Is 500-bushel corn really attainable? Those involved with the new Illinois-based company 360 Yield Center think so, through better identification and management of limiting factors in the field.
The cornerstones of the company’s “sense, decide and apply” mantra are better analysis and application of nitrogen and water in cropping systems. At a recent field event held at company founder Gregg Sauder’s home farm in Tremont, Ill., Sauder said better management of water and nitrogen are the biggest targets to grow U.S. corn yields by an average 80 bushels per acre, compared to current practices.
“I believe we can average 300-bushel corn with 30% less applied nitrogen if we use what God and nature gives us,” Sauder says. “The best day for corn yield is the day it is put into the planter, with 500- to 600-bushel potential. How do you protect the yield potential?”
The landscape for prescription farming-based programs is becoming increasingly crowded, with several companies, including Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, having launched services in the last few years, with varying degrees of success.
“Once a farmer does the math and sees the impact on their yield increase, it’s worthwhile…”
— Daryl Starr
360 Yield Center actually changed its name from Yield360 to avoid confusion with Pioneer’s Field360 prescriptive-farming platform.
What distinguishes 360 Yield Center from the competition is proven experience in yield improvement, says Daryl Starr, who heads up the company’s 360 Commander, a decision-aide software tool he developed in 2008.
“I’ve been running variable-rate recommendations on our farm since the 1990s and we have a proven track record of increasing corn yield anywhere from 8 to 80 bushels per acre,” he says. “We’re not guaranteeing an 80-bushel increase in every field, but in some instances we’ve seen over 100-bushel increases where we’ve discovered a poorly managed irrigation system. We’ve been able to take the farmer from 145 to 245 bushels per acre through more efficient management and application of water.”
Making Better Decisions
TIMELY TESTING. SoilSCAN 360, a mobile soil-testing unit which retails for about $6,500 — provides a 5-minute analysis of soil nutrients, including in-field nitrate readings and customized variable-rate prescriptions for nitrogen, water, phosphorus and ammonia. Photo courtesy of 360 Yield Center
Sauder, who founded Precision Planting in 1993 and sold it to Monsanto in 2012, began forming 360 Yield Center last year. He acquired several precision hardware and consulting companies to help farmers collect in-crop information used to create a field-specific prescription for each farm. The acquisitions include:
• 360 Commander (formerly Optimizer);
• 360 SoilSCAN (formerly Redshield Technology);
• 360 Y-Drop, and;
• 360 UnderCOVER
The focal point of the system is 360 Commander. The program provides customized information based on variables such as soil content, seed selected and daily local weather that has occurred and is forecasted.
A component of 360 Commander is Yield Solver, software which monitors local environmental and field changes hourly, and analyzes possible combinations of environment, seed, nitrogen and irrigation rates for optimal field-specific yield.
Starr says he’s noticed a lack of accuracy with nitrogen and water management by farmers and their advisors, causing farmers to keep missing the mark to capture yield potential.
“So many times with our crop-consulting business I’d be standing out in the field with a farmer asking me about some magic dust that’s going to save his crop and I’d tell him, ‘You just had 6 inches of rain. I guarantee you’re going to have nitrogen deficiency right now,’” Starr says. “It was a simple answer, even though the farmer didn’t like it. It’s going to cost you $50 an acre and some hassle, but I can make you 80 bushels per acre if you do something about this.
“They wouldn’t, and I was so frustrated that I had to give them the means to see that for themselves — in a more methodical way.”
For $7.50 per acre, farmers can subscribe to 360 Commander and receive prescriptions for variable-rate seeding, nitrogen application and scheduling plans for both sub-drip and pivot irrigation. Starr says these prescriptions help counteract the plant’s stress points that are limiting yield.
A Collective Approach
But in order to provide reliable in-field prescriptions — especially for nitrogen and water — accurate testing and application tools are needed, Starr says.
The inclusion of 360 SoilSCAN — a mobile soil-testing unit which retails for about $6,500 — provides a 5-minute analysis of soil nutrients, including in-field nitrate readings and customized variable-rate prescriptions for nitrogen, water, phosphorus and ammonia, which are linked to the 360 Commander program.
“This gives growers confidence in the prescriptions, but we also see some large farms having them so that in less than 100 seconds they can get analysis of their soil,” Starr says. “Farmers, or their agronomists, can sample nitrates multiple times in the same place during the year so they better understand their soil and more accurately target nutrient needs.”
Another part of the equation is the 360 Y-Drop, an attachment mounted on sprayer booms to apply in-crop nitrogen at the base of corn stalks up to 6 feet tall, based on plant need. The high-clearance units hang down between rows to deliver fertilizer through Y-shaped hoses at the base of the plants. According to Starr, it costs about $17,500 to equip a 60-foot bar with the 360 Y-Drop system.
TARGETED APPLICATION. An attachment to the Y-Drop application units is the 360 UnderCOVER spray applicator. This tool can apply fungicides, insecticides or other nutrients underneath the canopy of corn plants, spraying up toward the bottom of leaves, which can help target and combat invasive pests. Photo courtesy of 360 Yield Center
An attachment to the Y-Drop units is the 360 UnderCOVER spray applicator that can apply fungicides, insecticides or other nutrients underneath the canopy of corn plants, spraying up toward the bottom of leaves.
“Instead of spraying with an airplane or a sprayer above, this tool provides a more efficient application underneath the canopy,” Starr says. “A farmer can even target a nozzle right at a specific leaf if earworms are detected, instead of trying to fog the whole field.”
Another distinction Starr sees from the competition is that 360 Yield Center isn’t a seed company.
“We can work with all brands independently, and there’s untapped potential there,” he says. “Aiming at that 500 bushels-per-acre target, we’re trying to help shore up the yield loss at the bottom of the pyramid, regardless of what hybrid a farmer is planting. What’s the first 80 bushels they are losing?”
Starr says in the coming years, company focus will be on improving accuracy to the point that it’s program can provide a plant-by-plant analysis to incorporate into a farmer’s prescription.
But it’s going to take time and adoption by farmers.
“We don’t get 80-bushel yield increases with a click of a button. It’s not magic,” Starr says. “It takes work, and you have to go to the field. But the yield increase is there for a very reasonable cost per acre. Once a farmer does the math for this level of yield increase, it’s worthwhile.”