With 39 elevator locations, including its new 110-car/day shuttle loader facility, CPI (Cooperative Producers Inc.) is doing its best to drive throughput — starting on customers’ farms.
“We believe precision ag will become the standard — table stakes,” comments Harlan Schafer, CPI’s VP – Agronomy. If that’s accurate, then CPI’s steps to provide technology services, a strong trend with ag retailing organizations, is essential to the co-op’s future. What may be its most unique point of difference, is what its customers are allowing the co-op to do: Aggregate and share data.
CPI has an a la carte menu of prescriptive and precision ag support services, from grid sampling to variable rate recommendations to soil moisture monitoring. The pinnacle, though, is its CPI 300. This represents the co-op’s highest level of technology-related services. The number refers to 300 bushels per acre of corn – a good goal but “somewhat arbitrary” number, Schafer says, because the real objective is to profitably increase yields.
Secure and pooled data
Data is at the heart of this fee-based service. Nearly every farm is swimming in data today, Schafer says, but having reams of satellite images, sheet after sheet of soil tests and a hard drive full of yield data doesn’t provide answers. “Our job is to help customers know what to do with the data — to support analysis and help make profitable decisions,” he explains. “We want to help growers know what works and what doesn’t.”
Learning blocks are part of this process. These small-acreage segments of fields are mined for crop-production data. Soil type, as-applied inputs, as-planted populations, irrigation amounts, subsoil moisture, hybrid selection and yield data are captured and analyzed. Each producer owns his or her data from learning blocks on their farm and the farm at large. The data helps guide decisions that improve practices and profitability on similar soil types across the operation.
Then, the co-op takes it one step further. “Data from individuals is securely maintained only for that participating grower,” Schafer says. But, while no participant can access data from another customer, the data from all the participating growers is co-mingled and shared. Producers see the impact of different and similar practices generated by the group at large. Comparing results lets them target improvements.
“It’s a much more collaborative effort between growers, crop consultants and our co-op,” he adds. “For progressive growers — those working to use technology and data to guide decisions — it’s invaluable information. From our standpoint, it documents the value of products and services we provide.” The number of customers using the service increased 25% this past year.
It starts with the soil
CPI’s approach to prescriptive farming starts with the soil. They run grid samples, capture electrical conductivity measurements, map soil variations and RTK elevations. Variable rate input applications, including irrigation prescriptions, are offered. Moisture probes sense soil water profiles at 4-, 8-, 12-, 20- and 36-inch depths. That data is sent to a website, accessed by the customer, with alerts sent to the co-op’s local specialist so the grower and agronomist can discuss what’s needed. Everything they do, Schafer says, supports a process of constant fine-tuning.
Even where cost per acre increases, he notes, the real measurement is cost per bushel produced. “Our goal in using technology and generating data is to test different practices and identify specific steps customers can apply to improve their farm’s ROI.”
The co-op’s services also emphasize:
- Significant and repeatable yield results
- Constant review of data and analysis of results
- Sorting through data generated by different equipment and manufacturers
- Decentralized services — local staff available to help customers make smart, fast decisions
- Stewardship — environmentally responsible practices
- Increased focus on risk management