Digital Agronomy Day 2022: Experiencing modern ag

Published: Jul 05, 2022

During a recent trip to the US, senior leaders became agronomists for the day at Nutrien's Innovation Farm in Champaign, IL.

Senior leaders from across Nutrien got the chance to be agronomists for the day earlier this spring, when they converged on the Innovation Farm in Champaign, Illinois in the US to take part in the company’s first-ever Digital Agronomy Day.

Attendees braved the rain to try out our digital tools throughout a whole farming season – condensed into two hours instead of multiple months.

“Getting leaders out in the field to experience how digital can benefit our crop consultants and growers on an acre-by-acre level basis using the Digital Hub, Echelon PA, and 3rd party capabilities to make recommendations that connect to in field equipment was a wonderful opportunity,” says Cameron Holbrook, Vice President of Digital. “I think everyone came away from the event, not only with new information, but a deeper appreciation for our field teams who do this work every day supporting our customers.”

Attendees included Interim CEO Ken Seitz and several members of the ELT, as well as senior leaders from IDS, HR, and Finance – both Retail and Corporate, and leaders from Australia and Latin America.


Experiencing modern ag firsthand

The group started out by taking soil samples for carbon analysis with our partner, Precision Ag. Next up was learning how to describe the field geospatially. Geospatial planning is important for growers because it not only provides guidance lines to make using GPS-enabled machinery easier, it also helps inform product applications.

“Knowing boundaries is important to us for custom application. It allows us to apply ammonia with the right offset spacing and plan in-season foliar applications,” says Paul Bonnett, Senior Director of Agronomic Solutions. “It also helps us make sure that we’re not spraying the wrong areas or having in-field safety concerns such as equipment running into powerlines.”

Learning how to describe a field geospatially was also important for the attendees because as part of Nutrien’s Digitally Engaged Acres approach, recommendations are tracked at field level.

Next up was the seed station stage. Variable-rate planting technology was used to determine the right seed populations to drive the best return on investment for growers. When looking at soil fertility at the seed stage, variable-rate technology was used along split applications throughout the season to minimize the risk of runoff while ensuring the crop has enough nutrients available.

After a successful planting season, participants moved onto in-season management of their crops. The story planned for the group was that their field was experiencing ‘tar spot,’ an important disease impacting corn yield today. Tar spot manifests as raised, small, black spots on the crops’ leaves. Satellite imaging was used to look at the field to identify potential areas of the field showing abnormal crop performance. These areas would be scouted by an Agronomist to confirm infection using Echelon PA.

The next day, the leaders got to visit the Nutrien Ag Solutions branch in Sydney, Illinois to see their whole farming season story come together. The group also got to listen to a panel discussion featuring a grower, branch manager, crop consultant and division manager.

“The core message that came out of the panel discussion was that people are most important. As the complexity and sophistication of agriculture increases, our agronomists are at the core of everything we do,” Cameron says.

While the core message from the panel discussion may have been a surprise for some, it didn’t shock Anne Folk, Vice President of HR, that our people are the element that makes our business stand out.

“Although it may not seem like an event for a Human Resources leader, like myself, to attend, Digital Agronomy Day was an opportunity to showcase the amazing work done by the Digital, Agronomic Solutions, and Adoptions teams, while also showing the essential role our people play to bringing these technologies to our customers due to the relationships they’ve created with our growers,” Anne says. “It was really energizing to be able to strategize about the role that HR can play to keep people at the center of our business and develop ways to attract more talent to help us continue to propel our technologies further.”

About the Innovation Farm

The 282-acre Innovation Farm in Champaign was purchased in 2019 and is part of a network of farms where the goal is to engage and collaborate with suppliers and growers on innovative technologies, products and solutions, equipment, and farm management practices at scale.

When the farm was purchased, the land was not in terrific condition, but that worked in our favor, because the point of the farm is to demonstrate the value of agriculture solutions for improving land, yields and sustainable outcomes.

“At the Innovation Farm, we’re practicing at the scale of farming with equipment that would be used on customer farms,” Paul says, “This allows us to train our crop consultants from the trials on the farm so they can apply it out in the field with their customers.”

The farm is expected to welcome about 2,000 visitors this year.