Every morning, MFA Crop-Trak Consultant Kevin Runde gets in his truck and heads to his first field. He’ll be in that same field on that same day every week throughout the growing season, rain or shine.
In the early spring, he’s out in the fields before they’re planted, checking weed pressure and soil conditions. Once the seed is sown, he evaluates stand counts and looks for emergence problems. Starting in early summer and all through the growing season, he scouts for insect pressure and disease. And every week, he provides the producer with a report of what he’s seen. It’s Runde’s responsibility and the job of all MFA Crop-Trak consultants across the trade territory to be the producers’ eyes in the field and ensure that they are aware of anything that could affect their crop’s performance.
If something requires remedy, he will recommend how to fix the issue.
“We’re independent scouts making unbiased recommendations based on sound agronomics,” Runde said. “It’s important for people to know we’re not trying to sell anything. We just want to make sure the producer is aware of what’s going on in their fields and can address any problems if needed.”
David Cottrill, who farms 1,200 acres near Albany, Mo., has been enrolled in the Crop-Trak program since its inception in 2006.
“He’s out there when I wouldn’t be,” Cottrill said of Runde. “I’ve seen him out there when it’s so muddy that I wouldn’t do it, and it’s my crop. But, that’s the thing, too many times a producer will say, ‘I’ll check it next week. It will be fine until then,’ and the next thing you know, you’ve got problems that you can’t control.”
A lot can happen in a week, MFA Senior Staff Agronomist Jason Worthington said.
“There are a huge number of variables that can only be addressed by somebody being in your field week after week,” he said. “Crop-Trak creates a partnership between MFA and growers to help those growers be more successful.”
Crop-Trak consultants like Runde are expected to make recommendations based on five considerations: agronomic principles, stewardship, grower’s expectations, grower’s logistics and economics. These recommendations are their own, and they are expected to put the grower’s best interest above all else.
Cottrill said he’s experienced this first-hand.
“Kevin looks after the producer,” Cottrill said. “There has been a time or two where we were going to do something, and he didn’t think economically that it would pay, so he recommended not to do it.”
Last spring, Runde’s presence in Cottrill’s fields on one day in May more than paid for the cost of the service, the producer said. He typically applies in-furrow fungicide/insecticide every year, and said he’s never had an issue with insects before. But this past season, cutworms moved in anyway, and Runde caught the issue before too much damage had been done.
“He recommended that we fly on an insecticide, and that took care of it,” Cottrill said. “Every year there’s something that he catches, whether it’s insects, weeds or stand count, that pays his fee.”
Since 2006, the Crop-Trak program has grown exponentially. In the beginning, the program had roughly 200 acres enrolled. In 2017, Worthington reported over 200,000 acres scouted. He attributes that growth to the thorough, unbiased credibility of MFA’s Crop-Trak consultants and the preemptive approach they take in identifying issues before they become something that will affect the producer’s potential yield.
“There is an obvious need for increased field surveillance,” Worthington said. “There are plenty of people in this industry who will go look in a field when someone asks them to, but by partnering with our growers on recommendations and providing them with this level of agronomic observation, we’re able to take a proactive role in finding solutions before the problem gets out of hand.”
Preventing problems that could potentially impact a producer’s bottom line takes diligence and a good foundation, Runde said.
He starts with a cropping plan prior to planting, meeting with growers to figure out when they intend to plant, who their applicator is, and the current level of fertility in their fields. Runde begins looking at weed pressure and putting together burndown and residual herbicide recommendations to make sure the field is clean prior to planting. Once the field has been planted, he scouts each week until it is no longer economical to make further applications. Most days, Runde says he spends approximately 45 minutes scouting per field, checking stands and weed, disease and insect pressures. At that rate, he averages about 2,000 acres a day.
“It’s the most thorough scouting service out there,” Runde said. “We manage these fields year-round, and it’s our full-time job to be in them. A lot of other companies have managers scouting fields in addition to all their other duties, but they can’t do what we do because they just don’t have the time.”
As the general manager of the Northwest MFA Agri Services group, which encompasses the Maryville, Guilford and Conception Junction locations, Jeff Meyer understands that time crunch. During planting and harvest, his days are busy and long. Meyer said one of the biggest benefits of Crop-Trak is that it lets him know what is going on in the field on a weekly basis when he doesn’t have time to get out there himself.
“I get a field-by-field report from Kevin when he has scouted for one of our growers,” Meyer said. “During those busy times especially, it’s hard for me to get away. I’m coordinating trucks and sprayers and spreaders among everything else. It’s a big plus to have someone out there walking those fields who knows what to be on the lookout for during any given time of the season.”
Every time Runde scouts a field, he prepares a detailed report that includes photographs for the grower, outlining the field conditions and any recommendations. With the grower’s permission, the MFA location manager also gets a copy, which Meyer said makes it easier for him to schedule applications.
“A lot of times, there’s a sweet spot with these applications,” Meyer said. “When Kevin sends me his reports, I can then follow up with the growers and steer them in the right direction if there’s something that we need to get to right away. It adds value to the grower to know that we’re getting the right products at the right time on the right acre.”
And as farms grow, their needs change, Meyer said. Ultimately, he sees the Crop-Trak program expanding in his area.
“There are a few operations around here that are getting bigger,” Meyer said. “It gets more and more difficult to intensively check your fields as you have more acres to cover. I hope that growers will look to us when that happens.”
An early advocate for Crop-Trak, Cottrill said he won’t go back to scouting on his own.
“Kevin’s an honest guy,” Cottrill said. “He wants what’s best for the producer. He catches insect pressures quicker than I would ever catch them and lets me know when we need to be spraying for bugs. A lot of times, he’ll be checking corn counts while we’re still planting beans, and if we have somewhere that’s short, we can go back in and replant it. He saves me yield in that instance just by getting it re-planted in a timelier manner than I would if I were doing it myself. I would rather cut back on my other expenses than do away with this, because it pays every time.”
For more information on the Crop-Trak program, contact your MFA location or visit online at https://mfa-inc.com/PrecisionAg/Crop_Trak.