Ag Spectrum’s Maximum Farming System provides short- and long-term benefits to soil, crop health
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Rick Johnson says when he thinks about the changes he’s adopted in his farming system over the past three years. “I didn’t know that I needed to do things differently, but I now look at specifics beyond N, P & K.”
That focus on the full spectrum of crop nutrients is why the Newell, Iowa farmer is happy he made the decision to adopt the Maximum Farming System. He’s increased production, while trimming costs from his input budget that used to focus on the three macronutrients.
“It was a little less cost, but I’m allocating my funds differently and it’s not always the same across every farm or every field,” he says. “I may have a particular issue with pH on one farm, so we’ll focus more on lime there, for example.”
That prescriptive approach, along with the educational approach taken by his local representative is what attracted
Johnson to the System originally. One aspect of the Maximum Farming System is its focus on soils and how healthy soils impact a crop throughout the growing season. It’s about “getting better all the way through harvest. We’re finding the right balance in the soils,” Johnson says.
“We need to listen to what that soil is telling us, and when soil tests come back, we need to sit down with the farmers and show them where they have a deficiency and where they have a surplus, nutrient-wise,” says Rich Malcolm, Ag Spectrum Area Manager for the Maximum Farming System. “We say, ‘You need to spend your money here and not here to balance those soils.’ That’s when we can start to be able to spend fewer input dollars and use them more wisely.”
From that starting point, the reallocation process begins, applying soil sampling and yield maps to zoned fields and determining the key nutrients that will lead to yield improvements. Sometimes it amounts to changes in the amount of individual nutrients applied, while in other cases, it is a matter of turning to other products in a “system approach” that will improve both crop and soil conditions. In many cases, it boils down to changing existing mindsets about crop and soil nutrition.
“When I sit down with farmers, we have a spreadsheet we use when talking about starter fertilizer, DAP, MAP and potash. We compare it to the Maximum Farming System approach and show them we can save them $20 or $30/acre and put that money toward lime or another product that’s needed,” says Ag Spectrum dealer Aaron Bloom, of Super D Ag, LLC. “pH is a bigger driver than potassium and phosphorous.”
"When you can show that even with applying 15% less nitrogen, 80% less potassium and phosphorous, they can still produce the same or more bushels, that makes a big difference."
Making such adjustments leads to profitability, and with crop margins where they are today, more producers are looking to the Maximum Farming System to maximize crop revenue potential. “It’s the pocketbook driving this at the end of the day. In these tight economic times, more producers are having the discussion because they want to make more money this year. They have to do better and be more efficient with their investments,” Bloom says.
Because the Maximum Farming System is a relatively new approach to crop nutrition, there are skeptics. But, once the short-term benefits to crop yield are demonstrated and farmers become more involved in the system over the span of multiple crop years, the longer-term benefits become clear.
“There are many parts to this system, but once you understand how beneficial each part is, people definitely see the value of it,” Bloom says. “At first, it’s about saving money, but the guys who have been in the system for a few years start seeing improved soil health without the need for potassium and phosphorous applications. It’s not just a quick fix. This system shows that we can maintain better-balanced soils and continue to be more profitable. It’s not a flash in the pan. We want to work with farmers for life.”
Adds Malcolm: “It’s about changing mindsets. We are not here with this system for convenience. We’re here for efficiency. “Once we can get producers to change their thinking and show them we can increase efficiency and margin per bushel produced, it’s easier to get them acclimated to the system.”
A System Approach
Though the Maximum Farming System comprises products that are applied at specific times in the growing season, it has year-round crop input and management implications. Taking a “system approach” starts before seed is even planted and lasts through the growing season up to harvest, with management decisions based on the specific needs of your specific crop and soils. That approach includes:
1) Hybrid selection: Once you’ve evaluated your soil conditions, it’s important to consider hybrids in the context of what your soils will need most from the Maximum Farming System. This, Johnson says, is an invaluable part of the systems approach. “It’s really fine-tuning my crop production system and not just picking what the seed company says is the high-yielding hybrid.”
“When we start talking about hybrid selection based on specific soils and nutrient needs, then help the farmer pick the right hybrids, it becomes a big deal quickly,” Bloom says.
2) Fertilizer: When you’ve identified how to best reallocate resources to balance soil nutrition, it’s important to select the products in the system that will best deliver those nutrients. “When you can show that even with applying 15% less nitrogen, 80% less potassium and phosphorous, they can still produce the same or more bushels, that makes a big difference,” Malcolm says.
3) Zone management: Though this is tied to the overall reallocation of resources in the Maximum Farming System, breaking that down into individual zones can help better optimize the products that are applied. “When we look at our soil sampling data and overlay it with yield maps and our field zones, we find that there are key nutrients that aren’t necessarily the yield drivers producers thought they were,” Bloom says. “These reports, that are generated for System users, will hold producers accountable as ‘nutrient investors’ because it helps show them where their limiting factors are, then allows them to spend their money where it’s needed…not where it’s not needed.”
4) Planter performance: In addition to the importance of selecting the right hybrid and applying the right products from the Maximum Farming System, how that combination of seed and fertilizer is delivered is important to getting the season started right. “It’s important to get that planter with in-furrow products and seed applied the right way. There’s been a lot of discussion how to improve that process, and when producers see it, that’s when it first starts to click that this can work well for them,” Bloom says.