Ohio Retailer Regears Its Business With Stewardship

This year marks the 100-year anniversary for Luckey Farmers Cooperative. And this century-old cooperative isn’t doing business like before. 

“We asked ourselves, how can we fill a niche with our farmers to bring value and make them more profitable,” says Luckey CEO Andy Swerlein. “We want to be their trusted adviser, and today, that means helping them with technology and the information flow back and forth. We can say to our farmers, ‘we’re going to help you understand what works and what doesn’t work.’”

Located in the shadow of Lake Erie, the cooperative and its farmers have had water and nutrient stewardship come into the forefront of many of their agronomic decisions. These decisions require a sound agronomic foundation and the right technology tools.

In 2015, the cooperative signed up for the voluntary 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification, which means it committed to 45 criteria centered on the 4Rs: right source of nutrients at the right rate and right time in the right place. The number of certified retailer locations in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana participating in this program totals 53. 

New tools were required to answer the new questions. To put stewardship into practice, the co-op doubled down on technology to keep implementation of the 4Rs simultaneously transparent and simple to farmers. The co-op helps its farmers manage and base decisions on data. Those data include the following: 

  • Weather
  • Prescriptions
  • Soil tests, types, elevations
  • As-applied maps
  • Harvest/yield
  • Scouting/field notes

Swerlein explains the team at Luckey Farmers uses Agworld software to help provide a complete view of a farm—from the planning to the actuals—and drill down to a cost per acre to assess profitability. 

Along with tracing financials, the team has applied the technology to measure environmental considerations. 

“Because we had the data management tools in place, our detailed record keeping flows right into the 4R process,” says IT manager Andrew Gladden. “This makes the process a whole lot easier and seamless for farmers as they put into practice the 4Rs.” 

Here are three examples of the voluntary practices adopted in the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification: 

  • A certified crop adviser meets with all farmers to review all field data and prescriptions, which are based on soil samples and recommendations within the 4R process. 
  • Fertilizer cannot be spread if there’s a 50% chance of a 1" rain in the next 12 hours. 
  • By the third year as a participant, the retailer has to have 35% of its fertilizer volumes be applied variable-rate. 
Learn More From The Team

Swerlein and Gladden will present more about their experience in adopting 4R practices and the technologies that make it possible at the 2019 AgTech Expo.

Their session, “Leveraging Technology Partnerships to Ensure 4R Success,” is one of 30 breakout sessions. Learn more about the event at www.FarmJournalAgTechExpo.com.

It’s been at least a three-year process. “We’ve learned a lot, and it’s taken multiple crop years to get comfortable with everything,” Gladden explains. “But we’re confident this has helped our business and the business of our farmers.” 

One additional benefit to how the co-op has set up its software is the streamlined accounting and operations. The co-op invested in three facility upgrades in the past four years including Kahler Automation systems and custom blending. And in 2016, it transitioned to all digital work orders. 

“Operationally, we used to be two weeks out in billing, and now, it’s all in real time,” Swerlein says.  

Customers have seen success. With Luckey Farmers, the team at RCR Partnership sharpened its focus on water quality with cover crops, variable-rate fertilizer and nutrient stewardship. 

Conservation has paid off across its 2,300 acres. Today, partner Chad Gargas says they are spending 10% less on fertilizer inputs and yielding 10% more.

“The lake is a beautiful asset. We have a responsibility to take care of it. That’s why we are implementing these practices that have been proven to work and are willing to try new ones,” Gargas says. “We want to be part of the solution, and we want to be proactive in finding the solution.”

For Luckey Farmers and its customers, this process has required an investment of time and tools. But the way the co-op has deployed technology has been a powerful engine to achieve environmental, yield and profit goals.