Focus on “Zone Nutrient Management”

Darin Johnson
GK Technology
Office 218-456-2486
Cell 218-791-2424

Does GK Technology stand for anything? The spark for the name of my company came as I was driving through Minneapolis. I saw a car from a company called the Geek Squad. The Geek Squad comes running right to your door to save the day if your PC starts misbehaving. I immediately saw the parallel with what I have been doing for precision agriculture for the past 7 years. It turns out I am one of the geeks who comes running to help people in precision agriculture. My wife insisted that I hide the two e’s in the logo leaving the company name to be GK Technology. My web site however remains

What services do you provide retailers, consultants and growers? I write software and provide hardware solutions for data collection and variable rate applications. I also offer mapping services for the more complex variable rate seed, fertilizer, and manure programs. Additional services I offer include topography and Veris data collection along with soil sampling to 24″ or 48″.

How long have you been working in the soil fertility business and what areas do you serve? I started in the agronomy business in 1984, and have been working with variable rate fertilizer since 1989. In 1996, I stopped managing a fertilizer plant and have been working in Precision Agriculture ever since. GK Technologies currently works for customers in all of North Dakota, NE South Dakota, and the western 100 miles of Minnesota.

How do you develop productivity zones within a field? In South Dakota and Western Minnesota, I feel maps that make the most agronomic sense include Veris data for defining soil variability and zones for soil testing and one or more years of either satellite imagery or yield data, for determining the productivity of different areas of the field. Combining the results of those two operations into an application map is my favorite solution. In the Red River Valley, most of the mapping involve Sugarbeet production, which relies heavily on satellite images, yield maps of previous crops and topography to determine the zones for fertilizer application and for soil testing.

The final end user of your zone management system is the grower. What kind of feedback do you get from them? The growers that we spend a lot of time with really value our services. One grower, who has been farming for 40 years, remarked that he had learned more about his land in the last 2 years than the previous 38.

You work with retailers, consultants and growers. What have you done to make your zone management system easy to use? Soil testing maps are prepared in color and displayed in software we provide to our clients before soil testing. We have our own software designed to give the user the details that he is looking for without having to jump through many hoops to get to it.

“Increasing value to growers through services” is something retailers are always looking for. Can you help them increase their profits? There are many opportunities to increase dealer profits by offering services like Zone Nutrient Management, soil testing and variable rate application for almost every crop in our trade territory. Zone Nutrient Management brings more value to corn, wheat, barley, and sugar beet growers. In some locations zone management of seeding rate and/or variety maps for planting soybeans also make sense. All of the above are new sources of revenue to most retailers.

What research do you use to support your Zone Nutrient Management system? I spend lot of time browsing research papers on the Internet looking for new techniques and research for using the data at our fingertips. Most zone management techniques are no different than what is done on a whole field scale right now. The same agronomic decisions apply. Everyone already makes input decisions base on a field’s productivity, yield goal, and soil test results. Those decisions in a zone management situation are evaluated for several zones in a field, instead of just one decision for the whole field.

How important is grower input when creating the management zones in each field? Grower input is critical, especially when you are making judgments for variable yield goals. Most of the information used for assessing yield potential across a field are susceptible to errors such as drowned out areas, spray drift damage, plugged tile lines, variety changes, etc. Any of these problems will falsely indicate a low yield potential for a zone that normally is high yielding. The grower needs to be in agreement with the yield potential maps that you create for each field.

Where do soil testing, yield maps, topography, satellite imagery, salinity mapping (Veris) etc. fit into your program? Each of the datasets are important pieces of information and each has its own strong points. When you create nutrient guidelines for each zone in a field, you have a yield potential component and a soil nutrient component for the equation. Example: (Yield Goal x 2.5) – Nitrate Soil Test level = nutrient to apply. Yield maps and/or satellite images are used to define the yield potential part of the equation. Veris data along with topography data helps define soil properties for creating each zone for soil testing. Soil testing is the soil nutrient component of the equation. Soil testing is essential to determine the relative level of each nutrient in the soil in each zone.

