrying economics and efficiency back to it. Now, it also ties right into sustainability. We’re being a lot more — we’re just being smarter with how we’re applying fertilizers on our fields.

RENEE HANSEN: Mike, that was going to be my next question to you, and I think you already answered it. When it comes to nitrogen and efficiency, it couples the economics, so profitability for the farm and sustainability to the land.

MIKE MANNING: Absolutely. It’s agronomics, economics and the sustainability piece. Agronomically, we’re producing good bushels. Economically, we’re doing it very efficiently. Sustainability-wise, we are being good stewards of the land and being good stewards of our fertilizer resources.

RENEE HANSEN: Lastly, can you talk a little bit about what Premier Crop is doing with what we call Enhanced Learning Blocks and possibly what you can do with a nitrogen strategy?

MIKE MANNING: Sure. So, Enhanced Learning Blocks, I’m pretty passionate about Enhanced Learning Blocks. I’ve been using them widely since 2016. I haven’t done a ton with nitrogen, but there’s certainly an opportunity to do that. So, an Enhanced Learning Block we’re taking builds off the traditional Learning Block concept.

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Let’s take a two or three-acre block in a known area of the field, and let’s change our rate. Let’s go up or down. Well, enhanced learning blocks enabled us to introduce both randomization and replication. So, instead of testing a single rate in a two or three-acre block, let’s test three or four different rates and then replicate it five times. So, now, in the case of nitrogen, if I was, say, on a side-dress application, I was coming in with 30 gallons of 32%. Let’s pull up 28.005. So, if I was at 30 gallons there, I’m looking at about 90 pounds of nitrogen. Within that enhanced learning block, maybe it’s about four acres in size now. Let’s test rates at 20 gallons, 25, 30 and 35. Or 25, 30, 35 and 40. This system — we build it into the prescription system — enables that application to execute in the field. Then, we can have statistically valid nitrogen response results to review at the end of the season, and that becomes very powerful. What is the right rate? Obviously, one trial one year from one field is not going to answer the question for your entire farm, but it starts you down that path of learning. In many cases where I use Enhanced Learning Blocks with my growers, we have multiple blocks where you have anywhere from one to five blocks per field, and we replicate that on just about every field they farm. So, they’re building a research quality data set off of their own farm with their precision equipment. I’ll leave it at that. Nitrogen management and how nitrogen behaves in the soil, in the environment, and how it performs agriculturally, agronomically for us, is probably one of the most complex aspects of agronomy. Again, just to reiterate, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but it is about tailoring and optimizing things that best suit your farm.

RENEE HANSEN: And that’s why having a nitrogen strategy and building that with an agronomic information advisor like you, Mike, is really helpful because you have the knowledge. You see the data, and you can help the grower learn, year over year, how to best get the best profitability and sustainability on their land.

MIKE MANNING: Absolutely.

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

Learn more about soil health.

How Yield Efficiency Can Impact Your Operation

“It’s just putting data to work for you. You can drill down on which fields, and which parts of fields are most profitable, and which aren’t. I think the more you help growers know their costs, the better managers they are.” – Dan Frieberg

DAN FRIEBERG: When we talk about yield efficiency, to me, it comes down to us being willing to track the economics of the decisions that we’re influencing with the grower and tie it out economically for the grower. In a lot of people’s minds, yield has theoretically represented higher profits, but we also know that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes higher yields come at so much higher costs that they aren’t more profitable. In general, that hasn’t been that wrong. If we can produce higher yields many times, it is more profitable because you’re spreading more units of production over the same fixed cost, and one of the big fixed costs is land cost. Whether you produce 100 bushel of something or 200 bushel of something, unless you have a flex lease, a lot of times your land cost doesn’t change. There are rental agreements where the land owner is sharing both in the upside and the downside associated with higher yields and all that. So, yield efficiency, for us, is the dollar-per-acre return to land and management, and the reason we define it that way is because we don’t influence what somebody pays for land. We don’t influence their land cost.

