Opportunities Despite Tough Market

March 18, 2017 02:21 AM
 
wheat seeds
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Ready to step up productivity, the ag industry gathered in San Antonio, Texas, for the annual Commodity Classic. More than 400 companies manned the trade show for thousands of farmers, retailers and other ag professionals. Attendees learned about up-and-coming technology, how to be profitable in down years, what’s going on in ag policy and what products and services are now available. 

By Sonja Begemann
Seed Treatments Get an Upgrade

Enhancing soil microbial activity and protecting young plants are critical to season-long crop health. 

Bayer’s Poncho/VOTiVO 2.0 is a biological that stimulates microbial activity within the soil. The new bacillus brings an enzyme that breaks down cell walls from dead plants to glucose. Bayer anticipates commercial launch in 2019.

Monsanto is developing a nematicide, to be branded NemaStrike Technology, using a new chemistry and mode of action. It stays in the root zone throughout the season and provides broad nematode defense. The company anticipates a 2018 launch in corn, soybeans and cotton. 

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By Songa Begemann
New Data Tools Released

Farmers are increasingly turning to data gathering and analysis tools to guide their decisions. 

FarmLogs announced they’ve launched FarmLogs’ Research Network, giving farmers access to benchmarking information to help input decisions. “We’re starting an on-farm research network to make it easy for growers to participate in trials that prove real ROI on different practices and products,” says Jesse Vollmar, FarmLogs CEO. “This is different than other benchmarking tools because we’re designing specific protocols that accurately answer the most important questions, and we’re validating the results to ensure the protocol is followed.” 

Adding specific protocol means farmers can evaluate a tested product or practice’s performance with more accuracy. The speed at which results are gathered can be one year compared with the two to three years it takes an individual, the company says. Without protocol, testing could include inaccuracies based on location or practice bias.

Farmers Edge says its Next-Gen FarmCommand is fully integrated and takes data directly from equipment and fields. The map manager dashboard includes zone maps, input application tracking, yield maps, crop health maps and tracks ROI by zone. Farmers Edge says the tool can guide scouting and inform input decisions based on yield and ROI throughout this season and into next. 

Corn Manager, another tool from Farmers Edge, tracks corn growth stages to guide scouting efforts and input decisions. High-frequency satellite images are processed into field variability maps that help direct users to potential problem areas, the company says. On-farm weather stations and zone-based soil sampling contribute to the Farmers Edge nitrogen model. Corn Manager costs between $2 and $4 per acre.

The Ag Data Transparency Evaluator launched an independent website—www.agdatatransparent.com.. Companies can easily show their compliance with Ag Data’s principles, giving farmers easier access to the information. The evaluator asks companies 10 questions to determine if they match the group’s principles of data ownership, consent and privacy—if companies pass they get the “Ag Data Transparent” seal of approval.

By Sara Schafer
Smart Business Tips for the Year Ahead

Expect the ag economy this year to be more of 2016, says Michael Swanson, Wells Fargo chief agricultural economist. As a result, he suggests these strategies:

1. Think creatively about cash rent situations.
“Land is always overpriced because you can’t do without it,” he says. “But you typically see poor ground priced as high as good ground.”

For example, if cash rent in Missouri is $150 an acre for great ground, mediocre ground might go for $120. But the same seed, fertilizer, chemical and equipment on the mediocre ground brings 40 fewer corn bushels.

“So it’ll have to be almost $150 cheaper to get the same breakeven,” Swanson says. “No landlord is going to allow you to do that. It comes on the farmer to have the discipline to say, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’”
If you have a package deal to rent two high-quality farms and a third that’s poor quality, Swanson suggests renting all three, but getting an agreement with the landlord to re-rent the poor quality farm.

“Pick the neighbor you like least,” he says. “Even if you rent it $40 cheaper to that neighbor, you’re avoiding a $300 per acre loss on that farm. There are solutions that require you to be flexible and have a small ego.”

2. Prepare for multiple interest rate increases.
“Borrowing money will have a cost, and it hasn’t had that for a long time,” he says.
Swanson’s advice is for farmers to analyze every decision to make sure it still pencils out with a more typical interest rate. “Really start thinking about the cost to carry the corn and beans and [whether] the basis really pays you for that. We have to get back to that mentality that money costs money,” he says.

3. Differentiate your operation to gain an edge.
“The big gap between the strong and weak is about the performance of the operator, not the environment,” Swanson says.

Farmers can separate themselves by technology use, how disciplined they are about asset use and how they manage supply chain difficulties. 

By Susan Skiles Luke
Cut Through AgTech ‘Noise’

Every day seems to bring a new agtech product or service vying for your attention. How should you approach this new age of technology when margins are tight?

David Widmar of Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture strikes a cautionary tone for farmers. 

“You’ve got to really cut through the noise and understand what the value is,” Widmar says. “You know what your needs are in your operation, your core skills and how these technologies can help you. Not every technology is going to be right for you.”

For example, when planters went from six to 12 rows, the benefits were clear and uniform across all farms. Not so with today’s agtech tools and services, he says. 

“VRT seeding or fertility have benefits and value for some, but that might not be the case for everybody. Management is critical, and it’s going to be front-and-center of this downturn and the technologies moving forward,” Widmar says.

“Historically, the ones who have gained the most benefit from technology are the early adopters. That’s true, but the challenge is identifying which technology is going to benefit your operation and whether you have the management capacity to take advantage of that. If you don’t, how are you going to get it?” he says.

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