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Land Lab Year 2, pt. 2

27 Feb 2020  •  Tony Kramer

In part 2 of this two-part episode, Host Tony Kramer speaks with Jake Mauer, an agronomist with RDO Equipment Co., about Year #2 of the team's involvement with the Land Lab at North Dakota State College of Science.

The primary objective of the Land Lab is to reinforce agriculture education at the college. RDO Equipment Co. helped the program by providing the equipment and expertise needed to plant fields and also implemented several field trials to test new technology and provide the college and students with real data. 

Where Part 1 really covered an overview of the field trials, part 2 dives deep into the lessons learned.

Check out past episodes and guests – visit the  Episode Archive.

Each month, we share the latest in agriculture technology. Don’t miss an episode by subscribing to our podcast on  iTunesSoundCloud, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. 

Have a story idea or a precision ag topic we should highlight? Connect with us on social media: Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Twitter and connect with podcast host, Tony Kramer on Twitter at: @RDOTonyK.

Check out this full transcript of Episode #112, here:

Tony: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 112. Today, we are going to be finishing up our conversation with Jake Mauer about year two out at the NDSCS land lab.

If you have not listened to Episode 111, I would encourage you to go back and catch part one of land lab year two.

We are now going to jump back into that conversation with Jake Mauer, agronomist here at RDO Equipment Co. in the Midwest Ag region. Let's just get back into it, Jake. When we left off the last episode, we were talking about a lot of the lessons learned. We gave our listeners the overview of what the trials looked like and now we're jumping into lessons learned. We had talked a little bit about what weather had done to us.

No different than most people throughout the United States and throughout the world, crop season ‘19 was a tough one. We talked a little bit about weed resistance, what we learned there and how important timely application and scouting is when it comes to weed pressures. Then we left off the conversation with setup, being planned, being prepared. I mentioned a couple of the issues that we ran into with the planter. What we thought was as planned and as ready as we could possibly be, but when we got to the field we just had overlooked a couple small settings, a few different things.

I guess I say small settings, but if you accidentally plant 50,000 pop across your entire cornfield, you're going to run out of seed in a quick hurry. I say small, they really are big important things but you get out to the field at the field edge and a lot of things can be overlooked. Now, we're going to jump back into that, Jake, you got a couple more stories to share about some of the things that can be overlooked and some of the struggles you run into if you overlook some of those settings and situations. Tell us a little bit about the next lesson learned.

Jake: Right, so to recap one more time, and we're not going to go back through the whole thing but there was this underlying theme of being able to empathize versus empathizing. Not just seeing it through your eyes, but living it through your own experiences, and being able to share that tell the story and share the knowledge and really, we learned a lot of things. Weather taught us a lot of things. The ground taught us a lot of things about how it interacts with weather, how it interacts with products talking through resistant weeds and that's no different.

One last thing that we really, this just came up within a few days of recording the podcast. Keep this in mind that this is hot off the press kind of stuff. When we were going through the scale tickets, going through the settlement sheets, and notice that we were way off in what our estimated-- Well, not seemingly estimated, we actually thought that was our final number for yield in our field, we thought that we were going to break an average of around, 8,590 bushel an acre on corn, which wasn't positive, it sounded like another Jake's acres type of experiment.

We found out that we were not even close to that. That goes back to that whole point where you hear the dealers, you hear the instructors, you hear extension, you hear the universities, all the academics, you hear everybody saying, "Hey, you got to go calibrate your yield monitor if you want good yield data. Hey, remember you got to calibrate that yield monitor. This is how you calibrate your yield monitor. This is the value of calibrating your yield monitor." When you're dealing with brand new equipment, and you really think and there's a lot of assumptions that we all put into it.

I'm going to paint you a picture of why this assumption on our behalf took place or this overlooking or the overthinking or underthinking, I guess it would be, took place. To paint the picture, as of right now, 50% of the corn in North Dakota has been harvested. I don't care what month you're listening to this. If it's probably April or May even of 2020, that number isn't going to change a whole lot between when this was recorded at the last part of January to anywhere leading up to planting, that number is not going to change a lot.