Don’t get me wrong. They can use data. They can use the analytics we provide to make land rent decisions, to make land purchase decisions. So, they always have. They use analytics to help them decide what to rent and what to buy and all that. On a yearly basis, we’re not impacting land cost, and management cost is another one where we probably don’t have as big an influence. So, there’s a lot rolled into management. For a lot of operations, it includes family living and health insurance and a whole bunch of other things that are really a key part of the operation but not something that we advise on. But we do advise on nutrients. We spend a lot of time helping growers manage their nutrient investment. We help them a lot with the seed investment, both what they choose to buy and where they plant it and at what rates. And we also help on crop protection decisions. Then, the fourth one is operations. We don’t advise on operations. We don’t get into what equipment they should buy. There are a lot of data analytics tied to operations. We can analyze no-till versus conventional till, and we can break down and analyze differences in cost associated with different tillage types. Yield efficiency, for us, is just about how do we drive higher return to land and management? We do that through how we advise growers, how we advise them to spend nutrients, seed and crop protection dollars.

RENEE HANSEN: So, why is that becoming so much more important now than it was 10 years ago?

DAN FRIEBERG: It has always been important.

RENEE HANSEN: But are margins getting tighter than they were 10 years ago?

DAN FRIEBERG: Not today. They just blew. Margins are record high. I mean, people’s optimism at the farm gate has bounced way back. We’ve had this dramatic uptick, so margins are stretching back out. So, opportunities for people to make money, but Renee, it doesn’t matter. In good times and bad, this message resonates. It makes sense no matter what. Spending your money wisely just makes sense. Are growers more aggressive when the commodity prices are high? Some of them are. Some of them are way more aggressive. Will more growers take a chance on fungicides because of high commodity prices? Absolutely. Commodity prices have increased more than fungicide prices. When commodity prices are high, it takes less bushels to pay for the fungicide. So, more growers will probably take a shot at fungicides this year than in past years.

RENEE HANSEN: We also talk about, sometimes, growers wanting to grow their operation. Tell me more about that.

DAN FRIEBERG: It’s really natural. It’s just the competitiveness of agriculture. There are a lot of growers who are adding to their operation. They’re wanting to add. It’s all about spreading yourself and your employees and your equipment over more acres. If you can add another thousand acres and still farm in a timely fashion, it makes it more economical. Combines are really expensive, so being able to spread that combine over another thousand acres drives your per-acre costs down, which is the same with your labor. There is additional labor cost to farm another thousand acres. But even labor — employees come with a benefit package. You have to pay benefits. There are a bunch of employee costs that, if you can spread it over another thousand acres, it helps pay the bills and helps you be more profitable.

RENEE HANSEN: So, can you explain the metric that we’re using? We’re using a gauge or a metric, or we’re giving a yield efficiency score. We’re using that per operation, and we’re also doing it per field because we can do it spatially. So, can you just tell me more about each of those?

DAN FRIEBERG: Sure. So, the gauge you’re referring to is what we call the Yield Efficiency Score. Really, it’s a fairly simple formula. It’s just a benchmark selling price that every user gets to set. We’re not benchmarking who sold the best, so it’s a benchmark selling price times your yield. So, Premier Crop, part of our analytics program is we’re using the yield file. So, we’re receiving all this yield data. It’s benchmark selling price times yield minus your investment in nutrients, seed, crop protection products and field operation. What’s left is return to land and management. How many dollars per acre do you have left to pay for your land cost and your management costs? So, what you referred to is part of what we’re able to do. Let growers benchmark themselves, their yield efficiency score versus other growers in their area anonymously. Growers like that. It’s just another way to make sure you’re on track or just see how you’re doing compared to others. So, that comparison, people like. They like to be able to anonymously compare with really quality data. That attention to getting the data right is really a big deal and having good quality data. So, that’s a big piece of it, but then the other part you referred to is being able to take it down to a field level. It’s not just benchmarking outside your operation. How do you compare to others? It’s within your operation. If you’re farming 50 fields, just being able to rank order those 50 fields from a yield efficiency standpoint, return to land and management, that’s a significant piece of analysis.

