The Economics of Agronomics

In times when margins are tight, the economic well-being of most growers and their families depends on making strategic agronomic decisions.
The Economics of Agronomics
Based on data compiled in AgriEdge, Grower Franz Rowland (left) made the decision to plant a different crop mix for the 2020 growing season on his farm in Boston, Georgia. Rowland also depends on his AgriEdge Specialist Haley Glaab (right) for advice.
When the going gets tough, the tough get growing. Perhaps that should be the mantra of 21st-century farmers like Franz Rowland. After more than 40 years on his south Georgia farm, he knows a thing or two about resilience. But that kind of longevity doesn’t come without challenges. The past three years have been particularly trying.
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“My operation was 100% cotton when cotton prices were higher,” Rowland says. Then a streak of misfortunes beyond his control changed all that.

“Hurricane Irma came through here in 2017, and we made about 300 pounds less cotton than we would normally make. Then the next year Hurricane Michael hit,” he says. “On top of bad weather, the tariff war heated up last year. I can’t remember a time when it’s been as difficult to make a dollar on this farm as it’s been during the last three years.”

Despite these challenges, Rowland perseveres. A self-described “fanatic” about record keeping, he uses data to help him make the right agronomic moves — a task made easier since he added AgriEdge® to his farm’s toolkit. The whole-farm management program from Syngenta comes with record-keeping software that Rowland finds indispensable for gauging the overall success of his farm and the value he’s receiving from individual agronomic practices and crop inputs.

After using AgriEdge to run the numbers from last season, he has decided to change his crop makeup for the first time in a decade, adding peanuts and wheat to increase his profit margins. It’s a bold but necessary step to keep his operation viable.

“Given today’s economy, we’re all trying to figure out the best way to go that saves money without compromising yield.”

Franz Rowland
Georgia Farmer
“The numbers showed that the risk of not making this move was far greater than keeping everything the same,” Rowland says. “That’s the beauty of making decisions grounded in agronomic facts. I can sleep better at night knowing that the direction my farm takes is not based on a whim, but on a well-laid plan.”

Building a Plan

According to experts, building a plan from a foundation of sound agronomics — as Rowland has done — is key, especially when margins are tight and every seed and crop input selection needs to help bring a return.

“If growers are putting anything on their crop — whether it’s a new seed treatment, a pesticide or a different fertilizer regimen — they should ask themselves, ‘Is there going to be a positive gain?’” says Danny Morris, area farm management specialist for University of Tennessee Extension.

He recounts advising a local farmer earlier this year on the economic implications of allocating extra fungicide to a field that scouting reports showed was particularly vulnerable to disease. “So, it’s not just a blanket treatment used under the assumption that the farmer needs fungicide on every acre,” Morris says. “It’s targeted applications used in fields that really need treatment.”

With costs rising across the board, from inputs to land rent, Morris says it’s even more important to make decisions you can justify. For example, when Rowland works with his AgriEdge specialist and Syngenta sales rep to build out his crop plan, he’s careful to look for solutions that don’t jeopardize results.

“Given today’s economy, we’re all trying to figure out the best way to go that saves money without compromising yield,” Rowland says. “At 70-cent cotton, you’ve got to watch every penny because it all adds up.”

Tapping Into Technology

As an AgriEdge grower, Rowland can monitor his operation and track profitability on a field-by-field basis. That level of accuracy gives him the ability to create integrated crop plans by the acre.

“The field-by-field monitoring we can offer helps a grower identify individual areas where potential profit margins can be increased,” explains Shane Taylor, marketing manager for Digital Ag Solutions at Syngenta. “It also allows a grower to track inputs, map fields, manage inventories and securely store data, all in one place.”

AgriEdge growers can also benefit from FarmShots, a technology that analyzes satellite, aircraft and drone imagery of farms to map out potential signs of disease, pests and poor plant nutrition down to the acre.

“FarmShots reduces the area that needs to be physically covered through scouting by as much as 30%,” Taylor says. “It comes with a responsive design that is simple and optimized for use on all tablets, laptops and phones. That means growers can access the information anywhere, whether they’re at home or on the go.”

The Power of Human Interaction

While innovative technology is important, one of the best tools for growers battling tight margins is a trusted adviser who knows their farms and understands their unique challenges. Morris says there are several sources growers can turn to for that knowledge. “Industry representatives, county extension agents and crop consultants are probably going to be your three primary sources for one-on-one agronomic advice,” he says.

That’s something Lynn Sandlin, business intelligence manager at Syngenta, works hard to instill in Syngenta reps across the country. Sandlin studies all of the factors that go into profit and overhead costs for growers and communicates those factors to the employees in the field.

“I think one of the most important things for farmers in tight financial times to have is ready access to trusted advisers,” Sandlin says. “By far, the most trusted adviser is the person who knows that farmer’s enterprise the best.”

Often that person is the farmer’s local retailer backed by product suppliers who can provide an extra layer of service and expertise. “I try to help our reps get to that level of expertise,” Sandlin says. “In the end, it’s all about giving growers the service and tools they need to be successful.”

Rowland believes he has all the pieces in place to make it through today’s challenging farm economy. “The last three years have taught me that while I can’t control the weather or trade policy, the right agronomic plan supported by the right technology and people can help me overcome many of the hurdles that get thrown in my way,” he says.