Ag Tech’s Third Wave — 1 Technology Hits Pay Dirt

dtn The Progressive Farmer
By Marcia Zarley Taylor
May 23, 2016

HADDONFIELD, N.J. (DTN) — Steve Hess may be the grand­fa­ther of nine, but when it comes to farm­ing, he is a mil­len­nial at heart. In fact, Hess, his wife Phyl­lis and their son Mar­cus are adopt­ing cutting-​​edge tech­nol­ogy this sea­son they hope will help lift their Bush­nell, Illi­nois, grain yields and profit mar­gins through 2016 and beyond.

This spring, the Hess part­ners spent $70,000 rebuild­ing a five-​​year-​​old planter to make it capa­ble of seed­ing mul­ti­ple hybrids or vari­eties in the same field. Soft­ware glitches were a headache dur­ing late nights plant­ing, Steve admit­ted, not unlike the pio­neer­ing days of GPS. But he remains hope­ful that Beck’s Hybrids’ research show­ing 13-​​bushel advan­tages in corn yield will make the effort worthwhile.

I wish I’d taken a pic­ture of all the planter parts I’ve replaced in my career. But if we cap­ture just half of the $40-​​per-​​acre advan­tage Beck’s found in corn, plus some ben­e­fits in soy­beans, we should pay for the upgrades in two years or less,” Steve said.

For $500 per year, the Hess fam­ily also became mem­bers of Farm­ers Busi­ness Net­work (FBN), a two-​​year-​​old cloud-​​based data ser­vice backed by Google Ven­tures. Already it has enrolled mem­bers with more than 7 mil­lion acres. By shar­ing actual data from those fields, the com­pany can inde­pen­dently assess yields, plant pop­u­la­tions and return on invest­ments for hybrids planted on sim­i­lar soil types.

After min­ing the FBN seed finder data­base, the Hesses switched their biggest order to a seed com­pany that offered more top-​​yielding hybrids for their soil types, again hop­ing for a sig­nif­i­cant yield boost.

Through FBN’s bulk pur­chas­ing ser­vice, they also obtained a bid sheet on about 180 mostly generic ag chem­i­cals they could buy deliv­ered to the farm. Though they chose not to pur­chase direct from FBN in 2016, they saved roughly 8% to 10% on their crop pro­tec­tion chem­i­cals ordered from three local sup­pli­ers. One down­side was more man­age­ment and more gener­ics, Steve noted. How­ever, access to the price list itself boosted their con­fi­dence when shop­ping for inputs.

We just ask our local sup­pli­ers to give us their best price up front. We don’t have a lot of time to nego­ti­ate,” Steve said.

To read the full arti­cle, visit dtn The Pro­gres­sive Farmer.