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Implementing Multihybrid Technology Takes a Team Approach

For decades, Lynn Fahrmeier maximized yield by planting the hybrid that would perform the best, on average, across an entire field, despite the soil variations within that field.

“My fields range in size from 3 to 70 acres,” says the Wellington, Missouri, farmer. “One small field can go from prairie soils up on the ridge to eroded timber soils on the hillside to a bottom-type soil down by the creek. I was always playing defense when I chose a hybrid.”

By picking a workhorse hybrid, Fahrmeier knew that in a normal year he might be giving up yield on his better ground because he was being conservative with his seed selection. “Yet, I was willing to sacrifice that top-end yield for the guarantee that I was going to at least have a yield on my tougher ground,” he explains. 

Independently placing two different varieties in the same field, Fahrmeier believed, would allow offensive hybrids to flourish in high-producing soils and enable defensive hybrids to hold yield in the lower-producing areas. 

“I knew the technology was available,” he says. “I told my local co-op, MFA Agri Services, I needed to be moving in that direction, and it is why I pushed for over two years to get vSet Select on my planter.”

“Lynn was adamant we could make it work, as he was ready to move forward with this technology,” says Gavin Burgess, Precision Planting regional manager.

unchartered territory

The problem was that Fahrmeier’s 1790 John Deere 24-row planter (on 20-inch spacing) was not on Precision Planting’s approved list for compatibility. As the first planter in Missouri to be equipped commercially with this technology, it would take over a year to make it happen.

“Gavin actually came out to the farm and took pictures of my planter. He sent those images back to the engineers at Precision Planting,” Fahrmeier recalls. 

How the implement folded was the first challenge. “When the 1790 planter wings folded up to transport, they would tip the units up,” says Burgess. “This posed the risk of spilling seed into the bulk tank fill hoses. After we installed and tested it, the seed stayed in the meter. We didn’t see any seed-delivery issues with bridging of seed in the tubes.”

Interference with the stairs to the bulk tank was also an issue. “The guys at MFA customized the steps so they wouldn’t affect the splitter hoses,” he says. 

Equipping Fahrmeier’s planter would only be one piece of the puzzle. “As I’ve spoken with growers over the last six years, it is clear that a very low percentage are trying to address soil variability by way of developing spatial management zones,” says Jason Webster, Precision Planting.

“This is the foundation for multihybrid planting. Once variability maps are created, growers can address that variability with a technology like multihybrid planting to maximize productivity in each zone,” Webster says.

Yet, analysis and decision-making based on data, Fahrmeier says, are not easy to do alone. It’s a realization he came to years earlier. “When I first got my yield monitor in 1995, I thought I was going to have the software on my computer and I was going to make all of my own maps,” he says. “I realized I didn’t do it enough to become an expert. I needed to have someone who could crunch all of this data.”

As he worked to integrate multihybrid technology, gathering a team of experts was even more crucial. “I needed not only an expert who could analyze and interpret the data to set up zones, but also someone who understood the strengths and weaknesses of each variety,” says Fahrmeier.

“Knowing where to plant each hybrid and at what seeding rate can be a difficult task,” says John Fulton, associate professor, Ohio State University. “With multihybrid planting, you’re getting pretty site-specific. You really have to put a team together to help develop those recommendations for each field so you can make sound decisions.”

MFA is one of a handful of dealers in the nation that is embracing multihybrid technology, and it has everyone in-house to accomplish a successful strategy, says Burgess.

farmer perspective

The team approach was really demonstrated this past winter when the group sat down to evaluate year one.

“We went field by field, basically zone by zone, to figure out what was going on. We talked through which variety and population was best for those areas,” says Fahrmeier. 

In one field, there was an area that was highly eroded. “There was no topsoil left,” he says. “I was farming clay.”

Brandon Bruce, the Dekalb/Asgrow technical agronomist, recommended a variety he felt would be good for that soil type.

“I pointed out that on the other side of the ridge was a poorer-producing area because it was wet,” says Fahrmeier. “He had to suggest a different variety because the one he recommended didn’t like wet feet.”

That discussion is a great example of why he can’t do this alone. “It is the main point of this entire story. I have to have a team to be successful,” Fahrmeier emphasizes. 

genetic selection

On the hillsides, where he knows he’s never going to win a contest, Lynn Fahrmeier simply wants a variety that’s going to put an ear on every year even if it’s a dry year. For 2017, he chose seven different varieties. “In corn, I’m using three different maturity ranges that are roughly 110-, 112-, and 114-day varieties,” he says. “I’m choosing offensive and defensive hybrids in each of those ranges.” 

The biggest obstacle is finding the correct hybrid for the right acre, says Precision Planting’s Gavin Burgess. “This will come through on-farm research and tests from seed companies,” he says.

What about beans?

In 2017, Lynn Fahrmeier, Wellington, Missouri, plans to test soybeans by planting two varieties in the same field. 

“It’s not as clear-cut in soybeans as it is in corn. If corn varies a couple of moisture points, it’s not a big deal because the dryer will compensate for that,” he says. “With soybeans, both varieties basically have to be mature before I can cut them. I’m a little nervous about harvestability. If they don’t mature at the same time, I’m in trouble.”

In fields where there is disease pressure, Fahrmeier is also considering trying different seed treatments in the same field. 

year-one lessons

On average, Lynn Fahrmeier cut his seed costs by 8% to 10% in year one. Seed populations ranged from 26,000 to 36,000.

