Mike Vande Logt: ‘We’re in a mathematical, big data age of agriculture’
By KRISS NELSON
FARNHAMVILLE – Landus Cooperative hosted close to 200 farmers and industry professionals during its annual field day held on the company’s 185-acre research plot last week.
The cooperative claims this is the country’s largest cooperative-owned test plot.
Todd Claussen, director of agronomy at Landus Cooperative, said the 185-acre research plot consists of 24 projects, eight of which were featured during the field day.
Attendees were taken around the plots and had the opportunity to listen to Landus Cooperative’s agronomy team discuss soybean planting dates, nitrogen, sulfur and zinc deficiencies, in-season nitrogen, corn planting depth, a foliar corn demonstration, fungicide application and timing, soybean seed treatments, Sudden Death Syndrome and soybean herbicide tactics.
Claussen said his agronomy team is committed to their research and bringing it back to the cooperative’s farmer-owners.
“We are dedicated to your profit and dedicated to your farming operation,” he said.
Prior to the plot tours, guests were given the opportunity to learn the future of agriculture through the eyes of keynote speaker Mike Vande Logt, Winfield United’s chief operating officer and executive vice president.
“The whole story of agriculture moving forward, and where it’s going to win, is going to be based on who gets the most predictable outcomes based on the investments they make on their inputs,” he said. “It’s all about predictable outcomes.”
Vande Logt anticipates the thought of predictable agriculture will be the key to making a profit in agriculture in the years to come.
“Local cooperative agronomists and growers, who use decision agriculture and predictive models, over the course of time will replace the ones that don’t,” he said. “That’s the vision we see – certainly the vision we have in agriculture. This is how we see it and that’s why we continue to make our investments into these predictive models, driven by our answer plot data.”
Vande Logt said we have entered a new age of agriculture called the “mathematical, big data age of agriculture.”
“The rules of how you play the game in agriculture have changed dramatically and the paradigm shift is about how do we manage this cropping season and how do we figure out where or what spot, what field, and what pixels in the field will I get the return and response on,” he said. “So, that’s driving all of this. This whole thing is about math.”
Vande Logt said to think about the different stages of agriculture and how that history as come along from the basics.
“We started with the basics of agriculture, that agronomy where the first guy that said you start with good seed and control weeds. Then the mechanical age, where we had tractors that enabled us to farm more land,” he said. “Then we came into the chemical age of fertilizer and crop protection. Then we came into the biology age of marker-assisted breeding, molecular breeding, higher genetics, biotechnology and now we’re in the mathematical age.”
“It’s been an evolution of the business that we’re in.”
The method of predictive agriculture, Vande Logt said, is a product of producers wanting high-end yield potential.
“I get pictures of producer’s yield monitor while going through the fields,” he said. “And do you know why? It’s because it is the highest yield that they have ever seen. And you’re all experiencing the same thing. You get that spot in the field, where you have the right genetics, on the right soil type, the population was right, the fertility was right, the rainfall was right and boom, there you see it: 340, 350 – those yields we have never seen before, so the change in high yield potential is really one of the incredible things that we felt we got.”
High end yield potential, Vande Logt said, has to be nursed.
“You are going to have to nurse the high end yield potential out of the seed and that is causing a shift in agriculture,” he said. “This may put even less inputs on pre-plant and more depending on the growing season. What are the incremental inputs that should be put out there in that field?”
Vande Logt said it is time to look at what all producers should be during the growing season and taking a look at predictive mathematical models that are informing producers of the kind of decisions they should make.
This way of predictive agriculture, he said, comes from studies performed by Dr. Fred Below, professor of plant physiology at the University of Illinois.
Vande Logt said Below’s studies were based on not looking at how the field yielded on the average, but what were the different components that added to the variance of why the fields yielded from each other.
In his research, Vande Logt said Below found that weather impacted yields by only 27 percent.
“We all think it’s about the weather, but his data showed it’s only 27 percent,” he said. “The rest is all factors we can control.”
Other factors impacting yields included nitrogen (26 percent), hybrid (19 percent), previous crop (10 percent), plant population (8 percent), tillage (6 percent) and growth regulators (4 percent).
Vande Logt said they took that information to their answer plots. Using first and second year hybrids, they tested the variances in all of those particular factors in order to try to figure out the personality, or characterization, of that hybrid.
“You can’t put a crop plan together, and you can’t do predictive modeling unless you’re understanding characteristics of the genetics, because of the genetic diversity that’s there,” he said. “So understand the variance is really an important piece, because that is where the magic of making money in agriculture is moving forward. So understanding the variance is really important.”
To start, Vande Logt gave an example that it is crucial to find the right genetics to match up with soil types and the previous crop.
Then, he said it is time to look at planting population.
“Should you variable rate this particular hybrid? Well, is it responsive to population? If it’s one of those that only gives a 3 to 4 percent response, you can’t pay for it to be planted at a variable rate,” he said. “On the other hand, if it’s one of those that give a 17, 18 bushel response to population, maybe you should variable rate it.”
As the growing season progresses, Vande Logt said it is recommended to use tools to compare data and see which spots may or may not be doing well. And to see if there is a return on investment with applying incremental inputs and if it happens to be a hybrid that will respond to those applications of nitrogen or fungicide, for example.
“This is about how can we take as much information back from the field during the growing season and calibrate the model based on the actual data from that field,” he said. “Do I have disease? If so, does the hybrid I have out there respond to the stuff or not? Now, if you apply fungicide in that situation, you can bring the predictability of that decision up to a higher percentage of the fungicide working.”
“Predictive agriculture, we are truly in the mathematical age as we go forward,” he said. “It’s not just about the price, it’s about getting the right bushels. That’s really where the story is.”
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