Editor’s Note: Karen Chapman is manager of agricultural sustainability at the non-profit organization Environmental Defense Fund. She works to expand EDF’s successful nutrient use efficiency programs designed to increase agricultural productivity while reducing nutrient losses to water and air. Agriculture technology can play a clear role here, but farmers are often unaware of what new tech is coming down the pipe, or how it will perform. Chapman and EDF have found a solution, which she explains below.
Farmers are under siege these days—and they need help.
Let me explain: according to a recent report from Boston Consulting Group and AgFunder, venture capital firms increased their investments in agriculture technologies at an annual rate of approximately 80 percent between 2012 and 2015. The report claims “the surge in agtech investment has brought the agriculture industry to the threshold of a new green revolution.”
Yet amid this surge in technologies to help farmers grow crops more efficiently, reduce environmental impacts and save money, many start-ups and even established companies often forget to consider: what does the farmer actually want and need? And, what would make them decide to spend money after seeing years of low commodity prices and profits?
This brings me to the “siege”: growers are getting bombarded with product claims more than they ever have before – but in agriculture, no product or technology works everywhere all the time. Navigating this world of advertising and marketing can be a frustrating and time-consuming endeavor – often leaving farmers to wonder if a tool is going to work in their region and in their soil type.
But help has arrived.
NutrientStar is an EDF-backed, science-based program that assesses and reports on the performance of commercially available nutrient management products and decision-support tools. It’s the “Carfax” of fertilizer tools.
In a new video, farmers from across the Midwest clearly state what it is they want when it comes to technologies to manage fertilizer, their most expensive input: assurance that a nutrient management tool or product is worth their money.
These farmers explain why independent reviews of these tools – and adequate data – is so important to them, and how with added transparency from tool manufacturers, NutrientStar can meet their needs.
What NutrientStar does
NutrientStar shares data about products that can contribute to reducing nutrient losses from agriculture to the environment, and works to provide valuable information to farmers that may help them improve fertilizer management, which benefits air and water quality across America.
The program also enables farmers to more easily execute the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, which include applying fertilizer at the right source, the right rate, the right time, and the right place. NutrientStar complements the 4Rs by informing farmers on tools that can help implement these important practices.
All assessments are conducted by an independent science review panel, comprised of leading scientists, fertilizer experts, and technology practitioners from across the country. NutrientStar was developed by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and is currently administered by EDF and S-Squared, a consulting firm specializing in agronomic technology and advice.
Why manufacturers and agribusinesses should care
Earning the confidence of farmers through independent review can help a company’s nutrient management tool distinguish itself in an increasingly competitive market. Here’s a sampling of what the farmers in this video have to say to the makers of these tools:
“I like to know that a product’s going to work on my acre and my soil type, in the practices that I use every day.” – Jake Isley, Sunrise Farms – Palmyra, Michigan
“There are more products out there than one guy could ever look at, and you have to parse through all that and figure out what’s real and what’s not.” – Todd Hesterman, Hesterman Farms; president of the Ohio Soybean Association – Ohio
“We need to know if the product will work on our farm or in our business, not somewhere else… show me it works here.” – Greg Kneubuhler, CCA, owner and operator of G&K Concepts, an independent crop consultancy working with farmers in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan
“Don’t give me promises, give me data…. Get [your product] reviewed by a third party. Give me confidence that your product can help me be a good steward.” – Rob Ternet, owner of Ternet Farms Partnership – Indiana
Crop advisors and ag retailers can also use NutrientStar reviews to provide sound advice to their farmer clients about tool performance.
What an assessment entails
To get a product reviewed, a company needs to complete an assessment questionnaire and submit any relevant field trial data to the NutrientStar team. That information is then reviewed by the NutrientStar science review panel, which determines if more information is needed and whether or not field trial data is adequate.
The process can take anywhere from six weeks to two months if sufficient field trial data exist. Without sufficient data, the process is longer (up to two years/seasons) as trials must be completed over at least two growing seasons to collect the needed information.
Fertilizer management products reviewed through NutrientStar include enhanced efficiency fertilizer compounds, such as nitrogen stabilizers, and decision support tools, such as optical sensor technologies or models used to aid nutrient applications in the field.
Already, eight tools have gone through the review process. But with countless new tools coming to market every month and investments ramping up like never before, farmers will need more independent reviews. With increased transparency, NutrientStar will become the go-to resource for farmers, their advisors, and supply chain actors to get reliable data on the performance of fertilizer management products.
What do you think? Is this a useful tool? Do we need more review platforms for agtech? Email [email protected]