It's no surprise that Chris Garner and Dave Keesling have a good working relationship. Garner, an agricultural provider who keeps up-to-date with the latest technology, advises Keesling, a large acreage farmer who pushes the envelope to get the most efficient use of his land. You might say it's an agricultural match made in heaven.
"Dave is one of those customers that keeps me on my toes," says Garner, an agronomist with Gordon Ag Services, in Bentonville, Ind. "He'll call me out of the blue with a question that is outside the parameters of what we normally handle. That's a good thing because it forces me to stay on the learning curve."
Founded more than 35 years ago as an environmental and agronomic consulting company, Gordon Ag Group, LLC, supplies independent third-party consultation and laboratory analysis to help growers make science-based, results-oriented decisions. With five full-time consultants, the company provides independent services in 22 counties from two locations in east-central Indiana.
"Our emphasis is on unbiased service and recommendations," notes Garner. "We gather information in a usable format for a farmer to make decisions. We don't tell them what seed or crop protection products to use -- we're simply there as a resource."
Gearing Up for Precision Ag
Garner's relationship with Keesling began in 2002, when he visited the Middletown, Ind., farmer to discuss crop insurance. Keesling was already involved in precision agriculture, having started soil sampling and making variable-rate fertility applications in the mid-1990s. He went the next step by purchasing a yield monitor for his combine soon after he started working with Garner.
"The yield monitor gives us vital information," says Keesling, who grows corn and beans along with processing tomatoes. "With that information, we can find areas that aren't up to par and make adjustments to bring them into higher production."
Garner adds that yield monitors help growers identify the limiting factors of farming. "It's the most underused tool in agriculture," he notes. "Dave records his yields and studies them. Many people don't record them or if they do, don't do anything with the information."
After adopting the yield monitor, Keesling began variable-rate seeding and applying variable-rate nitrogen treatments. "I believe variable-rate applications help the bottom line," adds Keesling, a mechanical engineer who started farming full-time in 1987. "But more importantly, it's more environmentally sound to apply variable rates than throwing out the same rate of fertilizer no matter what the soil needs."
Soil Testing is Key
Soil needs are key to the recommendations Garner makes for Keesling. "We sample part of every field every year," he says. "Dave has mostly high organic soil, but some areas are organically challenged. If you treated every acre the same, you'd either be over or under applying a lot of your acreage. That's where precision agriculture really kicks in!"
To record all of his customers' precision ag data, Garner uses MapShots AgStudio software. "AgStudio software has a powerful analytical tool that will analyze up to ten consecutive layers simultaneously," he explains. "For example, I can overlay as-applied data on Dave's soybean yield maps to ascertain yield results by soil type where he applied a fungicide and where he didn't."
Analysis of data is a huge part of Keesling's farming operation. "I like to look at trends over the last several years to see which areas are working and which aren't," he says. "If we are variable-rate applying nitrogen as we sidedress the corn, I can overlay that yield information on the map to see if we are applying the right amount."
Garner uploads Keesling's yield information into AgDirector software, which simplifies and automates the process of managing data. He automatically gets an e-mail when the information is uploaded.
Getting Together Throughout the Year
Garner meets with Keesling at various times throughout the year. They get together prior to planting to discuss variable-rate seeding recommendations, generated through AgStudio software. Then Garner takes tissue samples during the growing season and pulls samples from the poultry manure Keesling stockpiles in his fields each August.
"With this information, Dave can determine nutrient levels of the manure, including how much nitrogen it contains and how much is in nitrate form," adds Garner. "Like the majority of our customers, he works a year ahead determining fertility budgets. Just about the only time he and I are not talking is around Christmas and New Years."
Recently, Keesling acquired a new farm and asked Garner to provide a soils audit for him. It had been previously analyzed, but Gordon Ag's results were different. "Dave pressed us to find out why," says Garner. "This is how he stands out as a successful farmer. I don't want my customers blindly following recommendations. I want them to understand why we're doing what we're doing. Otherwise, it's easy to get in a rut."
As long as they keep their working relationship as engaged and interactive as it has been for the past 14 years, it’s doubtful Keesling and Garner will fall into that rut.