We had experienced our first major snow really mid-October. It was right at that freeze, right when you are expecting that freeze. That freeze came, that snow came, and then the melt started and it was at the point where we were getting no more GDUs. Any sun we were getting was melting which was actually going the opposite direction of what we needed. We needed it to freeze-dry more in order for the fields to firm up for us to go get that crop.

It started this log jam of well, whenever you can get in you get in and you go get that crop. Our window came right before Thanksgiving and really thinking about it, Thanksgiving we were anticipating another major weather system to come through, a lot of snow, for that season, believe it or not in North Dakota, that's unseasonably cold is what it was going to be. A lot of challenges that we could have potentially been facing.

Once again, just like everything else, it's like you think, you think, you think in your plan and you get ready to go and then, "Oh, well, there's our window we got to go hit it now." We had what was a model year '19 or '18 combined, new model. Regardless, it was an S770. It was a new combine, regardless of what year we're going to talk is a new combine with those expectations that combines will do a certain set of things to this day and age.

Not really recognizing or realizing that we were missing a lot of those technologies like the act of yield. We didn't have ICA2 and some of those newer features that will give us some added benefits in the ability to maybe overlook a couple of things because the machine will help us along in season, but we didn't realize that. That was our first mark against us.

We didn't really realize that. We didn't realize that yield monitor was never calibrated.

We didn't realize until the settlement sheets came across that we were off by 1,000 bushels on not even an 80-acre, this is a 40-acre patch we're talking, we're off by 1,000 bushels? When you're getting a call from the school and they're like, "Hey, guys, we can't find 1,000, we can't find a truckload on 40 acres. Tony and I are like, scrambling. We're scratching our heads, "There were only three trucks that went to the elevator, where is this fourth truck that we're missing and why are we so far off?"

That goes back to those little things. We didn't even take our own advice. It never even crossed our minds to take our own advice. You need to calibrate that yield monitor. As a result, we end up with this awesome looking map. We ended up-- We were happy with 90 bushels an acre. I'll be very honest, when we post calibrate that data set, we're not breaking an average of 60.

Tony: Like you said, Jake, we didn't even take our own advice. We tell people, "Calibrate your yield monitors, make sure your calibrations are done if you want good clean data." Fortunately, within the John Deere Operation Center, we do have the ability to post calibrate, get the correct numbers in there but we overlooked it. The previous year we did have a combine with auto maintain the full combine advisor package with active yield.

Active yield is automatically calibrating for us. This year with the S770 that we used, we overlooked that. We did not have an active yield. It didn't calibrate for us. Again, we were scrambling to get this crop out. Quite frankly, if we wouldn't have got it out that week before Thanksgiving, we would have run into snow. The week after Thanksgiving, we had a trade show, an Ag show at the Fargodome here in town.

The week after that our entire team was down in Florida at some John Deere large Ag Integrated Solutions training. Everything came stacking up and we just had to get it done. Overlooking some of the technologies or the calibrations, shame on us not practicing what we preach. Again, it was eye-opening. It was real life no matter how much we plan and we have everything set and ready to go. We have that combine picked out.

You get to feel the edge and there's certain things you forget about. We understand that this is real life, this does happen and that's why we stress the importance of calibrating your machines, whatever calibrations are available. Making sure all of your settings are correct. Take that 5, 10 minutes to slowly walk through all of that stuff. Whether it be you yourself, it be someone from audio equipment or your local John Deere dealership or maybe it's your agronomist that you do it with.

Get a second set of eyes on there. Get somebody to look at it, somebody to help. We know that it's very important when you do that. A thousand bushels, we thought we lost a truck somewhere between the short trip between the field and the elevator but really it came down to the combine was not calibrated. Again to make everybody aware yes, we were at or around 60 bushels an acre average on that corn crop. It was a very tough year.

Some of the areas of that field were very unforgiving this season. Again, we're not looking to raise record yields. We're really utilizing this to use it as a learning experience for the students, for audio equipment as well as anybody else out there that is able to learn from this whether it's through the podcast or other forms of media. Huge learning year for us, Jake. When it comes to the different things, maybe it's machine settings or it was weather or it was weed resistance. There was a lot that played into it.

