Canadian Precision Farming Entrepreneurs

Kurt Lawton

Farmers Edge Precision Consulting based in Winnipeg, Manitoba has become a fast-growing business helping farmers cut fertilizer costs and increase profits. The two agronomy experts who started the company just received an entrepreneur award, according to a report in The Gov Monitor.

Farmers were so impressed with an innovative crop fertilization service developed by Curtis MacKinnon and Wade Barnes that they urged them to take it to market, giving them the push they needed to strike out on their own. Since that initial start four years ago, Farmers Edge Precision Consulting has become a fast-growing business that is helping farmers across the Prairies and as far away as Russia improve their practices and profits. For this success, Wade, 34, and Curtis, 33, have won BDC’s Young Entrepreneur Award for Manitoba.

Farmers Edge helps take the guesswork out of farming. It combines remote sensing equipment and technology to redefine how farmers apply fertilizer to their fields to increase crop yields. The business is helping grain and oilseed farmers increase their profits by $15 to $100 per acre, while contributing to a 15 to 25% decrease in fertilizer application. Now covering 750,000 acres across the Prairies, Farmers Edge has grown to 10 management partners, 34 full-time and 11 seasonal employees, along with 17 consulting partners who are re-sellers of the services. Farmers Edge has just opened its own soil-testing laboratory, has taken its concept to large corporate farms in Russia and is constantly exploring new ideas.

“Before we got started, I was working in the fertilizer business, where research had been done on variable rate technology, but no one had found a way to make it viable,” explains Wade. “Then I started working with Curtis, who is gifted in technology, and together we decided to reinvent the wheel.” Wade hit on the idea of using remote sensing to map out the varying fertilizer needs throughout a field, and Curtis found a way to make fertilizer machines vary their output according to that map. When farmers saw what Farmers Edge could do, the service sold itself.

The two agronomy experts attribute the fast growth of Farmers Edge to the talented team and the unique ownership model they have put in place. That includes a design whereby territory managers take equity in the company. “We have been fortunate to find key people who share our drive,” says Curtis. “That has allowed us to keep growing and expanding.”

Curtis and Wade see expansion as a way of reducing risk. “Agriculture is so influenced by weather that if you are regionalized, one weather disaster could virtually wipe you out,” explains Wade. “Expanding into other regions reduces that risk.” They’re also always on the lookout for possible new ventures. “We’re very quick to seize opportunities. If we have an idea, we chase it.” That led them to Russia in 2006. Since then, Farmers Edge has been developing business in Russia and the Ukraine, tapping into the large corporate farm market.

Aerial Imagery, Dealers, Fertilizer, International, Remote sensing, Retailers

Talk Precision Farming With Your Seed Dealer

Kurt Lawton

Insights WeeklyFirst off, I order 12 consecutive days of sunshine across the US so we can keep those yield monitors spinning to map data—to help close out a very odd summer and fall.

Hybrid/Variety Yield Mapping -- Overlay planting maps with real-time harvest maps to view instant yield result variations by hybrid/variety in the field. This provides better seed selection data for next planting season.

Hybrid/Variety Yield Mapping -- Overlay planting maps with real-time harvest maps to view instant yield result variations by hybrid/variety in the field. This provides better seed selection data for next planting season.

Thinking of brighter days ahead, be sure to make mental/written notes as harvest progresses, because hybrid/variety selection time is upon us. To that end, I talked this week with Pioneer sales rep and Ag Leader master service dealer Mike Anderegg, who advises his seed clients on all things seed and technology near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Mike helps growers understand the value of farm data, and how it can truly help hybrid and variety selection—one of the most important decisions you make each year. “Data collection is an evolution which usually starts with visual yield monitoring (just watching it, not recording), then using GPS to map it. Once growers start to analyze maps and think about the impact of their management practices—that’s when the desire for more data usually begins,” Anderegg says.

“Yields alone can perhaps tell them that they waited too long to harvest these soybeans, or perhaps they needed to harvest corn at a different moisture level,” he says. Growers quickly see the value in adding data layers for soil type, soil fertility levels, hybrid/variety maps and more.

“The data is all about seeing trends along hybrid and varietal lines. When you know the ground and your agronomic practices, we can look at hybrids on slow cool early soils, on lighter droughty soils, on middle ground, on corn-on-corn and first-year corn. And this data then helps deliver better future recommendations,” Anderegg adds.

