Growers who attended the recent Mid-South Farm & Gin Show in Memphis may have checked out the Syngenta booth. Through computers on site, growers were able to interact with AgriEdge Excelsior software and discuss the company's ever-expanding, whole-farm program with specialists.

Brent Lackey, AgriEdge manager, recently spoke about the rapid growth of the AgriEdge program, how it can benefit farmers, and plans for the future. Among his comments:

On the program's genesis…

“Syngenta wanted an innovative solution for growers to do a number of things that would ultimately help manage the inherent risk in farming. (In 2001), we approached 12 cotton growers in the Mississippi Delta — representing 6,000 acres — with a technology platform that allows them to easily and efficiently capture their production records. Those records can then be analyzed for profitability, for addressing the needs of regulators and lenders, acre certification for FSA, all types of things.”

On expansion…

“Initially, the program was just for cotton, but in 2005 it was expanded to the whole farm, essentially the major row crops: cotton, peanuts and grains. The risk management model was enhanced and (Syngenta hired) dedicated AgriEdge specialists to work with the growers season-long.

“Today, we have what we consider a complete, whole-farm solution where all crops grown in the South can be enrolled in the offer: everything from major row crops to vegetables, fruit and nuts, tobacco.

“With that has come an enhanced risk management model to reflect the diversity of the crops. And we continually enhance the record-keeping platform, which is supplied to Syngenta exclusively by a company called Ag Connections, based in Kentucky.”

Four pillars…

“AgriEdge Excelsior is essentially defined by four pillars: portfolio, technology, risk management/cost-share, and personalized service. It's an annual program.

“The software used is capable of capturing all production inputs — chemicals, fertilizer, seed, services, you can track the light bill if you want — and a GIS mapping system is included. That allows the farmer to map out his farm and create a virtual farm on the computer.

“The real power in the software is the reporting. As the farmer captures any production input, he can manage inventory and develop crop plans, budgets for lenders. He can report all the necessary information the state agencies look for in terms of regulatory compliance. Ultimately, he can capture crop yields and do profitability analysis field-by-field on his farm. That enables him to make solid business decisions based (on history) and practices.

“There are also a number of features allowing the grower to create work orders and distribute them to custom applicators. There are also different methods to capture data — everything from just typing it in on a keyboard to using a handheld or cell phone.

“All the pieces of this, however, are optional. The grower can do as little or much as he wants relative to the detail he expects from his records.

“That approach has been very successful. We've maximized our resources every year. Currently, there are 3.2 million acres enrolled in the program representing about 685 growers. Keep in mind in 2001 we started with only 12 growers.

“Incidentally, the retention rate for those enrolled is over 95 percent. Growers tend to come back year after year.”

Can this be used on a computer the farmer already owns?

“We actually sell Dell laptops already configured with the software. That isn't required, though, if a grower has a computer system with specifications that are adequate to run the software. That's up to the farmer.

“More and more, though, laptops are becoming the preferred approach because farmers are out in the field 18 hours a day. Growers mount the laptops in their trucks and carry them around. They'll have their wives, children or employees do the data capturing. There's a variety of solutions.”

The cost to the farmer for this service?

“The model is set up so that the grower is required to spend a minimum amount on Syngenta-branded products. Today, that includes crop protection and seed care products. We are also integrating our corn and soybean seed products into the offer.

“If a grower enrolls one crop — just cotton, just peanuts, all grains combined count as one crop — we require him to spend $45,000 at a minimum. That qualifies him for the software license and service for the season. If he grows two, or more, crops we ask he spend $60,000.

“After that point, to encourage the farmer to spend with Syngenta as needs arise, there's a cost-share model based on price points established for each crop. As a ‘spend’ level is reached, there is a 10 percent and 50 percent cost-share (component).”