Renee, as soon as growers see those scores, trust me, they do the math so fast on land costs. They know exactly what their land cost is for each field. It’s not something they have to go look for. Then, the last one that you talked about is being able to do it spatially within a field, which means we can do it by management zone within a field. Which is really, by far, the most important to me because what we consistently do for our customers is we spend more in certain parts of the field. We know there are a lot of times, if you’re following our recommendations, it could be a $50-or-$80-an-acre higher input spend. In some parts of the field, we’re spending significantly more on nutrients, and we’re increasing the seed population. So, we could easily spend more in part of the field, and the reason it’s so important to be able to track yield efficiency spatially within the field is so that, at the end of the year, we can prove to the grower that extra $50 an acre in the best part of the field generated more, far more, than the $50 of additional input costs. For me, this is, just this yield efficiency thing, is what we should have done. 10 years ago, yeah, we probably should have pushed harder to do it then because I think growers always respond to anything if you can prove that something pays for a grower. They’ll respond to that. For a lot of new growers — we’re really blessed with a lot of growers who have been with us for decades, and the reason they have is we’ve convinced them over the years that it pays. They wouldn’t keep buying our service if they weren’t sure it was paying. But for a lot of new growers, this ability to tie economics and just have a report card every year that shows: where we spent more, we made more, or where we spent less, we made more. Throughout the entire field, being able to document that what we spent made them more in either higher input investment or lower input investment. Really, growers respond to profitability, but there are so many people who talk about it, and they have no way to prove it. Everybody that drives up the driveway talks that way, but they can’t prove it. They can’t. That’s kind of the magic of what we do. This is the grower’s data. We’re using all the grower’s data, and we’re proving it.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, so tell me about using all the grower’s data. You say others are saying that they use profitability. So, what are we doing to prove it? You kind of gave a list of the seed, the nutrients, operations, crop protection, but can you go dive a little deeper?

DAN FRIEBERG: Sure. So, when we talk about all the grower’s data, it starts with just naming the field and getting a field boundary. Once you get the field boundary, you can go get the soil’s data, and now you can get LIDAR data, which is elevation data. So, you can kind of have an idea of how water moves within the field, but then we just keep adding to it. Soil sample information is a big part of it, whether it’s zone or grid sample. A lot of our customers are grid samples, which means we’re measuring organic matter and pH and soil test nutrient levels within the field in small increments, like couple-acre blocks. So, we’re measuring all those layers of data, and then, when the planter makes a pass across the field, we’re grabbing planting date. We have row spacing and population and the hybrid and variety that got planted. And that hybrid and variety is not just the company and the number, but it’s also the trait package. We’re able to sort SmartStax versus VT PRO versus some other traits. So, it’s trait packages, and then, when it comes to nutrients, we’re grabbing the soil sample data. We’re getting what’s in the soil. But then, for us, it’s about what we add, whether we’re making the addition of nutrients through manure, or whether it’s with commercial fertilizer. So, we’re tracking the rate of the nutrient, the cost of the nutrient, the timing of the nutrient, if it’s fall versus spring versus side dress. We can track all those details. If the nutrient had an additive, we’re tracking that, and then you step into crop protection. Now, because of weed resistance, crop protection is, again, becoming much more complicated than it was for a decade when it was just how many ounces of Roundup people were using. Now, it’s a lot more. There are a lot more products being used. It could be 40 different combinations of additives and crop protection products. Each time, it’s the product, the rate, the source, timing, costs, so just terrific detail. Tillage, field operations, how many passes, what the passes were. Just try to incorporate as much detail as we can about what’s happening within the field so that we can do the best possible job of managing all those inputs.

RENEE HANSEN: So, how do we compare this anonymously with another grower, apples to apples? Because you just listed a ton of data layers, a ton of cost information, and let’s say somebody else doesn’t have all that information in the system. How can you compare that apples to apples and get a benchmarking yield efficiency score?

DAN FRIEBERG: We can walk people through this really quick. Renee, there are a lot of growers who have data. They just don’t — it’s scattered. I mean, they have data in the Ops Center. They have it in Climate. They have it in some retailer’s software. I mean, it could be a retailer’s software. It could be on their own. I mean, it’s all over the place. Sometimes it’s not in a digital format. Sometimes it’s written down. It’s just all over the place. But a lot of growers have data, and part of it is how we pass down farm equipment. Every time somebody buys a new piece of equipment, they trade. So, it’s like existing farming operations. They trade, and as they trade, somebody else trades. And when they trade, they trade the technology with it.  They’re not stripping the monitors out of the cab each time they trade. A lot of times, they’re not. So, that technology is being passed down, meaning there are a whole bunch of growers who don’t operate new farm equipment, and they have the technology in the cab. There are just a lot of growers who have the capability. They have the capability of collecting data and capturing data, and they have a lot of variable-rate capability of which a lot of them aren’t using.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, I was just going to ask you that too. Can you elaborate? The growers have so much that they can do with their data. Do you feel that they don’t even know what they’re capable of getting and gaining with the technology they already have?

