The Keys to Growing a Precision Business

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Published February 13, 2019 22:44

In central Illinois, where soil is very productive and rumored to not have much variability, two crop consultants are changing how growers view their fields, and it’s helping them gain more profit from their soils. Paul Schell and Matt Boudeman own Progressive Ag Services, a precision agronomy firm covering east central Illinois. They began with a Veris 3150 EC OM system in 2015 and added an iScan in 2017. With over 18,000 acres mapped--and growing, they have been able to grow their business even when crop prices are low.

Here's how they explain the keys to their success:
Key 1. Understand, demonstrate and sell soil variability
In addition to consulting, Matt farms and recently experienced soil variability firsthand after acquiring a new field containing both timber and prairie soils. Matt explains, “The first thing I did was Veris map it so I could write a seeding script. When I planted, I could see the soil from the cab and as soon as the planter crossed into different soils the controller would change immediately--every time.” Turns out soil does vary here, and farmers know it. 

Paul says, “At grower meetings when I ask whose soil varies, every hand goes up.” He adds, “They've known it varies but until now they didn't have a dependable solution for managing the variability.” In their precision ag careers Paul and Matt have seen lots of failed attempts at varying seed populations, from government soil surveys to satellite imagery, and are convinced that directly scanning EC and OM produces the most reliable maps. 

Key 2. Know how to help growers profit from variability
Precision agronomy requires knowing how to combine new technology with solid agronomy. Progressive Ag Services is fortunate that when the company started, Paul brought his tech experience and Matt had the agronomy and farming background. Both are certified crop advisors. In addition to matching corn populations to soil productivity, they are helping growers actively manage nitrogen using their Veris soil maps and Encirca N management tools. Previously, only about 10% of the growers split their nitrogen applications. Now, most do an in-season application and the OM map is a big driver of varying rates. “Our higher OM soils often don’t need all the nitrogen that's typically been applied,” Paul says, “We're finding that on some soils you can grow 260 bu corn with .75-.8 lbs/bu of N." But he cautions that low OM soils actually respond to additional in-season N. “We don't sell our program based on N savings even though that's what usually happens.”

Key 3. Be equipped and committed to delivering the solutions
Paul and Matt make Veris mapping a priority in their business. They added the iScan to keep up with demand. Matt says, "We liked the flexibility of being able to attach it onto customers' planters and fertilizer toolbars or map with a cart behind a UTV. One grower wasn't 100% convinced he needed to Veris but after watching the maps being collected with the iScan on his fertilizer bar, he wants to do every acre. He saw firsthand how variable his soil was and how well it was being mapped." 

What do the growers think? While 18,000 acres of mapping in a depressed farm economy is impressive, the most telling statistic is the number of growers who've adopted their precision program that have since moved their business to another supplier: zero. As Matt sees it, “Generating these maps solidifies our relationship with the grower,
because they're getting a prescription they can depend on. Working with soil variability like this creates a whole new conversation with
growers that they’ve never had with a supplier.”

A deeper view of soil allows deeper agronomy, and results in deep loyalty from growers. Progressive Ag Services...the name fits.

Pictured below: Progressive Ag Services utilize the OpticMapper and iScan to map in-season to expand their mapping window.

Mapping In Crop Paul Shell

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