ST. LOUIS — Developing predictive analytics is one way technology can help farmers make better management decisions for their operations.
“Predictive analytics is really the area we have to do a lot more work on,” said Grant Strom, owner of Strom Family Farm that grows just under 6,000 acres of corn and soybeans in west-central Illinois.
“We’ve done a great job of collecting data over the past couple of decades,” Strom said during the Technology Across the Spectrum of Agriculture presentation at the InfoAg Conference hosted by The Fertilizer Institute. “Putting the data to use and trying to have predictive algorithms to make us better farmers equates to better conservation and better economic outlook.”
Several companies have done a marvelous job of helping farmers with data collection for planting, harvesting and fertilizer applications, Strom said.
“We can create and record ours as applied maps and prescription maps,” Strom said.
“We’ve been doing prescription planting and fertilizing on our farm for the last six to seven years and pretty much every acre gets applied that way,” he said during the virtual conference.
“What has really taken off the last two to three years is crop health monitoring with the technology that is becoming more widely available,” Strom said. “We look at weather because we know it is the most significant factor in our success of growing crops.”
Strom tracks growing degree days from emergence and strives to apply fertilizers at specific crop stages.
“Imagery and drones are two areas that have gotten a lot more advanced to monitor crop health,” Strom said.
“We’ve got a pretty good understanding through university research when the most nutrient uptake is happening,” he said. “We know the corn plant has a certain need at a certain growth stage and then we have to figure out what is available in the soil for the plant at that stage.”
It is not as simple as only looking at the parts per million test of potassium or phosphorus, Strom said.
“It’s the availability of those nutrient in the soil and how much the soil is giving based on how much moisture we have,” he said.
For example, this past summer rain did not fall on Strom’s farm for 40 days.
“We had enough nutrients in the soil, but we had no water to move it,” he said. “When we know the plant is going to run short, we need to make a decision based on what the weather looks like it will be for the next couple of weeks.”
Strom’s goal is to apply herbicides prior to corn reaching V4.
“We know after V4 it becomes more harmful to the plant because it’s going into a more reproductive stage for determining the number of rows around,” Strom said.
“Ducks Unlimited is a science-based, member-driven and volunteer-led conservation organization that focuses on restoration and protection efforts on habitats that are critical for waterfowl like wetlands and grasslands,” said Karen Waldrop, conservation officer at Ducks Unlimited, who also spoke during the presentation.
The organization has a long history of working with farmers and landowners.
“That began in 1937 with the inception of Ducks Unlimited because there isn’t enough public land to deliver conservation on a large scale, so having landowners and farmers are critical for our success,” Waldrop said. “We want to partner with farmers to maximize their production and provide benefits to wildlife habitat, clean water and healthy ecosystems at the same time.”
Many working land programs and regenerative agriculture programs are conducted by Ducks Unlimited throughout the country.
“We just got a new grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Service focused on soil health in the Dakotas and Montana,” Waldrop said. “It will offer farmers technical and financial assistance, advanced training and mentorship to increase the adoption of soil health practices such as the use of cover crops, livestock rotation or crop rotations.”
Programs aimed at irrigation and precision agriculture are another focus of the organization.
“Water from aquifers and surface supplies are critical to agriculture, people and wildlife,” Waldrop said. “Irrigated agriculture is prevalent in many of Ducks Unlimited’s priority landscapes where waterfowl breed and nest or where they winter.”
One of the biggest challenges for the group is implementing all the different projects with so many farmers throughout the country.
“Data management and developing a database of tools available for farmers is challenging,” Waldrop said. “For example, taking what works in a rice field in California and then trying to apply that to the South or to the Great Plains.”
“Consumers are demanding more about the quality of the food they eat along with understanding the chain of custody of that food, including the inputs that went into raising or growing that food,” said Doug Stone, president of agribusiness at J.R. Simplot, which is involved in many levels of agriculture and the food supply chain from fertilizer production to sales of potatoes and beef.
“This desire impacts all of the connections in the agricultural chain and touches on food safety and traceability, as well as sustainability efforts,” said Stone, the third member of the discussion group during the conference.
“At Simplot, we talk about our unique mine to plate capabilities in our organization, and we’re making strides to understand these connections within our business and the need to capture various data through these systems.”
The quantity of data in the agricultural supply chain is monumental, Stone said.
“Blockchain will help manage this complexity, but we have not begun to incorporate that technology in a large way yet,” Stone said.
“Our focus around farm data is to help provide more value to our grower customers by our crop advisers,” he said. “This is in the form of nutrient deficient recommendations, predictive analytics and precision agriculture all driving towards a more profitable acre for our customers while meeting sustainable and environmental objectives.”
Simplot sees an opportunity to use technology and data for the efficient distribution of products.
“We believe this will help the grower experience while removing costs and wastes out of the system,” Stone said.
“Today is a really exciting time to be in agriculture,” he said. “It will be amazing to see how technology and data can transform how we grow grains, raise protein and deliver a safe and traceable food supply to consumers.”