Glenn Hanson
MZB Technologies
Office 605-882-4214
Cell 605-520-1186

Glenn Hanson has been working in precision farming since the mid 1990’s and started his own company in February of 2001, called MZB Technologies, LLC. MZB stands for Management Zone Based Technologies and his company currently works with retailers, consultants and growers in the three state areas of SD, ND and MN.

What services does your business provide retailers, consultants or growers? MZB Technologies functions as a strategic partner with retailers and crop consultants in delivering a patented system to growers. We provide agronomists/retailers with the software, training, sales and support for them to successfully deliver the MZB System.

How long have you been working in the soil fertility business? I have been in the retail agronomy/fertilizer business my entire career. My family has been in the retail agronomy business since the late 1960’s. I have agronomy degrees from NDSU and the UM.

What has been the grower feedback you are getting and how do they value your service? Feedback has been very positive. Some items they see as valuable are the ability to manage in-field fertility, a low cost multi-layer system, lowered input costs, increased yields and quality, detailed agronomic information, better hybrid/variety selection, and diagnosing and correcting problem areas. They like the ease of use, incorporating their yield data, the ability to use their own recommendations, accurate acre measurement and the archiving information for future reference. This is mainly due to the straightforward agronomic benefits they see. Most all growers start on a trial basis so they can evaluate the system on their own farm. Many have moved beyond this evaluation period and have their whole farm being managed. This is the ultimate measurement of grower satisfaction.

You are working with many retailers and agronomists. How have you developed your zone system to be user friendly? Coming from the retail agronomy business, every aspect of our system delivery was designed based on our experience as a retailer. We have made it simple and user friendly, at the same time highly technically evolved.

Besides using zones for fertility management, what other uses are you working on? We are very excited about the VR variety and plant population work we started this year. This is an area that looks like it will grow very quickly across our marketing area.

With low margins on chemical and fertilizer and all the talk of “bringing increased value through services,” how can retailers/consultants use your services to increase their profits and customer loyalty? Our customers have realized that the profits with their chemical/fertilizer sales are much lower. What we bring to our customers is the ability to bring a valued technical service to the sale of fertilizer. This allows retailers to increase or maintain product margins, micronutrient sales and customer loyalty.

Your system seems agronomically sound. What’s the research backing your techniques? Dr. Dave Franzen’s work at NDSU with elevation and its’ use on predicting nutrient variability was instrumental in our understanding of directed sampling in glacial till soils. We then looked for additional layers of information that would allow us to describe in-field soil properties and yield potential variability. Using comparative analysis of test strips in fields, we measured the impact on yield and quality.

How important is grower input? Grower input is very important, especially in the recommendation step of the process. We delineate areas of similar soil properties and yield potential. This allows growers and agronomists to create their own input recommendations.

How do satellite images, salinity mapping, topography mapping, soil testing and yield maps fit into your program? We use soil conductivity, topography and yield potential, either satellite imagery or normalized yield maps to create the MZB Zone Map and directed soil sampling is done by the sampler. The Zone Map identifies the areas of variability and the soil testing quantitatively measures these levels.

Do you have any comments on how your zone management program compares to grid sampling or other zone techniques? The MZB System was created to give upper Midwest growers a cost effective option to variably apply inputs. The intensive grid sampling approach doesn’t fit well in the upper Midwest. Dr. Franzen’s research has shown he could predict N, P, S and Cl levels with a management zone system as well as he could with a 1.33-acre grid system. In comparison to other zone techniques, which normally use one layer of data we use multiple layers of data in the creation of the zones. Consequently, the more data layers you can effectively use, the more variability you can identify. We have found only 20 to 60% of any one given layer of data is useable for this purpose, that’s why we use multiple layers of data.