Top Crop Manager

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Using a crop consultant

Getting value for your money.


November 15, 2007
By Lorne McClinton

Topics

58aAs farms get larger, more and more producers are being caught in a time management
crisis. They are routinely forced to juggle critical jobs during peak seasons,
and often take shortcuts on 'perceived' lower priority activities like field
scouting. A growing number of farmers have started to delegate some of theses
jobs to crop advisors.

"Farmers choose to use a crop advisor for a variety of reasons,"
says Jason Voogt, agronomy manager with Cargill's Keystone Farm Service in southern
Manitoba. "Time management is a big part of it. Farms are getting larger
and producers are managing more acres. They have so many jobs to do on the farm
that they just don't have the time to do everything themselves. They see a value
in hiring a consultant to look after this part of their business."

At Fannystelle, Manitoba, seed grower Brian Nadeau has used Cargill's Crop
Sense advisor program to help him with his farm management decisions for the
past five years. He says that using a crop advisor helps him better manage his
time.

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"By the time I finish servicing my customers and running my farming operation,
I have little time left for jobs like scouting. I would just have enough time
to make a little loop through the field or check one spot, and then say, 'yes
this is what we are going to do on the whole field'," explains Nadeau.
"Farmers have to know so much nowadays, and are spread so thin already.
You can't make every meeting or read every agronomic article out there, and
we can't sit in the classroom all winter. You have to learn from other people.
This program lets us access outside expert opinion."

Unlike other grain companies, Cargill charges for their crop advisors' agronomic
services. Despite the cost, Nadeau believes he gets good value for his money.
"Some farmers don't like paying $4 or $5 an acre for the service,"
Nadeau says. "Other companies will do it for free as long as you buy chemical
from them. How do you describe free? I don't need someone walking my fields
with volume sales goals to meet on herbicides or pesticides. They have to push
product and that turns me off."

"The Crop Sense program is more than just a scouting service," Voogt
says. "We like to promote it as a 12 month program."

Voogt says the Crop Sense program comprehensively covers soil testing, fertility
planning, crop and variety selection, field scouting for weeds, disease and
insect management, and follows right through to harvest management. Very detailed
records are kept using record keeping software and an electronic scouting program
that was developed in-house. He says the field activities and computerized software
helps track all the different field activities they do for the producer throughout
the growing season, which help with plans for the following crops.

"I get the 'full meal deal' starting in the fall by getting all of the
land soil tested," Nadeau says. "In January we sit down with an advisor
and make our crop plan. We look at what was planted on each field last year
and what kind of yields we had, and look at what we need for next year's crop.
When springtime comes we have a plan. We know what crops are going in and know
how many pounds of phosphorus, nitrogen, potash and sulphur we are going to
use."

During spraying season, Nadeau uses the crop consultants to scout for weeds
and he usually has a report on his desk by the evening of the day they scouted.
"I can't run the Rogator and scout other fields. Having them do the scouting
provides a window of opportunity to plan and decide what I am going to spray
the next day, or the following day," he says.

"Plant population and weed management scouts not only provide recommendations
for weed control but also follow-up for herbicide efficacy as well," Voogt
says. "Then we follow through with insect and disease management to see
what is required for that crop. Everything from start to finish, whatever is
needed."

Who are you going to call?
Farmers using crop advisors are still somewhat of a rarity in western Canada.
Still the practice seems to be catching on. For growers working with a scout
for the first time, good advice is to know what you need.

"If you are considering hiring a crop advisor, the first question to ask
is how many years of experience the people who will be walking the field have,"
Nadeau says. "They have to be knowledgeable and can't be just out of school.
I want to have somebody who knows more than I do, somebody who can tell me something,
somebody who can challenge me. I don't want a 'yes' man who will automatically
say anything I suggest is a great idea. I want someone who can tell me what
I should be doing. Someone who will say, 'this is right, that is wrong'. That
can only happen if they have experience. It all comes down to being comfortable
with the consultant you are working with, and that might not happen the first
year."

Whether a grower ends up paying for the service up-front, or through service
contracts with herbicide and fertilizer dealers, the important consideration
is that the consultants have to make the grower money. Voogt believes that his
service delivers the best in terms of unbiased information.

"I think the most valuable part of our service is timely, unbiased and
objective recommendations," Voogt says. There is no hidden agenda, no sales
or a push for a particular product, it's just straight up agronomic advice.
We don't sit on the fence waffling on anything. We're trying to give the best
kind of advice that we can provide."

When it comes to choosing crop consultants, buyer beware is still the best
advice. The final choice will likely have more to do with the value derived
from the information, rather than just a pure cost comparison. If the grower
likes the crop consultant and believes they are getting value for their money,
then that person or company is likely the correct choice. -30-