AgSync precision logistics help streamline MFA custom application services
MFA’s new custom application logistics software, AgSync, can help bring peace of mind for busy farmers such as Donald Bock, who farms with his sons near Maywood, Mo. Program features include an automatic alert to producers when an order for fertilizer or crop protection application has been completed.
Jake Jones, assistant manager of Marion County Agri Services in Hannibal, enters an order for fertilizer application into the AgSync system. The fields that have active orders are shaded in green, and when the jobs are completed, they will turn purple. The system allows Jones to monitor progress and location of the applicators in real time.
Marion County tender truck driver Mike Tosser prepares to take a load of fertilizer and cover crop seed to the field for application. The AgSync mobile app provides precise navigation to the field where the spreader truck operator is waiting, eliminating any confusion or miscommunication about directions.
Donald Bock, who raises row crops and feeder cattle, said AgSync’s communication features have worked well in keeping him informed about his crop protection and fertilizer orders from Marion County MFA. In fact, last season the email reports alerted him to the fact that an applicator had missed a field, and he was able to quickly get the spraying rescheduled.
With AgSync, information flows to everyone connected with the app, including a mobile version that allows drivers to navigate directly to the fields. Users say the system is much more efficient and accurate than the previous method, which relied on paper maps and printed instructions.
Craig Wilmes, manager at MFA Agri Services in ConceptionJunction, Mo., said he “never wants to go back” to the days before using AgSync to coordinate custom application services for his location. He said even the operators who were most reluctant to change were completely on board with AgSync within a week of using it. He said the program is especially useful when MFA locations share drivers who may not be familiar with the territory.
Austin Rickabaugh, who has been an applicator with the Conception Junction location for three years, said AgSync adds another level of confidence for operators, ensuring they are applying the right products in the right place. Having clearly defined field borders in the mapping system is also a plus, he said, because sometimes those boundaries aren’t obvious when looking at a paper map. He said his father, Todd, also an MFA applicator, embraced the new technology fairly quickly after seeing the efficiencies gained.
Russell Hettinger has been an applicator at Marion County MFA for five years, so he’s had experience both with and without AgSync. He said the electronic platform has multiple advantages, from reducing the time it takes to enter data in the cab to allowing better route planning for more efficient travel between jobs. This particular field was brand new to him, so using navigational maps in the AgSync app helped pinpoint exactly where he needed to go.
Settled in his command center at MFA Marion County Agri Services in Hannibal, Mo., Assistant Manager Jake Jones surveys the 60-inch monitor on the wall in front of him. It’s the height of fall fertilization season, and the full-screen satellite map is smattered with patches of bright-green outlines representing fields where applications are planned today.
As Jones scrutinizes the scene, a highlighted area near Maywood turns from green to purple. Simultaneously, MFA customer Donald Bock, who farms that particular field, gets an email to confirm that his fertilizer application is completed.
This is AgSync in action.
“I wouldn’t ever want to go without it again,” Jones said. “It just makes us so much more efficient.”
This will be the third year that Marion County MFA and other locations across the MFA system have been using AgSync, a comprehensive and interactive suite of scheduling, ordering and dispatch software for custom application services. The real-time system helps streamline and organize daily operations and flow of information, from the moment a customer places an order to its completion in the field.
About one-third of MFA locations are now using AgSync to coordinate crop protection, anhydrous ammonia and dry fertilizer applications, said Thad Becker, MFA Incorporated precision data manager. The electronic logistics system replaces MFA’s traditional order management process, which is largely based on paper forms and printed field maps.
“The way we’ve always done it in the past, a customer would call or come in and place an order for their fields to be sprayed or fertilized, and someone at the store would write that down in a notebook or on an order form,” Becker said. “Whoever is managing those orders would have to organize them, figure out where those fields are, print out maps and instructions for the applicators and try to keep everyone on task.”
“That system works fine, but AgSync does all the work for you,” he continued. “The software connects everyone in the process and gives them visualization of the application orders and field locations. They can sort those orders—not only by field but also by what is being sprayed or spread, so they can group similar products. And the plant manager, operators and tender drivers can keep track of where everyone is throughout the day. It’s all about being more efficient, solving logistical problems and getting across more acres in a shorter window of time.”
MFA’s precision team evaluated the platform for several years before bringing it on board in the fall of 2019, not long after AgSync’s acquisition by Raven Industries, a leader in precision agriculture technology. Early on, Becker said he recognized AgSync’s potential but was wary of infrastructure limitations. In the field, the system runs on cellular service, which isn’t always reliable in rural areas.
“AgSync was originally built with aerial application in mind,” Becker explained. “A lot of those pilots are journeymen traveling across the country and don’t know the area, so something like this is a good tool for them. As it developed a little more, retailers saw that it was a natural fit for ground fleets. I first started looking at AgSync five or six years ago, but there was a lot less connectivity then, and technology wasn’t there yet. But now, cell coverage is much better, and the software has had time to mature, so we felt like it was ready to move into MFA’s precision portfolio.”
The program is now powered by Raven’s Slingshot Connected Workflow system, which allows direct integration with any Raven field computer in the cab of a spreader or sprayer. Applicators running machines that aren’t equipped with Raven monitors use iPads to operate the AgSync software. A mobile phone app also provides navigation, tracking and communication through the platform.