“Along with seed advice, I can offer growers precision farming technology that can do anything and everything they want. The challenge is making it work with best agronomic practices, and having an adoption plan to make it all work together. I help growers think through what practices they want to do—from yield gathering and mapping to variable-rate planting, fertilizing and spraying. We also talk about whether moving tools between vehicles is desired. Then we can craft a technology adoption plan that fits their agronomic desires. And one that helps them make more money,” he says.

Ag Leader, Education, Equipment, Harvesting, Insights Weekly, seed

Planting With Precision For Southeast Farmers

Chuck Zimmerman

Bruce SauderBesides taking part in the field demonstrations at Sunbelt Ag Expo I also wandered through the indoor exhibits. The first one I stopped at was Precision Planting. I spoke with Bruce Sauder about what is new with the company that producers were getting to see in their exhibit.

He says that some of the new units that they’ve come out with this year include a 20/20 RowFlow Module that controls the population rate of seed as you move through the field and swath control for minimizing overplanting. Bruce says the swath control can save as much as 2 bushels of seed in a 240 acre center pivot.

You can listen to my interview with Bruce below:

Sunbelt Ag Expo 2009 Photo Album

Audio, Sunbelt Ag Expo

Precision In The Field at Sunbelt Ag Expo

Chuck Zimmerman

Trimble BoothThe 2009 Sunbelt Ag Expo has concluded and it did include a number of exhibits from precision product companies. One of those, having the largest field demonstration wasTrimble. I stopped and spoke with Matt Hesse, Autopilot Sales Manager.

The company was showing various levels of precision integration. They had two different land leveling systems. One used a GPS control and one used a 2D laser system. They also had their new TrueGuide passive implement steering system in use. This system puts an antenna on the implement to tell the tractor where it is so the tractor knows how much to move in relation to the desired line to optimize the placement of the implement. They also had their TrueTracker System on multiple tractors and implements.

Matt says that they take applications that are not possible for human beings and put them into a machine to do it for us. This ultimately increases efficiencies that have produced up to 20 bushels per acre increases in corn.

Feel free to check out my photos from this year’s Sunbelt Ag Expo 2009 Photo Album. My visit to the show was made possible by Growth Energy.

Sunbelt Ag Expo, Trimble, Video

Hi-Tech Wired Magazine Talks Precision Farming

Kurt Lawton

Always good to see high technology magazines talk about precision agriculture that’s happening down on the farm. My favorite hi-tech pub, Wired, just posted a nice story on their website: “Self-Steered Tractors and UAVs: Future Farming Is (Finally) Now.” A lot of the story was based on Idaho grower Robert Blair, who was named PrecisionAg’s 2009 Precision Farmer of the Year.

It talks about the rapid adoption of auto steer due to payback, the big generational shift going on, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey crops, yield monitors and maps, variable-rate applications and much more.

It also mentions environmental challenges and talks some about sustainability, handling those topics in a fair manner.

Read it, and pass it along to your town and city friends. The more educating we do with the general public, the better!

Equipment, Farmers, Fertilizer, GPS, Guidance, Precision Ag in the News, Satellite, Spraying, sustainability

A Precision Gator

Kurt Lawton

John Deere has now updated its popular autonomous R-Gator utility vehicle with a refined chassis, based from the M-Gator military platform vehicle.

The go-anywhere R-Gator now features independent suspension and improved ground clearance. And it also boasts a faster top speed, travelling up to 35 mph in manual mode.

“Since we’re always looking to improve our products, we’ve been running R-Gator exercises with soldiers and marines,” said Mark Bodwell, worldwide military affairs group manager for John Deere. “Through those exercises, we’ve come to appreciate just how important it is to be able to navigate hilly or rough terrain quickly. The improved R-Gator was developed in direct response to the military feedback we received.”
The R-Gator has 11 inches of ground clearance and its four-wheel, independent suspension is fully adjustable for improved mobility and superior fording capabilities.

