For farms big and small, faster planting and harvesting is a reality of modern agriculture.
As a result, farmers rely on co-ops to use technology that makes speed possible, as well as deliver inputs, like fertilizer and fuel, more efficiently.
Dave Spencer, the sales and marketing manager at Farmers Pride Co-op in Battle Creek, Nebraska, says the co-op helps farmers by researching the best software, automating its delivery of supplies, speeding up loading times and most importantly, training its employees to stay positive and motivated.
Efficient planting means more money, healthier environment
Farmers Pride serves 30 counties in Northeastern Nebraska, a region of the country where Spencer says soil types vary widely from farm to farm and even between fields in a single farm.
One way to speed up the process of knowing where to plant is using precision agriculture software, particularly variable-rate technology (VRT).
VRT uses over 20 years of soil tests and crop yield data to find what parts of a field produce the most crops and what parts need additional agronomy inputs like fertilizer. Farmers then conserve resources by spreading fertilizer only where it’s absolutely needed and by focusing their planting around productive hot spots.
Implementing VRT can add some costs because it requires agronomists to conduct tests and analyze the data. Spencer says the co-op has a range of customers, some with technical backgrounds who love data and others who want to push a button and get an answer. The happy medium ground, he’s found, is web-based precision software, like Winfield’s R-7 precision tool.
The R7 is a simpler and more affordable tool for farmers who aren’t ready to commit to more complex precision tools that crunch numbers from site-specific soil tests.
Instead of using site-specific soil and crop test data, the R-7 uses infrared technology to analyze 20 years of satellite imagery on the pre-plant condition of a selected piece of land. It also pulls information from the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI)—satellite technology that identifies and monitors earth’s most vegetative areas from space—as well as from USDA soil maps to create a detailed map of a farmer’s field.
When old technology becomes new
While new technology can make some inputs, like fertilizer, more effective, Spencer says the co-op must rely on older technology when spraying crop protection chemicals. It’s a challenge facing co-ops and growers across the world.
Glyphosate-based herbicides were popular between the 1970s and early 2000s. The chemical was especially effective because it killed weeds through inhibiting an enzyme that stopped them from making the amino acids they needed to survive. However, overuse caused weeds to mutate and become resistant.
Now, Spencer says, the co-op must use mixtures of older products, each attacking the weed in a different way. He says one chemical may contain a growth regulator that causes weeds to grow so fast they starve themselves, while another product may interfere with photosynthesis and yet another might stop the production of fatty acids.
Agriculture is so unpredictable, Spencer says, that sometimes the most effective product is an old one. “Mother nature is darn smart,” he says. Since weeds will always find a way to beat the newest (or oldest) chemical, it’s up to the co-op to have back up strategies.
As farms get faster, so do co-ops
The co-op doesn’t just help growers out in the field; it also updates its warehouses and delivery services.
In some cases, that has simply meant having more and better equipment. Where the co-op used to load one truck at a time with fertilizer or fuel, it now must load three at a time to supply bigger combines and planters. “Farmers want to go, go, go, so we have to load them out faster,” he says. “If we don’t, “someone else will.”
Farmers Pride recently updated a grain warehouse with larger loading pipes and automated conveyor belts, chutes and doors. In addition to loading trucks more quickly, the new warehouse can be run by a single employee in place of four.
Still, Spencer says automated warehouses don’t replace the need for quality employees, just as precision software can’t replace a knowledgeable farmer. To keep up with customers who need faster deliveries and more complex products, he trains his team to stay positive.
Every February, the co-op holds a self-improvement workshop where it asks authors like John Gordon to talk about the role a positive attitude has in business. Spencer says that at the last workshop employees found the readings so inspirational they took them home and shared them with family members.
Employees also take DISC and Meyers Briggs personality tests, which Spencer says exposes them to different personality types and helps them cater to a variety of customers by knowing their tendencies.
“Some customers are in a hurry and some want to talk about their kids or grandkids for a few minutes,” Spencer says. As a result, employees need to do more than just work fast; they must also know when to slow down.