Jake: Absolutely, there definitely was. The cool thing about that is that those challenging seasons offer tremendous opportunities to learn. Those plots, they weren't showy. Once we got some of those weeds cleaned up, we took care of some things. It was interesting to see completely different weed populations come out as a result of that. Last year, we had a lot of lamb's quarters.

This year was a lot more waterhemp. We saw different species come out, different herbicides break in action. We got to see the true differences in those crops. We got to see the trials really stood out and that was in a tough environment but I think regardless, it was really good to see it in that environment and for creating a living-learning laboratory. I think that far in a way more than surpassed our expectations for 2019.

Tony: Absolutely. Although we had a tough growing season, it wasn't just us. It's everyone in the Ag industry. Most of the Ag industry, it was a tough growing season. Even though we have that, we learned a lot of lessons. We were also able to get a number of guests out to the field to learn some stuff. I'll mention one of them off the top. We were planning to have a number of internal employees. We had a training all put together down at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

We were going to have the training, we were going to do it out in the land lab. About a day or two before that training was scheduled, we ran into some rain. We got some precept dumped about an inch and a half on us. Quite frankly that field out there we get a half-inch and you're not going in there for a good week or two. It is tough, but we use it as a learning experience. We were not able to get the internal employees out there. That is a hope for year three here going ahead. Jake, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about some of the guests that we were able to get out there?

Jake: Absolutely. We weren't able to actually train in the field. By having that land lab, by having that venue, it gave our team the ability to see a different venue for hosting that conference. It's a place we're actually going to go back to again this year. We're going to have that opportunity to potentially have that field day. Even if not, we got to change our venue. It was a really awesome opportunity to see things in a different light.

We split the groups up in smaller sizes than we ever had before which for those of us teaching, we did a lot of talking, we drank a lot of water. [laughs] I guess there's a lot of talking going on when you're teaching 8, 16 sessions instead of say, 4. What a great opportunity it was anyway and we did get some of those employees to come out and see it even after the fact. I couldn't get any of them. I got to have Scott Schadler's interns help me drive some posts. That was much benefit to me.

I was really, really glad to have help with that. I kept offering. Nobody was taking me up on driving my 70 posts in the ground and making sure everything looked good but gave some interns the opportunity to see what it's like in the middle of the summer to be driving posts, to be staging the field for shows, for plot tours, and to get eaten up by bugs as the sun started to set. A lot of them said that was the latest night they'd ever worked in their lives.

For Scott and his interns, I greatly appreciated that but guests from John Deer from the intelligent Solutions Group in Des Moines, Iowa, had some great folks come out and see the land lab in person. We can tell the stories and we can talk about it on the podcast and we can tweet about it and we can create PDFs and take pictures. There's nothing like seeing folks that on a daily basis aren't out there in the field and they are knee-deep in soybeans or they've got corn.

They're right in the middle of the cornfield and they're just eating this up to the point where we all had to pull them out of the field to go to lunch. Skipping lunch to stand out in the field to go and look at crops whether they're in good shape or not, there's something that was truly rewarding about that work where Tony and I had the ability to host a group like that to show what we're doing and show the lessons we're learning.

We had a number of interns, our own internal interns, John Deere interns. We let them run pieces of equipment that they may not get to run. Not everybody gets to run a 9RX, not everybody gets to run an exact apply sprayer, not everybody gets to do some of these things. We were really glad to be able to share that experience with people that otherwise wouldn't get to.

Likewise, the NDSCS students, we had three field days out there. Even when it rained, we made the best of it. We shared stories, shared insights, went through the data sets, we had a really great time. I really am thankful for the opportunity that we had to bring them out, get them into the field, help us conduct some of our research and just share the land lab experience with them.

Tony: Along with those John Deere employees, the team from ISG, our internal employees out there, of course, we had the opportunity to bring the students. The students in the Ag programs at North Dakota State College of Science down in Wahpeton, North Dakota we got to bring them out in the field. A number of their classes, whether it was the soils classes, or the precision Ag classes or whatever it may be, they got the opportunity to come out to the land lab and learn from us, from their instructors.

