Case Study: Aligning Fertilizer Application With Crop Productivity
09 September 2021, Canada: Rayel Farms is a fourth-generation family-owned and operated enterprise that spans 1,500 acres. Justin Eckert and his family grow cereal crops ranging from wheat, barley, and corn, as well as seed, canola, and hemp. The Eckerts also perform custom seeding and spraying for neighbouring cattle farms and rent land to experiment with the production of new crops.
Location: Duchess, Alberta; Canada
Farmers Edge Technologies: Smart VR (includes on-farm weather stations, mixed-fleet telematics devices, high-frequency, high-resolution satellite imagery, access to all FarmCommand features, zone soil sampling, and unlimited Variable Rate prescriptions), plus Moisture Probes
Usage Case: Align fertilizer application with crop productivity to streamline usage while maximizing yields
Duration: Four years
As Justin’s father and grandfather successfully grew the Rayel acreage over time, they focused on which crops best suited their land rather than performing any soil testing. With consumers’ changing tastes and rising expectations for high-quality food, Justin sought new approaches to satisfy consumer demand while enhancing productivity.
Also Read: Haryana government to help farmers with timely supply of fertilizers
In particular, Justin looked at customizing the various plots to extract as much value as possible from each seed. Justin’s interest in soil testing was further validated when the family bought a plot of land from a neighbour, believing it would be high in Nitrogen and low in Phosphorus. Preliminary testing revealed just the opposite composition. Around this same time, Justin discovered Farmers Edge. He found the Smart VR solution especially intriguing, given that it included soil testing across a broad range of fields followed by precise fertilizer recommendations for each area.
“Nobody wins when fertilizer goes to waste on areas that won’t produce,” Justin stated. “Once you identify these areas, you can save money, enhance yields, and also make your soil a lot healthier.”
The timing was also good as the Eckerts had recently purchased an air seeder capable of doing variable rate.
While Justin was skeptical of how quickly they could deploy the new technology, he recalls the set-up process with Farmers Edge was incredibly smooth.
“Farmers Edge did everything – they were really diligent. After completing the soil samples, they would send an email mapping out the fields and then follow-up to validate the accuracy, saying we knew the fields better than they did. We made a few tweaks, but it was a quick and easy transition.”
During the first year as Farmers Edge sampled and zoned the various fields across the Eckert Farm, they presented data that frequently astounded the Eckerts while guiding future fertilizer applications.
“In year two, we recognized that we were putting way more fertilizer in some areas and hardly any nutrients in others,” stated Justin. “Whereas before Farmers Edge, we were just flat-rating everything.”
Justin credits the partnership with Farmers Edge for a cumulative 10-20% increase in yields over time because they’re making more informed decisions about where to apply fertilizer as well as precisely how much to apply.
“With Farmers Edge, I have my own agronomist who I trust because he isn’t trying to sell me more fertilizer – he’s just giving me data-driven recommendations.”
While the soil testing and variable rate solution proved to be the “big win” for the Eckerts, Justin also pointed to the value of the weather stations in helping him determine planting times, treatment plans, and irrigation schedules. The weather can vary significantly – even just a few miles away – with one plot getting half an inch of rain and another field seeing hardly any moisture.
“For spraying, it’s especially nice – with our customer work, I can check the weather stations that are close to that area, and even though it may be too windy at home, I can drive 10 miles south and take advantage of winds half the speed there,” said Justin.
Justin called out “job creations” as one of his favourite features of the FarmCommand platform.
“I really like that you can create jobs and track everything in one place, including watching the tractors in real-time as they do the seeding. Just this spring, when we were signing a contract to grow hemp, they asked us what we sprayed on the field last year because we grew fava beans, and they didn’t want any residual chemicals. It was very easy for me to check my records — in fact, I can go back four years and see what I sprayed in any field during a specific season.”
The Farmers Edge team continues to exceed Justin’s expectations on service. “I’ve talked to them as late as 10:00 pm to ensure everything is running smoothly. And, if they can’t get something figured out on the phone, they always send someone onsite the next morning to resolve the issue.”