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Getting on base with ag technology

Waiting for a good pitch in baseball isn’t as simple as it sounds. On average, only 25% of swings result in a safe hit that gets a batter on base. To improve a batter’s odds, K-Baseball, from Arizona firm K-Motion, uses technology that employs 3-D sensors to fine-tune hitter development. By studying real-time data that breaks down every swing a batter takes, coaches can analyze inefficiencies so a batter can meet the ball in the right place, at the right time, with authority.

With about 40 at bats in farming, Jerry Seuntjens has also turned to technology to ensure his swing matters every time he steps up to the plate. Like K-Baseball, Climate FieldView is scrutinizing Seuntjens’ hitting strategy. That wasn’t always the case.

“We had been collecting data for years on what occurred in every field, such as tillage passes, seed recommendations, chemical applications, yield, and rain totals. However, we weren’t making any decisions based on that data,” recalls Seuntjens, a fourth-generation Iowa farmer who grows corn and soybeans across 2,100 acres. “We blindly recorded and accepted what took place on our farm because we didn’t know any different.”

Iowa farmer Jerry Seuntijens stands on his farm on a snowy day
Photo credit: Climate Corporation

Since 2013, FieldView has been boosting his ability to turn the information coming from his fields, which includes historical data he was able to upload, into actionable insights that maximize the return on his investments.

“I’m always looking for options that will move my operation forward. Because I’m using the data to better understand when to swing, the odds of my getting on base improve every year,” Seuntjens says, adding that it starts with consistent data. “In my mind, bad data is worse than no data.”

Greg Deim
Photo credit: Climate Corporation
Without good, clean data, Greg Deim says a farmer is going to strike out. “There is still a lot to learn about data collection. Until a grower understands what clean data is, it isn’t going to do him any good,” says Deim, senior product manager for the FieldView Cab app from The Climate Corporation. “We are stepping back and asking ourselves, ‘How do we get good, clean data? How do we help our customers understand that good, clean data is a necessity?’ ” 

Once this skill is honed, farmers are then able to interact with the data and collaborate with trusted advisers, so they can control costs and improve outputs.

Avoid a Swing And a Miss

One area Seuntjens is focusing on is fertilizer. “There’s an art to applying fertilizer. If it isn’t applied correctly in the right amount and in the right location, it may mess up the fertility of that acre,” he says. “I’ve seen and heard many horror stories of fertilizer being applied wrong. Once fertilizer is wrong, the ground is compromised, and it’s hard to get the best results possible out of the seed.”

An approximate $150,000 investment in a John Deere self-propelled spreader, a 32-ton fertilizer tender, and two bulk bins for storing fertilizer combined with FieldView will allow him to experiment with different fertilizer applications.

“To me, farming is one big trial,” Seuntjens says. “FieldView gives me the opportunity to analyze the end result, so I can evaluate – with confidence – where I need to make changes the following year.” 

Last summer he top-dressed urea in a few strips in a cornfield. While the data showed there was a small bump in yield (about 3 bushels), FieldView also revealed it was one of his driest fields that year, so Seuntjens is going to do another trial again this season. He also learned he needs to make the test blocks a little wider on different soil types so he can see it more clearly for fine-tuning.

Based on what his preferred outcome is, Seuntjens now is able to dig deeper into the data.

“There are tools in FieldView that led up to the decision to put urea on,” Deim says. “We can use that information to say, ‘Hey, you are 5 inches behind the 30-year average for rain, so maybe you shouldn’t be so aggressive in your urea application.’ Or, if a perfect amount of rain got you a 30-bushel increase, I want to help you understand how you can get a 50-bushel increase in a certain soil type and potentially do a variable-rate application next year.”

Seuntjens is also evaluating whether fungicide is a worthwhile application in corn. “I’ve been trying it for a few years and, depending on the seed variety, saw a 0- to 9-bushel increase (per acre) last year,” he says. “While I’m covering my costs, it may not be cost-effective eventually. I plan to continue analyzing it to try and figure out why it’s not working for me like it does for others in my area.”

FieldView can also generate reports to help Seuntjens justify equipment purchases. “If Jerry spent roughly $150,000 on a spreader, tender, and two bulk bins, how quickly does he want to see a payback – seven years, five years, two years?” Deim says. 

The cloud-based platform also enables Seuntjens to easily share details of the operation with his brother Jeff, who is more than 9,000 miles away. “My brother lives in Singapore, but he comes back to the farm every spring and fall,” he says. “When he can’t be here, FieldView allows him to see things like what I’ve accomplished, how fields yielded, and what the recommendations are, so we can have a conversation about what the game plan is.”

Because myriad applications have been fine-tuned across the operation, Seuntjens says he is producing over 40 bushels an acre more of corn today than he was 20 years ago. 

“I only have so many swings,” he says. “I want to continue making contact as often as I can, so I get the most out of every crop.”

Editor's Note: Jerry Seuntjens is participating in a video series called "A Farmer's Journey: One Year in the Life of an American Grower." Click here to view part one and part two of the series.

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