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Testing the waters, one harvest at a time

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WALNUT – James Schoff is trying something different, and it’s raising as many questions as it is answering.

Schoff, who has been farming for 18 years, works 2,700 acres just southwest of Walnut, is participating in the Pursuit of 300 program, which was started by the Mosaic Co. last August to encourage farmers to try new methods to increase their yield.

Mosaic Co., based in Plymouth, Minn., sells crop nutrients that include potash and phosphate, among several other products. The Pursuit of 300 program was designed to foster communication between farmers and the company’s agronomists as to how a 300-bushel-per-acre yield could be realized.

Through the program, Mosaic is working with six farmers in six states, as well as local agronomists, to build on the databases those farmers already have established and determine possible nutrient treatments.

Ron Olson is Mosaic’s senior agronomist for North America and has been working with Schoff, as well as the Indiana farm, during the program.

Schoff, like the other farmers selected, is open to incorporating new technology and methods into his farming, he said.

“We had a couple of planning meetings to talk about what’s the nutrient levels we should be shooting for, for 300 bushel corn,” Olson said. “So we stepped back and looked at what they had been doing, and we made some suggestions about what could be a limiting factor going forward.”

Specifically in Schoff’s case, he hadn’t been using sulfur and zinc to a “high degree,” and the Mosaic recommendation for his test field was to increase that usage, Olson said.

And Schoff is open to those recommendations and has been implementing them on the half of his Pursuit of 300 field designated for the reason. The other half of his 130-acre Pursuit of 300 field is being farmed as he usually does.

It’s the recommendations and the challenging the way he thinks that got Schoff interested in the program.

“I’m an individual that likes to take a look at new, innovative things,” he said. “And this had that written all over it – bounce ideas off one another, look at different products, different techniques. Anything that’s going to challenge me to try and push the limit, push yields, I’m all in favor of.”

One of the techniques being used on Schoff’s farm, as well as other Pursuit of 300 farms, is a Normalized Differential Vegetation Index, which is an aerial photo taken using ultraviolet rays that measures biomass.

Based on the biomass, Olson and Schoff can determine where the healthier plants are located in his field. It isn’t a guaranteed determination, from the photo taken in the middle of July, of which crops will have the highest yield come harvest, but it’s another “tool in the toolbox” for Schoff and the other farmers, Olson said.

The changes recommended to Schoff through the Pursuit of 300 program haven’t changed any of his day-to-day operations, he said. There have been, however, plant samples sent for tissue analysis.

But whether the recommendations will result in a higher yields or permanent changes to the way Schoff farms will have to be determined after the harvest, and maybe not even that soon.

“You have to be a little bit cautious making management decisions off of one year,” he said. “It can always get you in trouble. So some of these will be ongoing. It may or may not look like it paid (off) ... but you may try it again another year.

“It’s an ongoing process, as far as making the final decision if that’s something you want to incorporate into your operation,” he said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

Want to learn more?

Go to pursuitof300.com to learn more about the Mosaic Co. and its program to increase yields. A profile and a journal by participating Walnut farmer James Schoff is also posted on the site.

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