Meet crop consultant: Jason Little
He's been helping growers in the field for the last 25+ years.
We were very excited to sit down with Jason and hear how he uses technology to help make his consulting business most efficient.
This is Jason's second season using and first season distributing Trellis' Wireless Soil Moisture System
Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. We’d like to start off with a little bit of your background. You haven’t always been a crop consultant, is that right?
That’s right. I worked at the bank for six years prior to becoming a consultant full time. But have been working on the field since 1991, looking at anywhere from a thousand to 18,000 acres in a year.
Wow! What made you quit your job and consult full time?
I've always enjoyed watching stuff go from a seed to full maturity and seeing what kind of crop we have been able to produce.
It is satisfying that one way or the other, that's for sure. So Jason, how exactly do you work with growers? What do you do for them on a daily basis?
We basically take it from the time they put seed in the ground to harvest.
Corn we don't have a lot to do with it, other than irrigation management. The biggest thing with corn—and a matter of fact we are putting sensor blocks in pretty steadily right now—and we will run the sensors until the corn hits the black layer. Corn hits the black layer, we will snatch em up, and pull em out until they're harvested. Peanuts we're in the crops once a week from planting until two weeks of harvest. Cotton we're in it from planting until right at defoliation time and we're making decisions on insects, diseases, and fertility.
I want to include the grower as much as possible [when making a decision]. I want to make a decision that is going to fit the grower’s farm, his yield goals, and his budget. Sometimes that's the hardest to do.
Really hard, absolutely. So do growers ask you to help them with only certain things? For example, a grower says `Hey I just want you to help me with x, y, and z'
I have some that really don’t ask for much input as far as choosing the varieties of what they're going to plant. Their biggest concern is "did I plant enough? and is there any seedling disease?" They'll just want us looking at it up to defoliation. But to be honest with you, that's really only a few. Most want our full services from planting to harvest.
So how long have you been working with soil moisture sensors?
I think this will be six years that I've actually done it on my own. I helped longtime GA Consultant Danny Bennett back around 1993 or 1994 and learned a lot of the same practices I use today from him. He was a great teacher.
In the last six years you've been doing this yourself, what would you say are the real benefits for growers when they're using sensors?
The biggest benefit for the grower is they don't question when they have to water. One of these growers I got, he's like, "If I get a text from you saying it's time to water, I turn it on, and if I don't, I don't worry about it." But most of them I talk to on a daily basis, so they know what the sensors are doing and they actually have an idea of the trend: "OK, it's Wednesday, if they continue on this trend, it looks like we're probably going to [be] watering on Friday or Saturday."
The biggest benefit for me is the savings in time going out to the field. When I know what stage the crop is in and I know there's nothing wrong with it and the sensor is reading properly, I really don't have a reason to go by the field.
Did you have any trouble getting growers to trust the data when they first started working with sensors?
No, I've had one or two who doubt it because they think they can go out into the field [and check it themselves], especially the corn crop as you start getting a little bit later in the year. You can go out there and the top three inches won't be muddy by any means but there'll be good moisture on top of the ground. But once you start getting down below that, you begin to see how the soil dries out.
Once, we took a five gallon bucket of water. We took it out, poured it around the sensor, let it soak in, OK and I said, “Let's give it two hours and we'll come back,” and we walked down and read it manually. It was actually about four hours later and that eight-inch block had just about zeroed out. And at that point in time he was like, "I understand this."
Have you ever had a situation where you meet a grower who's using an older system like gypsum blocks and they really like their current system and way of doing things? What would be your advice to a grower like that to get them to switch to a system like Trellis?
I guess that is going to be the hardest thing because you have some of these folks [who] may be set it their ways some of those growers who are trying to run it themselves.
The big selling point of that to me, again you've got "Grower Joe," this guy who has 15 pivots scattered about around 30 miles ‘round his shop. You know he is going to have to make two trips a week to the field but only one trip if he has a remote sensor unless there's something that's just throwing up a red flag. He's not going to make any trips to that pivot other than to turn the water on on or to check sensors. Otherwise, he would have to go out there, hook up alligator clips to, and read it.
So would it be correct to say the BIG selling point of using wireless soil moisture sensors is the time-saving factor?
That's right. It allows you to do something else. Instead of having to go out there and physically read the moisture sensors, the grower can schedule his day based on [data from the mobile app]: “Alright if it's not going to rain, I [have to] turn this pivot on and this pivot on.” The grower can even go ahead and schedule his next day based on those readings.
Going back to the benefits, we talked a little about how you see a lot of benefits in saving time. But let’s now talk about water usage. Do growers really see the benefits in saving money on irrigation costs?
Yes, but it can vary each year. It's going to sometimes be a savings, but may actually cause them to water one more time simply because they think, everything is good because they go out there and it's wet, but the sensors are reading dry.
So, even if they might NOT be seeing a savings in their water bill that year, they are going to see an improvement in yield?
Yes, that's right. The other thing growers would probably see at the first part of the season is that they wouldn't be watering as early as they think they need to be.
Interesting, okay. So how do you explain to growers why sensors are important for improving Precision Ag?
Because when they water based on the sensor [readings], different soil types are going to leach or use up the nutrition in the soil at a different rate. When you start pulling soil samples, you very well see where the sandier dirt may have caused you to put an inch each to the field. Those sandier areas may require additional fertilizer [based on samples and readings]. The larger fields with the Variable Rate Irrigation will have multiple soil types. And you will have different soil water holding capacities for those different types of soil.
Why would you suggest to other consultants that they consider using sensors as part of their current business plan?
It takes the guesswork out of it, in my opinion, because you've got the reading right there. Whether you're running a program like Irrigator Pro or making decisions based on sensor reading depths of 8 and 16 [inches], if it averages 35 [kPa] between the two, we're turning the pivots on. Using sensors takes a lot of guesswork out of it.
So do you think this is something that can really help a consultant's business?
It definitely makes the consultant more efficient and more valuable to the grower.
It was such a pleasure sitting down with Jason to hear his thoughts.
Interview takeaways- our Wireless Sensors will:
Provide you a better understanding of what is going on in the soil
Save you invaluable time and natural resources by not having to go out into the field as much
Add efficiency to your technique and increase yield
Editor's note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity