Jim Stetson, AgView FS, Princeton, Ill.; Malcolm Stambaugh, AgView FS, Walnut, Ill.; and Ron Olson (far right) listen as James Schoff, a farmer from Walnut, talks about the various aspects of the Mosaic Co.’s Pursuit of 300 program that he used on his farm in Illinois during the 2013 growing season. Schoff is one of six farmers from Nebraska to Indiana who participated in the Pursuit of 300 program in 2013.
Jim Stetson, AgView FS, Princeton, Ill.; Malcolm Stambaugh, AgView FS, Walnut, Ill.; and Ron Olson (far right) listen as James Schoff, a farmer from Walnut, talks about the various aspects of the Mosaic Co.’s Pursuit of 300 program that he used on his farm in Illinois during the 2013 growing season. Schoff is one of six farmers from Nebraska to Indiana who participated in the Pursuit of 300 program in 2013.

WALNUT, Ill. — For Bureau County farmer James Schoff, the path to success and higher yields is a marathon, not a sprint.

“This year, we’ve got a relatively good crop, and there are some differences and some things to learn out here,” he said.

Schoff was one of six farmers participating in the Mosaic Corp.’s Pursuit of 300 program, a program that involved farmers in six states from Kansas to Indiana. The campaign, which kicked off in 2012, seeks to bring together best management practices on the farms along with new management approaches and new technology to reach a long-term, sustainable goal of 300 bushels of corn per acre.

While the goal is 300, the aim of the program is to get to fields that can consistently reach 300 bushels an acre.

“Three hundred bushels per acre corn is obviously the holy grail of corn right now and what folks are trying to aim for. This isn’t so much a yield contest on hitting 300 bushels, but what we’re trying to do is bring our agronomists, the retail agronomists that these farmers work with, as well as the farmer, together to talk about best practices and new ideas that they can implement on their Pursuit field, which is 100 acres, to take a look at and be able to measure at the end of the day what worked, what didn’t work and what they can do going forward,” said Mara Ryan, brand manager for the Mosaic Co.’s MicroEssentials.

The 2013 Pursuit of 300 farms were located in Hoxey, Kan.; West Point, Neb.; Lake Crystal, Minn.; Holland, Iowa; Walnut, Ill.; and Crawfordsville, Ind.

“Each grower obviously has a different geography, so each of the growers obviously have some similarities and some differences on what they implemented on their farms,” Ryan said.

For the local agronomists who worked with Schoff, Jim Stetson and Malcolm Stambaugh from AgView FS, working with Schoff was nothing new as the three were co-workers at AgView FS when Schoff worked in the precision agriculture division there.

“James ran our precision department at FS for 18 years. I’ve worked with him for the last six years, and when Mosaic called us up and asked, we thought of James. James is up on the new technology. He’s got sons who want to get involved in the farming operation. We felt like this was a great opportunity for him to get involved with this new technology,” Stambaugh said.

“He’s very progressive and innovative in his farming practices, so this was a way for him to show what a great family he has and what a great farmer he is,” Stetson added.

For AgView, the Pursuit of 300 program is a fit with FS’s own Pursuit of Maximum Yield 80/300 program, which seeks to achieve 80 bushel soybean yields and 300 bushel corn yields.

“We’re looking at new technologies and management solutions, like applying the right fertilizer in the right place at the right time, plus variable seeding, and trying to find the most profitable and sustainable practices for our farmers,” said Stetson, agronomy marketing manager at the AgView FS Princeton location.

He noted that products and practices have to be both economically and environmentally sustainable for farmers.

“In our pursuit of maximum yield, the 80/300 program, we’ve implemented three legs of the stool. What agronomy practices can we implement to achieve higher yields? How can those practices be profitable? And the third leg would be the stewardship and how can we be good stewards and abide by the four R practices?” he said. “We are recommending the practices that are going to be the best return on investment for our customers.”

Ron Olson, senior agronomist for Mosaic Co., works out of the company’s main office in Lithia, Fla., but hails from a family farm near Serena, Ill. He emphasized that the Pursuit of 300 is meant to be a marathon, with farmers consistently achieving the 300 bushel goal as the ultimate goal.

“The reason we started the Pursuit of 300 campaign was so that we could raise the conversation about higher yields to the next level. So it is about raising yields, but it is about doing it in a way that is sustainable and is using all the proper tools, the latest technology in ways that can be effective for each farmer,” he said.

The Pursuit campaign also provides the opportunity for the farmers involved to network, talk to each other, visit each others’ farms and compare and contrast various management techniques.

“James Schoff, at this farm, is using a product, the MicroEssentials SZ, which is one of Mosaic’s product. It has phosphorus, nitrogen, sulfur and zinc. That’s a new product for him. We’ve put together a new prescription for his variable rate seeding, and he’s used various diagnostic tools, plant tissue analysis, to understand how the crop is using the nutrients that he supplied. He’s also using some aerial imagery, what we call NDVI, Normalized Difference Vegetative Index, so we can see what kinds of stresses the crop was under during the growing season or if it was not under stress,” Olson said.

Schoff said that he welcomed the opportunity to explore new ways to manage the crop using new products and technologies.

“I’m someone who likes to take a look at new and innovative things, and the Pursuit of 300 had that written all over it. We can bounce ideas off of one another, look at different products, different techniques, so anything that’s going to challenge me to push the limits, push yields, I’m all in favor of that. Any program that’s like that, I’m going to jump all over it, and this is one that fits that category,” he said.

Schoff said he also welcomed the opportunity to see practices being put into practice on other farmers.

“In regards to the group in general, a good example for me is that we would go to the Hudsons (Pursuit of 300 in Crawfordsville, Ind.) or to Nebraska, to Todd Prinz at Prinz Farm in West Point, Neb., who are using 20-inch rows. For us, pushing the population where we’re at a 30-inch row system, I think we’re getting close to maxing that out. I’m very anxious to see what the guys using a 20-inch row system pushing the population compares to what we’re doing here. This may be something we will have to look at down the road,” he said.

One piece of technology that Schoff and others utilized was aerial imagery to check on the progress of the 100-acre Pursuit of 300 field throughout the growing season.

Those maps, which show area of greater and lesser biomass by color, will then be compared to yield maps to measure the impact of the new products and management, such as the addition of the MicroEssentials SZ, using foliar feed along with fungicide and changes to the nitrogen program.

“Those particular maps give you a snapshot of what’s going on. I was out and walked certain areas to look at ground truth, what you’re seeing, if there are significant differences. We will be taking that with our yield map and looking at it then taking that data after harvest, and we’ll start analyzing the things we did this year and asking — was that a benefit to us?” Schoff said.

He said the first year of the Pursuit of 300, whatever the outcome, was a learning experience.

“Just looking tat the new products, the MicroEssentials SZ and what that may bring to us, the foliar feeding and what that may open up to us, going back to past years where we were very limited on using foliar fungicide, that was a learning process. You try it out on a field, see how it works for you. You look at the data, analyze it and if it’s a benefit, we implement it. If it’s not, go on to the next thing. So looking at these products, the foliar feed, pushing populations, those types of things that, more than likely, if you come back here in five years, will probably be implemented across our entire operations,” he said.