SUSTAIN: navigating the boom in precision ag

There’s new proof that precision agriculture is on the rise.

Earlier this month, CropLife magazine and Purdue University released a survey that found more than 85 percent of agricultural retailers plan on investing in precision agriculture services in the next year. And more than 15 percent of the 2,000 retailers surveyed will invest over $100,000.

This is good news for increasing fertilizer efficiency, because precision technologies can go a long way toward helping farmers know when and where to apply fertilizer. Applying fertilizer when, where, and in the amounts it’s needed can help save on input costs and reduce the environmental impacts that occur when excess nitrogen runs off into nearby waters or is released into the air.

But there’s a caveat – with so many precision agriculture tools available today and even more coming to market on a regular basis, how is a farmer to know what is best? Growers need to have confidence that precision ag tools will help them optimize their fertilizer use, improve their farm’s sustainability, and protect their yields.

That’s why programs like SUSTAIN™ are taking off.  SUSTAIN, developed and deployed by United Suppliers, Inc. in collaboration with EDF, works by equipping retailers with information on proven, effective technologies, practices and products that help growers optimize their fertilizer use and improve soil conservation while maintaining or even increasing yields. The real benefit comes when those retailers then convey this knowledge to their grower customers.

For precision ag to become the norm, and to make tangible changes in fertilizer efficiency and soil management, programs like SUSTAIN will need to be replicated across the country.

Proven technologies

LogoUnited Suppliers, Inc. is a cooperative of locally owned and controlled agricultural retailers who work with farmers all across the U.S. and Western Canada.

As the CropLife survey suggested, ag retailers already see the benefits of investing in precision ag, recognizing the opportunity for improved profitability. If ag retailers invest in the most effective technologies, then they’ll increase their market appeal to their growers who are responding to increased demand for sustainably produced grains.

SUSTAIN takes this opportunity a step further, equipping ag retailers with the tools and knowledge they need to guide farmers on the best, proven technologies for sustainable farm management.

SUSTAIN, in addition to helping growers adopt cover crops and conservation tillage methods, has field-tested products such as Adapt-N, a nitrogen recommendation tool that helps growers decide when to apply fertilizer and at what rates. SUSTAIN also has a BalancedN® program that helps growers manage split applications (including foliar/slow-release nitrogen applications which feed the plant), stabilizing nitrogen applications, and proper planning of a growers overall nitrogen program.

SUSTAIN at scale

United Suppliers, Inc. made a commitment through SUSTAIN to reduce fertilizer and soil losses on 10 million acres of cropland by 2020. By the end of 2014, more than 100 sales employees were authorized as SUSTAIN advisors and another 200 will be authorized this year.

And now, General Mills, Unilever, Murphy-Brown, and the Campbell Soup Company are or will soon use and promote SUSTAIN in their supply chains.

The SUSTAIN model is proving successful at helping growers navigate the world of precision ag, and to optimize fertilizer use and soil health while maintaining or even increasing yields. But this pilot effort has the potential to be replicated across the country– by other agricultural retailers, land grant universities, state governments, and food companies – to really bring sustainable crop management to scale. These stakeholders can identify or develop scalable programs for farmers to help meet the growing demand for sustainable grain.



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