DAN FRIEBERG: I think, a lot of times, with a lot of people — a lot of growers and a lot of people — it’s finding somebody you trust. If the person you trust for advice doesn’t talk to you about this or doesn’t have a solution, you might not ever pursue it. You might not pursue it on your own because, in your circle, nobody’s championing why you should be using the technology in the cab or your data to make better decisions.

RENEE HANSEN: Well, if somebody doesn’t mention it to you, you don’t know what you don’t know.

DAN FRIEBERG: Yeah, you don’t. You literally don’t. So, I think that’s part of what happens. Another place I wanted to go, Renee, was people talk — I mean, when I talk about everybody that drives down the farmer’s driveway has a profitability message, a lot of times, they say return on investment. They wrap everything. So, the number of times people say ROI or return, it becomes a buzzword that nobody backs up. Nobody has. When they talk about backing up their ROI, they pull out some plot book. It’s some trial that happened someplace else. I think it’s one thing that we just really do a lot. You can’t really tell somebody the ROI unless you do an experiment in the field, and that’s really what we do all the time. We just do experiment after experiment, in volumes, in growers fields. It’s all in pursuit of having better recommendations. So, the reason we do experiments is so we can calculate ROI. It’s so that we do know whether that input paid or not. If I go out to a grower and I talk to them about nitrogen rate, and their total N rate is 200 pounds of actual N, and I think that they’re over-applying, the best possible way for me to have that discussion is just to suggest that we put a lower-rate experiment in their field. It doesn’t have to be a lot of acres, but if that works, then the grower saves money and gets higher yields or same yield. That’s a starting place and a discussion.

Same with everything. Every input decision can become an experiment. So, to me, the best way to get an ROI is to simply do a trial. And we’re not talking about — when I got in the business, a trial meant flags. It meant field flags, and it meant a ‘weigh wagon.’ That’s how you did trials. You just spent all your — like I spent all fall running around with a ‘weigh wagon.’ Literally, just day and night, running around with a ‘weigh wagon’ because that’s the only way you could do a field trial. And now, everybody’s got the ability to measure. The monitor in the cab is measuring. So, a little bit of help on calibration, making sure you’re calibrated, and you’re off and running. We can use the technology to execute field trials, and it’s just so much easier than it was years ago. And it really just opens the door. It opens the door to back up the ROI message over and over again. It doesn’t have to be results from somewhere else. We say growers love local data, and you can’t get more local than my fields. That’s who we are. It’s not: ‘How did it do somewhere? How did it do for your neighbor?’ It’s: ‘How did it do for you?’ And doing trials is a big piece of what we do.

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, and you’re talking about the buzzword of ROI, and I feel like Premier Crop has coined the buzzword of yield efficiency. I’m starting to see yield deficiency pop up in other places, people talking more and more about yield efficiency rather than using ROI. And why is yield efficiency a more important message than ROI?

DAN FRIEBERG: So, for me, they can be really similar. I mean, they can be part of the same discussion. So, for me, yield efficiency is just combining economics and agronomics, and it’s at every level. It’s sub-field, in a trial. It’s management zones, in a field. It’s this field compared to another field. Across your whole operation, how do my fields compare? Then, it’s being able to go beyond your own operation to: ‘How do I compare to peers in my neighborhood or my region?’ A lot of times, when I think of ROI, I tend to think of it as — so, yield efficiency is this all encompassing bucket of nutrients and seed and crop protection and field operations. But, for me, ROI is more about individual components that make up those buckets. If I’m a grower, it’s like: ‘What’s my ROI if I put 50 pounds of Y-DROP nitrogen on?’ So, later nitrogen. What’s my ROI if I do a fungicide? What’s my ROI if I do a biological? All those things, all those decisions roll up into yield efficiency because they’re all input costs. And, hopefully, they impact yield. So, all those things roll up into yield efficiency. But when I think of ROI, I’m thinking of individual decisions. I mean, decisions I’m making about input components of what goes into yield efficiency.

RENEE HANSEN: Well, and I think it’s important to note, also, it doesn’t have to be with a variable-rate application of anything. You can still get a yield efficiency score with flat rate.

DAN FRIEBERG: Sure. As we onboard new growers, that’s a big deal, just to capture where they are. Before you started doing anything, what was your yield efficiency?

RENEE HANSEN: Yeah, so if somebody is coming on board and is not doing any variable-rate nutrients or seed, they can still get a yield efficiency score in a benchmarking setting.

