Three Rivers FS

Precision agronomy in the Midwest
Written by: 
Tom Faunce
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

Founded in 1930 as an agricultural service, Three Rivers FS is a locally-owned cooperative headquartered in Earlville, Iowa. Serving the counties of Clayton, Delaware and Dubuque, the cooperative provides high-quality agricultural services to all customers in order to help improve long-term profitability. The precision agronomy division of Three Rivers serves farmers and customers while providing information technology.

Kyle Keehner, manager of Three Rivers’ precision agronomy division, grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa. After studying automotive technology and secondary education in college, Keehner found that the agricultural industry was his true passion. “I continued working on farms and for the local cooperative while I was going to school and even while I was teaching school,” says Keehner. “I began working in precision technology sales and discovered that I really enjoyed it and was passionate about it. It was about that time that Three Rivers called me in search of someone to run a precision ag department.”

Technology in agriculture

When Keehner began working for Three Rivers in 2008, he was the lone member of the precision agronomy department. Since then the department has grown into an agronomy support role with a full staff. “I now have a secretary, a salesman, a data management person and even a few interns,” Keehner explains. “We’ve seen growth of about 30 percent each year.”

The cooperative now supports product lines such as, Ag Leader, Precision Planting and Climate Corp. In addition to the sales and service of these product lines, Three Rivers has its own data management service called Advanced Information Management (AIM). This service allows farmers instant access to services such as wireless data transfer, organized and mapped field instances, VR prescriptions and fertility maps.

In addition to AIM, the precision agriculture team at Three Rivers utilizes FieldScripts software designed to create a favorable yield environment and maximize yield opportunity. “We’ve been working with growers over the last several years to show proven yield benefit by varying plant population throughout our fields in northeast Iowa,” Keehner explains. “Our fields have a variety of yield challenges such as soil type, disease pressure and water management to name a few.”

When testing soil for nutrients, Three Rivers works with Midwest Laboratories in Omaha, Nebraska. The cooperative hires a subcontracted company called Advanced Crop Management to retrieve samples of the soil which is then shipped to Midwest for analyzing. “The lab analyses the data and then provides us with the results,” says Keehner. “We then make a fertility recommendation that is then presented to the grower.”

To assist customers in spacing and seed depth, Three Rivers recently built its own custom plot planter. Aimed at maximizing yields, the plot planter is equipped with Precision Planting vDrive and Delta Force. “We’re basically using it to seed corn and test the hydraulic down force on the row,” says Keehner. “Among other things, it gives us better control of our spacing and depth of seed.”

Growing success through technology

When analyzing Three Rivers’ effectiveness in the agronomy sector, Keehner compares the expansion of his customers’ businesses to the mission of the precision agronomy division. “We’re all her to help each other grow,” says Keehner. “We’re different from a lot of cooperatives in that we only serve a three-county area compared to others who serve up to 30 counties. Because our clientele is a lot smaller we really know a lot about our growers and their businesses and how they operate.”

Working closely with customers is where the passion comes from for Keehner. Creating a stable and efficient environment for the growers of northeastern Iowa where he grew up is what motivates him. “It makes me feel good when we expose farmers to technology that makes their job more efficient and less physically demanding,” says Keehner. “An example of that is when we do auto-steering for tractors. I’ve had some older farmers that have told me that they are able to farm longer hours with technology like that. When they don’t get as wore down in the tractor cab all daylong it makes their lives a lot easier.”

Keehner has been in the local industry long enough that to witness second and third generations, working together to maintain their family business. “I’ve known a lot of these families since I was a little kid so it’s great to see their farms being handed down and continuing to grow and be strong,” says Keehner.

In the near future, Three Rivers is looking at integrating multi hybrid planters into the precision agronomy division. “We can put two different types of seed corn out in the same field at the same time,” Keehner explains. “It really takes the peaks and valleys off a yield map and levels it out.”

As Three Rivers FS continues to focus on longstanding customer relationships, the cooperative will continue to serve its customers with honesty and integrity while providing innovative solutions that make farming more efficient