Based on the proven M-Gator military vehicle platform, the R-Gator employs commercial off-the-shelf technology and includes precision guidance, navigation and obstacle avoidance technology that has been at work for two decades in John Deere’s agricultural products. The R-Gator can be operated in manual, tele-operational or fully autonomous mode during day and night and supports military personnel through lightening the load, persistent stare, cargo carrying, point-man reconnaissance, roving patrols, resupply, casualty evacuation and more.

“John Deere has a long history of supporting the U.S. military,” said Bodwell. “We’re proud to do so and we’re committed to providing the products and features our servicemen and women need and request. The R-Gator is just one more example of that commitment.”

Equipment, John Deere

Precision Harvest: Don’t Stop Scouting

Kurt Lawton

With rain, early freeze and overall cool summer conditions, 2009 harvest has become very challenging for some parts of the Corn Belt. This week’s Integrated Crop Management e-newsletter from Iowa State University highlights issues that need attention.

1. Corn Quality Issues:
– Frost-damaged corn often stops at 17-18% moisture (stopped at 20-22% in 2008 in Iowa). Expect low test weights due to immature kernel.
– Pay attention to stalk health, as you may want to harvest wetter corn first if lodged.
– Expect drydown costs about 5 cents per point of moisture removed. Remove 8 points down to 15% will cost about 40 cents per bushel plus weight shrink.
– Corn test weights below 54 lbs. after drying should not be stored into warm weather, and should be dried to less than 15% for storage of any duration.
– Scout for field molds problems, because they can create toxins and feed value concerns, possibly creating discounts.

2. Field Mold Issues:
– Cool, wet harvest conditions favor ear rot and stalk rot fungi. Harvest problem fields first to reduce ear loss due to ear rot and increased mycotoxin levels.
– Adjust harvest equipment to minimize kernel damage.
– Dry and cool the grain as quickly as possible to reduce further mold growth and toxin production.
– Expect end users to increase their level of grain quality grading.
– Test all questionable grain before feeding to livestock.

3. Storage Issues:
– The extra costs in additional handling and drying logistics will likely pay off in terms of avoiding spoiling losses later on.
– Check combine settings between fields for fines and cracked kernels because they accelerate spoilage.
– Fungi grows very fast in corn above 20% moisture, so get wet corn into aerated storage immediately–don’t let sit in truck or wagon overnight.
– Monitor wet corn weekly in storage. Airflow must be good, as problems can start to show up in February and March as temperatures rise.
– Options when wet corn exceeds drying capacity: 1. Dry to 17-18% then cool in storage bin; it’ll end up at 16% and good aeration can get it down to the needed 14% for midsummer storage. 2. Dry to 20%, cool in bin, hold wet corn for spring but not summer. 3. Dry in two passes–first down to 17-19% then rest of drying after harvest is over. (This requires more handling and logistics, but could be profitable if the market carry increases to encourage storage.)
– Decide which corn and bins will be kept into summer (your best corn of highest test weight that was harvested below 20% moisture).

Subscribe to this ISU email newsletter.

Corn, Education, Harvesting

Harvest Data That Keeps On Giving

Kurt Lawton

Insights WeeklyWhether you’re a novice at collecting harvest data or an old pro who could wallpaper his office with yield maps and more—you understand that more data layers beyond yield are necessary to add management decision value.

Yield by hybrid by soil type...

Yield by hybrid by soil type...

I talked to Bruce West this week, who helps growers adopt just about every precision farming solution imaginable through his independent company West Enterprises in Geneseo, Ill. Bruce, who was finishing a yield monitor install for a grower who was going to collect his first yield data, works with a wide variety of customers. “I help customers grow their precision technology capabilities at the speed they desire—which ranges from this basic first installation I’m doing today, to the other extreme of helping a customer develop variable rate applications of seed, nitrogen and starter in one pass at planting, with all rates being independent of the other,” he says.

When we discussed how growers are managing their data being collecting right now at harvest, he says there are basically two groups of growers. “There are cutting edge guys who want to learn to do it all themselves, and then there is the larger group who want someone else to manage their data—and I work with both groups.”

Finding Solutions. For growers looking into software to help manage data, Bruce says a lot of growers are not sure where to start. “What we need to know from growers usually starts from the bigger picture of what agronomic principles they want to accomplish. Is it fertility based on soil types or management zones? Is it plant populations based on soil types or fertility levels? And we discuss their technology feelings as well—toward auto steer, planter row and spray boom shutoff and more. The great thing about Ag Leader is that it has the products—from a software and hardware perspective—that can do basically anything and everything.”

