By Eric Beuning, Correspondent
Sometimes it can be a challenge for growers, all across the country, to keep up with the new developments in agricultural technology as well as the wide range of other factors that influence how they manage their soil while improving yield.
Anez Consulting in Little Falls has embraced the technological advances that help them communicate complex information to area growers in a practical way.
“Most people aren’t aware of what a crop consultant can do for them,” said agronomist and co-owner of Anez Consulting, Paul Anez.
“Most people under-utilize crop consulting,” said agronomist and co-owner of Anez Consulting, Vince Anez. “A crop consultant uses testing and technology to gather data on soil composition, soil chemistry, water, topography, micro biology as well as other factors. Then they analyze the data and use crop science to help growers make the most of their soil.”
“We work with growers on all aspects to help manage soil nutrients, improve yield efficiently as well as manage pests and diseases,” said Paul. “In the past 10 to 15 years technology has increased quickly, so we strive to make it easier for the producers to understand. We are passionate about helping our clients succeed.”
“When we sit down with a client we try to imagine ourselves in their shoes. We understand that growers want to make the most out of their land,” said Vince. “The base of everything we do is about applying our expertise to help producers develop a balanced soil profile.”
The staff at Anez Consulting utilizes a balanced soil fertility philosophy that they advocate to their growers to provide them with accurate and unbiased information. This philosophy is design to aid in the decisions they make about how to use their land.
By utilizing agronomic principles and technology, they are able to identify physical, chemical and biological factors that can limit yield. Then they strategize with growers to remedy what they can while mitigating other risks.
“We use technology to apply our philosophy by testing for soil pH, exchange capacity and primary macronutrients, like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. We also test for secondary macronutrients, like magnesium, calcium, sulfur and micronutrients such as zinc, copper, boron and manganese, as well as a few others,” said agronomist Michael Dunn.
“Most crop consultants just look at the chemical soil properties. We also look at the biological and physical properties including things like soil structure, aggregate stability and compaction,” said Dunn.
“We also have a 360 SoilScan Nitrate tester, which allows us to test soil nitrates without sending them to the lab. This gives us results in minutes instead of days,” Paul said.
In the past, crop consultants would often take samples all across an individual field and then prescribe amendments based on the average results. Anez Consulting takes a more comprehensive approach by breaking fields down into management zones.
“We take multiple samples throughout the field and reference them on GPS. Then we send them to the independent lab, Brookside Lab in Ohio to be analyzed. We utilize images from UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), satellite and aerial photos, while also taking into account variables like topography to create a zone map of the field,” said Dunn.
“Once we have all that information we combine all the data sets using Ag Data Mapping Solutions software. This helps us create a map with management zones that we can use to create a plan for how to manage each zone for things like soil fertility as well as planting,” said Dunn.
“Much of the time tractors use GPS and we can feed this data to a variable rate planter which will adjust the seed count per acre based on the soil nutrients and yield potential,” Dunn said.
Once the plan is in place, Anez Consulting continues to advise clients by monitoring field conditions, crop health and insect pressure. They resample the soil every two years to continue making intelligent adjustments.
“The GPS data allows us to reference where we took each sample so we have very accurate monitoring,” said Paul. “We take the guesswork out of farming and this helps our clients spend their money more efficiently.
“Precision agricultural practices allow for prescription treating of critical areas, which allows growers to be more efficient and better stewards of the land,” he said.
“In reality what we do is not rocket science. We’re just using technology to apply already established and proven principles,” Paul explained.
Anez Consulting plans to stay on the cutting edge of crop consulting technology as they continue to grow. “Once the FAA establishes the rules for the commercial use of UAV drones, we hope to expand our imaging technology,” said Dunn.
“It could include things like thermal imaging which allows you to see the soil temperatures. This would give growers an understanding of crops that are stressed before you can see it with the naked eye,” Dunn said.
“UAVs allow us to visualize the height and density of crops as they vary across a field, which would help us understand crop health and vigor as well as relative bio-mass,” he said. In the future we might be able to use this information for applying fungicide more precisely so that instead of treating a whole field, only the microenvironments that are conducive to disease development get treated. Right now no one that we know of is using this technology in this way, but it is possible in theory.”
“Over the years, we have built a lot of good relationships with local growers,” said Vince. “People understand that we are passionate about helping their farm succeed. Each year we have very little turnover because people see what we do and how we can help them today and into tomorrow.”