DAN FRIEBERG: Yep. Renee, earlier on, I just remembered what it was I wanted to talk about. Earlier on, you kind of said or you asked something like: ‘Why don’t more growers, or why do I think more growers don’t do this or think like this?’ I think that a lot of growers have the attitude of: ‘Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt.’ They think they tried it. Somebody pitched them an idea. Somebody told them about precision ag or whatever buzzword they used at the time. Somebody told them how this was. Somebody created this expectation, and then whoever that was didn’t deliver.

RENEE HANSEN: There’s no follow through.

DAN FRIEBERG: Yeah, so there are a lot of growers who, you meet with them, and they say: ‘Tried that 15 years ago. Didn’t work here. Doesn’t work here. Maybe it works where you’re at. It doesn’t work here.’ Then, you really start asking questions about: ‘What do you mean it didn’t work?’ And what you find out is they never compared. They never looked at the relationship of yield and the prescription, whatever it was. Nobody did the basic analytics for them or the classic one. The classic one, 20 years ago, was people would say: ‘I’m going to grid-sample your field. We’re going to variable-rate apply nutrients. And all these multi-colors, from high to low, on the map, we’re going to even all those out. We’re going to build up the low areas. We’re going to pull down the high areas, and your map will all be green. We’re going to make your field uniform.’ And 12 years later, the field is no more uniform than it was to start with. And my point is that should never have been the goal. You get paid on yield efficiency. You get paid on generating more return for every dollar you invest. You don’t get paid for making your fields uniform. The reason it didn’t work, Renee, is because the high-yielding areas tend to pull down nutrients because you’re consistently removing more nutrients from those areas. And even though the equation, the variable-rate equation, was supposed to be dealing with that, it never caught up. Those high-yield areas just kept producing more and more, removing more and more, and the reason the field wasn’t more uniform at the end of four years or 12 years was just they never kept up with that additional crop removal associated with really high yields.

RENEE HANSEN: So, the way I see it, utilizing a yield efficiency score, the way that we are calculating it, can potentially help a grower to grow their operation in a multitude of ways. Not only by gaining more acres, but they can also, potentially, gain more profits with what they already have by optimizing and utilizing some variable rate to see where their yield efficiency score is. They should be able to see what fields really aren’t producing as high, so they shouldn’t be spending as much in that field, in certain parts of the field.

DAN FRIEBERG: I think the whole yield efficiency message is just, I think, it helps growers know their costs. It helps them know. I mean, it’s just putting data to work for you. Really, like you say, you can drill down on which fields are most profitable, which aren’t. You can drill down on which parts of fields are most profitable. I think the more you help growers know their costs, the better managers they are.

RENEE HANSEN: But I feel like they already know their costs. I feel like most of them are like: ‘Oh, no, I got that. I got it on a spreadsheet. I have my tally. I know exactly what I’m going to be spending on my inputs.’

DAN FRIEBERG: And you’re right. They know their costs across the whole operation, probably. I think the difference is just knowing it within field by field and within fields. So, it’s probably just the nature of being able to break it down into finer resolution. Renee, what we don’t do is take university-average cost associated with farming and divide it by their yield. This is not pretend economics. This is tracking. Like I say, we track if that part of the field is getting 10,000 more seeds than the other part. We’re tracking the cost associated with that 10,000 more seeds in the best part of the field.

RENEE HANSEN: We talk about plans, like having a plan and then pushing that to ‘actual.’ This is the ‘actual.’ I mean, we’re talking about what actually happened.

DAN FRIEBERG: Growing your operation is a tough one, Renee, because there are so many pieces to it.


DAN FRIEBERG: One thing that stands out to me is — it was from a winter grower meeting. And these growers were talking about how there was an area where there’s a lot of livestock also, and they were talking about how every pen of pigs or cattle that they sold, they knew the economics associated with that pen, meaning they tied it out economically. In livestock, it’s just such a part of the culture. Every unit of production gets tied out economically. So, sometimes, I’m so jealous of the livestock industry because I feel like: ‘Okay, you guys are way ahead, like we’re playing catch up.’ But that’s really what we’re trying to do. Tie out every unit of production economically. It’s not enough to know just what the total weight was. It’s converting the weight and the input cost into dollar returns. And that’s kind of what we’re focusing on.

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 and farm efficiency, visit our blog at

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