Value of Training. Bruce usually holds his software training classes in January for customers. “We conduct very informal sessions, because growers often find great value in learning how other growers are using the software, addressing issues, learning specific tasks. They truly come away from these meetings with a greater understanding of just how powerful this Ag Leader SMS software really is, when it comes to managing many layers of data and helping them make intelligent management decisions.”

If you’d like to talk to Bruce, you’ll find West Enterprises (309-944-5736) listed as a Master Service Dealer for Ag Leader Technology—along with other professional precision farming sources from more than 20 states.

Ag Leader, Education, Harvesting, Insights Weekly, Resources, Retailers, Software

Precision Agriculture Comes To Hay Bales

Kurt Lawton

Just when hay bales thought they could remain anonymous forever, along comes New Holland to give them a personality–or at least a brand! CropID, an individual bale identification system for large square bales, uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in the twine to track bale atributes.

This innovation enables commercial growers to uniquely tag and sort bales based on a wide range of criteria, so that shipments or storage can be arranged according to the hay types that best meet the clients’ needs. Identifying quality, moisture content, or other characteristics of specific bales is now a simple process, allowing growers to easily decide which bales are the best match for specific customers, or need to be set aside for further curing.

“The wealth of data provided by the CropID system offers a vast array of benefits that have a great value to both the farmer selling the bale and the customer purchasing it,” said Michael Cornman, New Holland Dairy & Livestock Marketing Segment Leader. “The system provides accurate documentation of bales for resale, the exact weight of bales for loading and shipping purposes, the ability to monitor and manage inventory via computer, and it provides customized records for customers.”

In addition to helping growers keep shipments and stacks consistent, the CropID system also has several other uses, such as tracking the amount of hay on hand from each field and cutting.

The CropID system works by encasing a microchip and its antenna in a tag that’s wrapped around the twine as the bale is tied. A precision information processor stores the bale’s information, which includes the bale number, the field number or name, the date and time it was baled, the high and average moisture content, the amount of preservative applied, if any, and the bale weight.

CropID bale tags can then be read by a hand-held scanner that shows information on a screen when held within five feet of a tag. The scanner can also be docked on a loader with the screen visible to the operator. The loader-mounted scanner has additional antennae and reads tags on up to three bales at a time at a distance of up to 10 feet without actually seeing the tag. The scanner creates lists of bales made in each field, and a removable USB memory device can be used to download the lists to a computer.

For hay producers, the verifiable records provided by the CropID system provide paybacks including increased customer satisfaction and the potential for higher sale prices. New Holland continues to work on further enhancements for the system.

Company Announcement, Dairy, Harvesting, New Holland

Deere Donates Precision Ag Tractor to Iowa State

Kurt Lawton

Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering students at Iowa State University will get to play with and learn from the latest tractor technology thanks to a generous donation from John Deere.

Tony Kajewski, continuing improvement engineering manager at John Deere Waterloo Tractorworks, presented gold keys to the tractor to Jonathan Wickert, dean of engineering, and Joe Colletti, senior associate dean of agriculture and life sciences (see photo). Check out the YouTube video.

The donated tractor features Deere’s next-generation John Deere CommandView™ II cab, an Infinitely Variable Transmission (IVT), and a 9.0L John Deere PowerTech Plus engine that meets federal emission standards for off-road diesel engines. Embedded in the tractor are data networks, controllers, and software to enable tractor efficiency and productivity.

“Modern agricultural vehicles like the Deere 8245R tractor require the integration of several technical systems including mechanical systems, hydraulic systems, embedded controllers, and data networks,” says Brian Steward, ABE associate professor. “This gift will allow our students to work with the absolute latest technology, literally right off the line.”

The gift is representative of the ABE department’s long-standing partnership with John Deere, according to Ramesh Kanwar, ABE professor and chair. “Partnerships like this enable us to move into the future and deliver high-quality instruction to our students and high-quality graduates back to industry,” he says.

The ABE department trains the largest group of engineering and technology students in the United States focused on the engineering, testing, manufacture, and safety of advanced machinery systems like those represented by the Deere tractor.

Company Announcement, Education, Equipment, John Deere