Having them out there was a huge thing too. Just to remind everyone, that's really our goal. Getting the opportunity to partner with the North Dakota State College of Science is huge for us at Audio Equipment Company. Really, our giveback is for the students to learn. We want them to learn, we want them to get something out of it. It's just a bonus on our end to be a part of it and for us to learn internally about our equipment and put some hard agronomics into what we're doing and the equipment that we sell and support. Jake, let's give our listeners a very brief sneak peek at what year three at the land lab is going to look like? What do we plan on doing out there?

Jake: Well, in some cases, you could look at it as a lot of the same. We're going to keep the corn-soybean rotation, we're going to rotate the second year corn into soybeans this year, and we're going to take that corn plot that we did on the north end of the field and we're bringing it south for year number three. Half that plot will be no-till. They flew in a cover crop blend last fall.

We actually harvested green as well. They're going to have that blend. We're going to deal with the cover crops again in the spring trying to figure out terminating that cover crop but it'll be really interesting to see that for the soybeans on that North half of the field. We have a couple of ideas in mind. We don't really know exactly what will happen until we get out there.

That's the beauty of a lot of the things we do is it's, "Hmm, what's everyone dealing with right now and how are we going to make that relevant? What can we learn from it? This year we're thinking maybe a speed trial will be fun to see if you're going super fast to soybeans, what that looks like but a number of different things, number different cards up our sleeve but stay tuned. Year three we'll have a really fun recap of what we learned out there.

Tony: That brings up a really good point about staying tuned to what we have going on out at the land lab. Jake, where can people go to learn more about the land lab or maybe see a little bit more about what we're doing out there?

Jake: Absolutely. If for any reason you find yourself in southeast North Dakota, for some of you, you may actually live out in these areas. If you find yourself out by Wahpeton, we're down actually directly west of the Walmart in Wahpeton. If you can come out to the field in-person, awesome, we would love to have you. For those of you who can't and it's definitely understandable, you have a lot of listeners all across the world.

I completely understand if you don't have the ability to just hop on a plane or in a pickup to come down to Wahpeton, check us out online. Now by online, I'm not going to give you just a normal web address and say go to this and see and learn more. I'm going to give you the back door ability to see what we have going on in real-time. I'm going to do that via our login with our MyJohnDeere account. If you've never been on MyJohnDeere and the Operations Center before, this is your opportunity.

You have a live working farm that you can now see firsthand. To access that, go to and here's the login and password. Login is landlabdemo, all lowercase and then the password and watch out for this one, it's really challenging. It's the exact same thing with the number one, so landlabdemo1 is the password. I'm not supposed to share that but we want to be transparent and that's the exciting thing is that the data is only as good as those who are working with it. That's the biggest best thing.

I feel like is the greatest gift that we could offer is the ability to learn from our land lab experience and learning it through your own eyes as well. Those are the easiest ways to see the real hands-on stuff. Follow me on Twitter, if you haven't already @RDOJacobM. I'm usually up to date keeping things going o, on my Twitter account when there's things going on at the land lab and a lot of stories that we're telling.

I try to share and be as transparent as possible with everything we've got. Some of the challenges that we've got, some of the positives. We try to have more wins than losses but it seems like we learn more from the losses. This year we had a lot of those but give me a share there, give me a follow and we'll have more to come. We definitely will.

Tony: Absolutely. Like Jake said, go on to MyJohnDeere, utilize that account that we have set up for the public to see, follow him on Twitter, ask him questions, you can follow me on Twitter. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any other questions on the North Dakota State College of Science agriculture land lab. We're very excited to continue to work with NDSCS and be a partner with them working on this.

Thank you very much, Jake, for coming in, going through this two-part episode, so much information to share. I mean, we could continue on and on and on about all the lessons we've learned and some of the trials that we're completing out there but in podcast fashion, keeping this to our 15 to 20-minute episodes, we'll have to cut out here and leave people hanging for any other questions or ideas that we could potentially share with them. Thanks again for doing this, Jake.

Jake: Absolutely. Thank you again for having me. Thanks for the listen. I hope you learned something. We've gained a lot of great lessons from this and a lot of shared experiences that we're excited to continue and we'll talk to you again next year.

Tony Kramer

Tony Kramer is the Product Manager of Planting Technology and a Certified Crop Advisor at RDO Equipment Co. He is also the host of the Agriculture Technology podcast. If you have any questions for Tony or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can find him on X at @RDOTonyK.

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