Nick: Pumper Portal Drives Innovation

posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2022

NickSunflower seeds, Mt. Dew, something sweet, and binders of information. Farmers pack the cab at harvest with their creature comforts and required tools.

Custom applicators are no different, but now manure applicators for Iowa Select Farms have more room in the cab. Their stacks of record books have been cast aside, and their essential information has gone digital thanks to the Pumper Portal.

“The idea came up with the team was engaged in a planning meeting discussing ways to improve efficiency,” reflected Nick Johansen, Nutrient Services Manager and GIS Coordinator at Iowa Select Farms. “We had wanted to do something digital for a long time, and I understood enough about our technology systems to know that it should work on digitizing the record books.”

Nick’s vision was partly due to his experience working as a precision ag specialist before coming to Iowa Select Farms. “I had an old-school boss,” Nick said. “He knew every field, but I didn’t. I would get a spray order for a field with a long list of directions – take this blacktop and turn there when you see an old dead tree.” Looking at digitizing the application record books, Nick knew there was a better way, “It’s our responsibility to take the guesswork out of it. We have the information, and we need to get it into the hands of the people who need it.”

For years, the nutrient management team at Iowa Select Farms spent hours putting together binders for each of the company’s 800 farms. The comprehensive binders included the detailed application plan with rates, instructions from the farmer, contact information for the barn manager, and MUCH more.

Thanks to a collaboration with the Iowa Select Farms’ Information Technology (IT) team, all that information has moved onto the company’s internal website, Tools. The mapping features are integrated into Tools from ArcGIS, a mapping software.

“A developer came to us that had experience with GIS mapping software and an understanding of the backend of Tools,” Carl remembers. “When Nick came on board, he fully understood the coop perspective.” After years of collaboration, technological advancements, and streamlining processes, “We were able to map out fields, utilities, soil samples, site information, and we could now allow secure access to the applicators while they are applying.”

Nick believes the timeliness of information is the most powerful feature, “The Pumper Portal allows Iowa Select Farms to ensure that the rates match what was prescribed to the field with timely information.” And that timeliness is of benefit to the custom applicators as well.

The Pumper Portal was rolled out to all applicators two years ago. Today, 96% of our application records are passed through the Pumper Portal, which equates to 153,000 acres and 816 million gallons being handled through our new digital platform.

“On their tablet or smartphone, applicators can submit their applied rates, field-specific information and invoicing. This gives us more timely information about the application, which allows for real-time changes to fields and plans, and ultimately improves communication between us, the applicator and the farmer,” Vogel said.

The seamless delivery of information has been great for the applicators and helps with two of the core pillars of Iowa Select Farms—animal care and environment care. With the binders, the information provided was only guaranteed to be accurate on the day it was printed. Weather changes, farming delays, and many other factors influence manure application timing. Many things can change between Nick hitting print and the applicator coming to a farm. Before the Pumper Portal, constant communication and updating could only occur via phone, text, or in-person.

Now, with the Pumper Portal, any update made within Tools is automatically available to the nutrient applicator in real time. Most importantly, the health status of farms is maintained in Tools. Knowing a farm’s health status is the first step in ensuring biosecurity and the future health of the farm. The health status determines the order of pumping, downtime between farms, and equipment that can be used. These measures limit the potential spread of pathogens from one farm to another.

For Nick and his team, they can ensure precision application while being user-friendly and adaptable. In the past, if something in a plan needed to be modified, it would require a new map and rate sheet to be emailed or, in many cases, driven out to the applicator in the field. The Pumper Portal erased that need, according to Nick, “I had a pumper call me over the weekend, and a field didn’t have the crop on it that we thought. I was able to make the change at the dinner table without getting up,” which is something his wife and two kids enjoy.