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When Mike Anderson reviews precision-farming data this winter, he won't just be reviewing what happened on the operation he runs with his father-in-law, Andy Russell. He'll be able to see, in some detail, the inputs and results on more than 40,000 acres from 25 other farms in his northwest Iowa region. That data may help him make decisions for his own operation.
"For one thing, when I look at everyone else's yields on the maps, that helps tell me, for instance, what seed-population adjustments might be justified on different soil types," said Anderson, based near Dakota City, Iowa. "We most definitely would not do without it now."
The "it" he refers to is the Data Management (DM) program, a subset of member customers of New Cooperative, Fort Dodge, Iowa. Members in the DM program agree to participate by sharing their precision information -- in a non-farm-specific way -- in the data-crunching program. The results are then shared with other members.
"I would say we're looking at a 15 to 20% yield increase over the last four years as a result of having this information," Anderson said. The group also compares data on seed varieties and nitrogen levels.
New Cooperative's DM program is an example of efforts occurring at the local, regional and national levels by individual producers, consulting groups, cooperatives and large agricultural companies to use agronomic information to the benefit of everyone. The cooperative is unique in that it has been able to recoup the cost of precision-data collection and software development by charging DM members to see specific numbers beyond their own operation.
COST AND BENEFITS
"If we're able to improve a grower's efficiency and profitability, it allows our customers to be more confident in their decision-making," said Grant Klever, an agronomy sales representative for New Cooperative. "Additionally, this efficiency often leads to less overapplication [of fertilizer], which could lead to increased yields, less nutrient loss and improved watershed quality."
The service costs members anywhere from $3 and up per acre, depending on the amount of services the cooperative provides with the data. It's well worth it, Anderson explains. "Anything that can help a guy save a buck or make a buck is important, given the price of land, the cost of seed and the fact I think we're looking at a couple of harder years ahead," he said.
Among the aggregate information those in the group are privy to include yield information by soil type, fertility and variety, primary and secondary nutrients, planting date, fungicide use and variety coupled with fungicide use.
Another member, Bob Grandgeorge, said the information has been valuable. Based on the data from test strips New Cooperative runs on his farm and from other management group members, he increased corn-seeding rates—and it has paid off. Grandgeorge's top seeding rate for corn prior to the program was about 32,000 seeds per acre. Now, some fields are at 38,000 seeds per acre.
"The higher rates have been doing much better in the fields where the data indicated they might," said Grandgeorge, who farms near Woolstock, Iowa. "The yields, which he estimates are up 15% overall, have more than justified the expense. I'm not sure we're saving money, but overall, we are putting money where we can use it the best we can."
In addition to seed populations, the group data convinced Grandgeorge to use variable-rate planting, which he said also factors into the overall yield increase.
TURN NUMBERS INTO ACTION