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April 24, 2020
Suddenly it’s a dry growing season, forcing you to pump more acre-inches of water through irrigation system for each of your Almond tree blocks. How would that move impact your nutrient management plan? Do you stay the course, or consider changes?
If you’re working with Crop Consultant Henry Hinkle, at Nutrien Ag Solutions Five Points branch in the Central Valley of California, he can answer those questions and manage that program on the fly. From evaluating the nutrient mix to timing applications, Hinkle and a team of ag experts in the region can evaluate specific crop needs and make changes. For example, rising salinity and increased boron levels, can mean trouble for a thriving almond crop; Hinkle can offer solutions to tough problems.
Nutrient management of any crop requires attention to detail. For example, boron is an essential nutrient almond trees use when it is flowering, but if levels rise too high the element becomes toxic. Annual soil sampling helps to head off a boron problem. And as part of the full-season service Nutrien Ag Solutions offers, Hinkle takes hull samples at season’s end to check boron levels and determine the
appropriate post-harvest application rate.
“These focused nutrient management decisions can make a difference of hundreds of pounds of production per tree acre,” says Hinkle, who has worked as a crop consultant for ten years at this location, focusing on care of almond and pistachio orchards.
“No matter the size of your operation, can you afford to leave all that money on the table?” Hinkle wonders. “A relatively small investment can yield a very large return, if we’re using the right inputs at the right time.”
He notes that for the growers he works with, Hinkle develops a customized plan for every farmer, every field.
Resources at work
“Especially working for a company like Nutrien Ag Solutions, we have tremendous resources at our disposal,” Hinkle says. A key to those resources is personnel, from Hinkle to fellow crop consultants, agronomists, irrigation experts and product experts on the Nutrien Ag Solutions team. And that on-the-ground support is backed up by the Echelon system which includes a number of new technology tools including a crop planning system. With that system Hinkle can develop a field plan working field-by-field, or in his case block-by-block, to help customers make input planning decisions. That system can incorporate a range of factors into the plan including irrigation practices, cultural practices, equipment and labor utilization.
“You take those people resources and couple that with the incredible catalogue of products at Nutrien Ag Solutions and we can evaluate each grower’s operation, and every field on that farm, to make sure we are plugging in the right products on the right acre,” he says.
For a successful crop, the work starts the season before, right after harvest. That’s when Hinkle’s team at Nutrien Ag Solutions makes that first fertilizer application, before trees or vines go dormant. The team examines yields in each field, and reviews soil and tissue samples, to get the right post-season prescription. During the dormant season, Hinkle meets with each grower to look at the specifics of every orchard.
“We look at things like their budget, their infrastructure, what their yield expectations are. Then we design a complete nutrition program, both foliar- and soil-applied nutrients, to fit exactly what we need for that specific field,” Hinkle says.
This is a highly tailored program from Nutrien Ag Solutions. “If we’re working with a grower who has 20 blocks, we do a specific program for each block. We want to maximize the potential for each block, and make sure we maximize potential in our plan so we don’t over-apply, or under-apply.”
In mid-February, as bloom-time begins, the Nutrien Ag Solutions team starts to execute programs designed over the winter. Work begins with in-season tissue samples once a month, on a schedule, so the grower and the consulting team get those results for precision decision making through the heart of the growing season.
“Then we take those tissues, and the information they yield, and that will reinforce that the plan we created is working the way we want it to,” Hinkle explains.
Nimble in-season moves
In changing conditions, however, crop input needs can change too. With those tissue samples and Nutrien Ag Solutions in-field evaluations, they can spot deficiencies, or over-applications quickly.
“We sit down with the grower every week or every other week, and we can tweak the program, in real time. We do this throughout the season to make sure that everything we apply is exactly what the tree needs, exactly when the tree needs it, and that we are using exactly the right materials. This is the way we set the up each block up for the greatest potential yield,” Hinkle says.
The Central Valley has a range of cropping systems at work, including row crop producers who consider making a change from annual to permanent crops. That switch isn’t an overnight decision, but more are looking at switching to nuts, tree fruits or grape vines. Hinkle and the Nutrien Ag Solutions team can be an important part of that transition.
Hinkle explains that the transition starts with a soil sample and evaluation of all the characteristics of the soil. That’s where the Nutrien Ag Solutions local knowledge comes in.
“We use our local experience, to take into consideration anything we might need to do for that area,” Hinkle explains. Nutrien Ag Solutions has the local knowledge and expertise to help that grower design the right input and crop management plan for the that change.
Precision agriculture involves a lot of moving parts. For Hinkle and the Nutrien Ag Solutions team the aim is clear, put the resources available to work in maximizing nutrients.
©2020 Nutrien Ag Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.
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