Planting season is right around the corner and farmers are preparing to get in the field once again. However, you may be asking, what do farmers do to prepare for planting season? Winter is a time to learn and research new products and what affect they could have on crops in the upcoming season.
This spring, we spoke with Joe Schefers, an agronomist at Bayer, about planting prep and how he works with farmers to get the best crop production possible. On their website, Bayer states, “As a new leader in agriculture, we understand the importance of living up to our responsibilities to farmers, consumers and the environment. That’s why we are raising the bar in transparency, sustainability and engagement.”
Q: What does an Agronomist do?
An agronomist is a broad term for people who work in plant science. Many of the agronomists in our region work with farmers that grow commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat. We advise farmers on seed selection, crop nutrition, crop protection, farming practices, conservation practices and several other areas that impact the yield and quality of the crops they grow.
Q: Why did you choose to get into this area of agriculture?
I chose plant science and agronomy because it is the foundation to feeding society. Crop production is key for the food we eat, feed for livestock, and fiber for everyday uses. I enjoy all aspects of agriculture, but found my passion was crop production growing up on a family farm.
Q: How does planting season prep start? What is the process like?
In the seed industry, our preparation starts many years before the crop is planted. New products start development around 5 to 10 years before they can be purchased by customers. The pathway to developing and testing products is complicated, but very rewarding when farmers find success.
Growers often start their planting season preparation in the fall before planting. They secure inputs and often apply crop nutrients in the fall for spring planting.
Q: How do you communicate with farmers to begin planning?
The process is ongoing. Generally we have summer and fall field days to help them select new products that will be introduced to their farm. Sales agronomists will meet with customers regularly to make decisions and make adjustments.
Q: When does the process begin? What factors determine when farmers start planning?
Usually corn and soybean decisions start in August and September. Most of the decisions are finalized in December and January. Final adjustments are made in March and some adjustments are made during planting based on market and weather changes.
Q: How do you stay up to date on methods to increase the quality and production of crops?
There are several ways to do this. Digital tools have made information flow very easy and allows for learning on a daily basis.
Q: Is it hard to keep up with all the different practices?
It can be difficult to sort through the information and prioritize what will have the greatest impact and return on investment. We find that farmers have different levels of comfort with risk and we try to customize recommendations based on their preferences.
Q: What are key aspects that you look for when assessing a farmer’s land?
I look for field variability and historical production. Understanding the expected range of production helps identify the right products and practices to use on an individual field. Utilizing digital tools to reference past production and data layers is extremely helpful when organizing a crop plan.
Q: Do you have a set list of clientele that you research for, or do your clients change annually?
Our customer base is generally stable each year. Most are repeat customers and we build on historical experience to identify where to make changes. Many of our customers help test our new products on their farm. We learn together how to best use new technology and products on a local basis.
Q: What is your favorite part about your job?
There are many things, but I generally enjoy helping farmers solve problems that result in success. It is great when farmers ask for help because they value my knowledge and opinions.
Q: What kind of experiments are you/Bayer working on to help your farmers grow the best possible soybeans?
We have a wide range of experiments throughout South Dakota and specifically within our team. We are proud of the success we’ve enabled throughout the past decade.
For more information on planting season prep read Prepping for Planting Season with Jeff Thompson, Planting From the Perspective of a Sixth-Generation Farm or Next Gen Farmer Shares Steps For Sustainable Planting by Hungry for Truth.