The benefits abound and are still being realized as AgSync’s features evolve and become more robust, Becker added. Seamless scheduling, less paperwork, more accuracy, easier mapping, convenient record-keeping and better communication among everyone involved are just a few of the advantages. In general, Raven reports that users save 55 hours per machine per year over the same acreage as compared to the paper method. Applicators are able to apply an extra 5 acres or more per hour per machine, and plant managers deal with 90% less call volume each day.
MFA AgSync adopters would agree.
“It keeps us organized and allows us to plan so much better than the old system,” said Beau Britt, manager of Marion County Agri Services. “Too many times in the past we would catch ourselves criss-crossing from one side of the county to the next when we could have been more efficient. AgSync keeps us working toward one direction, not jumping back and forth, and helps us coordinate with other locations in our group. It’s good for everybody.”
Austin Rickabaugh, an applicator at MFA’s Conception Junction location, said AgSync’s user-friendly interface made the learning curve simple for him and his fellow operators. He said there’s no doubt the navigation and route-planning features help them get more acres done in a day with greater confidence and fewer disruptions.
“With a paper map, there’s no reference point to where you’re going next,” Rickabaugh said. “You’re just looking at one field at a time. With this, I’m able to see what all I’ve got lined up for the day. I get done with one job, see where the next field is, and just take off. It definitely eliminates a lot of headaches.”
At the farm level, AgSync offers the ability to generate an automated text message or email to the customer as soon as a job is finished. Depending on preference, that correspondence can include a detailed report about the application.
For producers such as Donald Bock, those messages mean peace of mind. He raises 1,700 acres of row crops and feeds out 150 to 180 head of dairy steers with his three sons, Jay, Craig and Kevin, who have off-farm jobs as well. With that workload, the family doesn’t have time to worry about whether their fields have been sprayed or fertilized, Bock said, which is why he appreciates being alerted when an application is completed.
“If we’re busy planting or combining, I don’t have to guess whether they’ve gotten to our fields yet,” Bock said. “I just have to look at my phone to know when they got it done and whether they did the fields that I told them to do. It seems to work real well.”
Back at the store, AgSync opens up a world of possibilities for managers who would normally spend much more time organizing orders and answering questions from applicators and truck drivers.
“Before AgSync, it would take me several hours to plan the day for our two floater trucks, anhydrous tractor and sprayer,” Jones said. “Now, if we do our job in the preseason, I can get all that done in 15 minutes. That frees up my day to work with customers, do some planning, help out in the field or go visit a farm.”
Craig Wilmes, manager at MFA’s Conception Junction location, said he finds similar time savings now that AgSync is implemented across his area’s Northwest Group.
“I send applicators out in the morning, and most of the time I don’t hear from them for the rest of the day,” Wilmes said. “Before, if they were calling me, something was wrong. I just don’t get those calls anymore. They all know what they’re doing and where they’re going, and that takes a lot of the stress out of everyone’s day.”
AgSync also streamlines procedures for transferring variable-rate recommendations to the application equipment. The information can now be sent directly through the program to the iPad or in-cab monitor, which greatly speeds up the process in the field.
“The way we used to do it, we had to download the recs on a thumb drive, plug it into the monitor and find the correct files,” said Russell Hettinger, applicator for Marion County MFA. “With AgSync, it’s all right there. You click on the field, and it’ll download the script and everything right to the monitor. Lot less chance of messing up. And it probably cuts 10 or 15 minutes by not having to manually load everything in. I figure I’m gaining an hour a day just on something that simple.”
In addition to such efficiencies, AgSync helps users realize other benefits such as better inventory management and product procurement, Britt said.
“We do a lot of cropping plans with customers, and AgSync allows us to go ahead and get their crop protection and fertilizer orders into the system, so we know what products we’re going to need for the season ahead,” he said. “Then we can forward-contract and get things booked early. For example, last year we had our fertilizer dialed in to within half a load for the entire year. We knew exactly how much to book and didn’t have to buy any in-season. That’s where you want to be.”
AgSync already shares two-way communication of data with MFA’s Agronomy Dashboard, Becker said, and soon the process will go full circle to include automatic invoice creation and billing through MFA’s Merchant point-of-sale system. That integration is in the final stages and will likely prompt many more retail locations to adopt AgSync technology, he added.
“One of the barriers to using the program right now is that we have to make a double entry into AgSync and Merchant,” Becker said. “But we’re in the short rows on getting that integration completed. It’s being tested in the field as we speak. I expect the majority of locations will be on AgSync by next spring, once the Merchant integration finished. It’s going to be nice to have that capability.”
Becker said he’s also seen AgSync foster more cooperation among MFA locations because the precision navigation features easily allow applicators to lend their services outside their usual territory.
“A lot of the success stories we’re hearing about AgSync are related to the ability to call on applicators from other stores and have confidence that they’re going to get in the right spot without having to hold their hand,” Becker said. “With AgSync, those applicators will know exactly where they’re going and what they’re doing—even if they’re completely unfamiliar with the area. You can just assign them an order and quit worrying about it.”
Wilmes said he believes AgSync’s collaborative aspect will also help drive its widespread adoption as MFA continues to seek ways to increase efficiency and more effectively use assets across the entire system.
“Technology is always a good thing, and once we get everybody on board, it will be a lot easier,” Wilmes said. “As a company, we’re working together more as groups these days, and AgSync is an important piece in making that successful. As we keep heading in that direction, it’s the only way to go.”
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