The Math Works Out

The Math Works Out from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Mike Zwingman

by Mike Zwingman

I follow a farmer on Twitter that always tweets “show me your work” when he questions the statement somebody makes about something; which reminds me of what I was told to do during my Math and Science classes at Elkhorn Valley High School. I would normally shy away from a math-filled article, but today, because of it’s importance of the topic I simply cannot. I am going to make the mathematical case for why you should consider or continue to implement a Grid, Zone or Advance Zone soil sampling program in your operation. In today’s article, I am going to break down the costs of a flat rate program and compare it to two of our precision platform.

Through all this math we are going to employ a lot of concepts we’ve discussed throughout the summer, and how your soil sampling program is the basis of all of them. While reading this I want you to think about how we can optimize your trusted advisor, information, and insights, and the tools we employ to help you extract the most revenue out of every acre you farm. For discussion’s sake, we are going to make some assumptions from a survey the International Plant Nutrition Institute (INPNI) has done. Phosphorus the most common fall applied nutrient, the CVA price sheet at the time I wrote this article, and a 2000-acre operation.  Some of these assumptions may or may not change as its applied to you, but the process and framework will stay the same.

In 2015 INPNI did a survey of soil sample results in every state across the US, so for the state of Nebraska, that survey included nearly 550,000 soil samples from all the major labs. In that survey for Nebraska, 47% of the samples fall below 20ppm Bray I soil test level. Conversely, 43% of the samples are greater than 40ppm “Bray I” and the rest fall somewhere in between. The last assumption I will make simply the sake of discussion, but my agronomic preference would be that we continue spreading full rates up to 25ppm which would add another 7% of the soil samples.

Scenario one is that we composite for that 2,000-acre grower and sample on 40-acre composites ($1.25/A), then make a flat rate application of 150lbs ($0.243/lb) on all 2,000 per acre via custom application ($6.25). The complete program cost for all of that is $43.95/a. This total cost is $87,900 for all 2,000 acres. While this is better than no plan at all, it still leaves some room for improvement.

Scenario two is using our Advanced Zone program samples all his acres ($6.75/A), ends up spreading 190lbs ($0.243/lb) on 860 acres still custom applied variable rate applied ($9.25). The complete program cost for all that is $72,246 for all 2000 acres, or $36.37/acre. This is a significant cost saving across your operation. This is a great start but only the beginning of what you, information, your trusted advisor and FieldReveal can do to help you manage your profitability.

With some time, discussion and a new thought process we can start to prioritize your fields based on nutrient levels, risk, and other profitability components. Remember the total is only 47% of your acres, but that is not evenly distributed, so if we at least pay the ante of soil sampling it is critically valuable to us to know where and how those sub 20ppm acres are distributed in your operation. Maybe you have fields with less than 15% and at the same time fields with greater than 65% of the acres falling below 20ppm. Now we can start to put your fertilizer investment where it is going to have the greatest impact on your operation. Again, lowering your total cost and capturing the greatest amount of value out of soil sampling. Yes, you spend more at the front end, but with the help of your FSA you will spend less, and get more out of the investment on the back end.

Now is the time to fully leverage the investments we have made in precision technology over the past ten years and trust the skill and experience of your FSA. This use of information allows us to keep Front Sight Focus by homing in on the most valuable targets while allowing the chaos to go on around us. The more insights and information we have in real time will allow us to make better decisions with more predictable and measurable outcomes, ever helping us make you more profitable every day.