Breakout Sessions Cover Transportation, Big Data, Research

Recently, in part due to education and political pressure from the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, railroads have been putting a lot of money and man power toward fixing their infrastructure issues, which have led to financial losses for farmers the past few years.

Jay O’Neil of Kansas State University and O’Neil Commodity Consulting says that since they started investing recently, railroad companies have been doing a great job in relieving the situation.

However, there are other concerns O’Neil has about the future of grain movement because of the old waterways infrastructure.

“There is not a lot of money being invested in loading facilities on the Mississippi River above St. Louis because that is where our last lock and dam is heading south,” O’Neil said. “This is happening because companies are nervous about our 60-80 year old locks and dams above St. Louis. I find this to be a scary situation.”

O’Neil said concern lies in the risk of a catastrophic failure in the lock and dams that would cause a transportation issue on the upper Mississippi. He said it would ultimately cause a large problem for grain movement in the future.

The positive side of things is that if the country can quickly implement recent legislation on improving U.S. waterways infrastructure, it could increase the distance from the river that grain will be coming in to port. That will help farmers’ bottom line, according to O’Neil, who said it would help lower shipping costs.

On an international note, Brazil is the country farmers should keep their eye on.

“Brazil, China and even companies like Cargill and Bunge are putting money into Brazil’s transportation infrastructure,” O’Neil said. “Currently, we’ve been blessed with the world’s best transportation system and have a big advantage over countries like Brazil. I’d hate to see our farmers lose it because of infrastructure issues.”

Big Data

A clear, more accurate insight is what every farmer strives for. Thursday afternoon at MN Ag Expo began with a BIG DATA break-out session, which included four panelists that tackled the importance of using new technology to improve yield, efficiency and productivity within an operation.

Max Doughtery, Climate Corporation’s Western Regional Service Manager for Asgrow, encouraged farmers to look to outside help for making operational decisions. Climate Pro is a decision support tool that helps make field decisions before it affects yield and outputs. The factors that Climate Pro examines are weather, scouting, nitrogen tracking and field health. “Our program is a platform driven by advanced data science,” Doughtery said. “This platform helps growers have better predicted outcomes.”

DuPont Pioneer’s Jeremy Groeteke recommended the service Encirca, which looks at each field using decision zones. Encirca allows farmers to make real-life decisions in real-time. This includes crop conditions, weather forecasts, input decisions and current market information. These are tailored, individual plans that allow farmers to plant the right amount of input at the right time.

“BIG DATA means clear insights,” said Charles Schleusner, Marketing Manager, Information Solutions at John Deere in Urbandale, Iowa. Schleusner explained the MyJohnDeere Operations Center Platform that farmers can use to manage their operation more profitably. The cloud-based platform  collects data and makes it easy for farmers to manage machinery and develop field insights.

Dave Jameson, Director of Sales for Farmlink, encourages farmers to use the newly launched crop benchmarking service True Harvest. The service divides a field into 150 square feet and analyzes the micro level of each section. Jameson mentioned two main reasons to use True Harvest: comparability to peers and ability to examine a field in small increments at the micro level.

The session concluded with a question and answer session that examined privacy issues and other concerns.

“You give us data, we give you insight,” Doughtery said. “We rely on trust from the growers to make that work.”

Dean Beverly Durgan Addresses Soybean Farmers

University of Minnesota Dean of Extension Beverly Durgan addressed farmers today in a breakout session at MN Ag Expo. She asked farmers, specifically those from Northwest Minnesota, what they are looking for in a regional staff person. She also requested that farmers articulate their needs to her.

Farmer responses ranged from agronomy and soil knowledge they would like in a regional extension agent, as well as their hopes for someone who will communicate and educate locally on agriculture’s value.

“Extension’s role is changing as farmers hire crop consultants for technical advice,” Durgan said. “University of Minnesota Extension employees are the ones training your crop consultants and providing them with research, but not stepping onto the farmers themselves as much as historically.”

Durgan also stated that extension is committed to good, sound research and the faculty are doing the type of research that is valuable to soybean farmers across the state. She also said they plan to make some faculty decisions by May.

Farmers reiterated that they need someone with boots on the ground physically in their region. They do not want someone in the position who would be in the cities, but instead someone who would actually be familiar with their local problems and concerns.

Durgan wrapped up the meeting by saying there is a strong need for continued funding of extension as their budget has been cut many years in a row substantially more than other budgets in the state.

“Please make it a point to speak with your legislators, especially those on the Ag Finance Committee, let them know your needs in agricultural research and the financial needs to fund that research,” Durgan said. “Extension is valuable and the need for state funding is there since the industry is so important to our state.”