“We had a wet spring, a dry early summer, and a wet late summer. Then it dried up for fall,” he says. “For the season we had, I think I adjusted the populations more than I should have on some areas. I realize every year is going to be different. Had it been a dry year, I’m sure my analysis would have been different.” 

For 2017, populations on the lower end were increased, and the higher range was left as is. The good ground, Fahrmeier says, is actually easy to manage. “It’s the average- to poorer-yielding areas that I really have to think about,” he explains. 

seed development

Some believe the adoption of multihybrid technology will not only increase the use of variable rate seeding but also drive seed development.

“As I look to the future, I think we are going to see higher seeding rates,” says Jason Webster, Precision Planting. “I think the seed companies are going to create special hybrids that can handle those higher populations. That is where multihybrid planting is going to be crucial because a grower will be able take some of his best soils and look at those ultra-high populations and see even higher benefits than he does now. We are not there yet, but I think it will come in the short-term.” 

setting up zones

Lynn Fahrmeier has been collecting yield data since 1995. “I like to use at least six years of quality data to develop zones,” says Matt Stock, MFA AgriServices regional sales manager. “I use past yield history, soil conductivity data, and soil fertility data.”

The majority of fields were divided into three categories:

  • above-average yield
  • average yield
  • below-average yield

“Having quality data in place to be able to generate zones is very important. That’s because if you don’t generate them right, it’s hard to see success – and ultimately profit,” says John Fulton, associate professor, Ohio State University. 

checking his work

You have to have check strips in your fields, says Missouri farmer Lynn Fahrmeier. Each of his fields, which range in size from 3 to 70 acres, has check strips incorporated into the prescription to gauge how well a variety performed in specific populations.

“What I found on the really good soils is that I was yielding above the check strips,” he says. “On some of my tougher soils, I was yielding below the check strips. I increased my variability last year, but I think it’s probably more population-induced than variety-induced,” he says.

“Educational blocks are the only way we can grade ourselves and challenge ourselves to do better,” says Jason Webster, Precision Planting. “They establish a report card of how products performed compared with how the farmer and the seed representative thought it should have.”

year-one lessons

On average, Lynn Fahrmeier cut his seed costs by 8% to 10% in year one. Seed populations ranged from 26,000 to 36,000.

“We had a wet spring, a dry early summer, and a wet late summer. Then it dried up for fall,” he says. “For the season we had, I think I adjusted the populations more than I should have on some areas. I realize every year is going to be different. Had it been a dry year, I’m sure my analysis would have been different.” 

For 2017, populations on the lower end were increased, and the higher range was left as is. The good ground, Fahrmeier says, is actually easy to manage. “It’s the average- to poorer-yielding areas that I really have to think about,” he explains. 

calculating return on investment

The cost to retrofit Lynn Fahrmeier’s 1790 John Deere 24-row planter with Precision Planting’s vSet Select was $2,150 per row.

“If a grower with a 16-row planter could realize an 8-bushel-per-acre yield increase in corn (at $3.50) and a 3 bushel-per-acre increase in soybeans (at $10), our calculations indicate a breakeven of 1,000 acres to pay for this technology,” says Jason Webster, Precision Planting. 

“I was hoping to see a return on my investment in year one, but I broke even,” says Fahrmeier. “I fully anticipate it will pay for itself. It just may take a little longer, but I’m committed to making this work.” 

research findings

Ohio State University and Beck’s Hybrids began testing Kinze’s 4900 multihybrid planter (Grower 1) as well as Case IH planters equipped with Precision Planting meters in 2015 (Growers 2, 3, and 4). Prescriptions generated for Growers 1 and 4 were yield-map based. SURGO soil data was used to create prescriptions for Growers 2 and 3.

The four growers planted 1,611 acres of corn and 169 acres of soybeans. Project Coordinator Andrew Klopfenstein shares some of the results from year one on how the corn acres performed. 

2015-results

Meet the Squad

Each member of Lynn Fahrmeier’s team plays an integral role in helping him successfully – and correctly – implement multihybrid technology.

multihybrid-planter-farmer
Lynn Fahrmeier, Wellington, Missouri, farmer (shown right)

As the team leader, Fahrmeier needs to be involved because he understands why certain areas of a field are good or bad. “It’s up to me to bring that history in, because a computer doesn’t know why an area of a field is low yielding. It just knows it is.”

Scott Bergsieker, MFA AgriServices Precision Specialist 

Bergsieker makes fertilizer recommendations, and he helped install the vSet Select components. He also continues to troubleshoot problems to ensure the system is running smoothly. “I keep Lynn’s technology and precision equipment rolling in the field,” he says.

Matt Stock, MFA AgriServices Regional Sales Manager

“On the equipment side, I helped figure out how to build this planter,” he says. “I’m also the data cruncher who creates the zones. I look at the data Lynn has collected, or we have collected for Lynn, to learn as much as I can about his fields. I also rely on his insight for each field.”

Gavin Burgess, Precision Planting Regional Manager for Southern Iowa and Missouri

Burgess investigated whether or not the technology would work on Fahrmeier’s 1790 John Deere planter, which wasn’t on Precision Planting’s approved list for compatibility.

Brandon Bruce, Dekalb/Asgrow Technical Agronomist

“It’s my job to help the team select products for Lynn’s environment that fit across his fields and the zones created by the precision program at MFA,” Bruce says. “A lot of it goes back to characterizing the products to match each zone.”

Technology Spotlight: Multi-Hybrid Planting

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