14. Keith Byerly – How Relationships Build Soil Health

When Keith Byerly made the transition from Precision Ag Manager on the ag retail side of the industry to Soil Health Partnership (SHP) on the education and research side of the industry, he didn’t realize the two roles would feel so similar.

“Being a trusted advisor on the grower’s farm, you’re working on a relationship with those growers because that’s where it all starts and stops. Having a good relationship is paramount to success in that [sales] role. When we talk about soil health and helping our farmers through the process of adapting management practices on their farms, it’s all about the relationships there as well,” Byerly said.

Byerly is fortunate to be working for SHP with many of the same farmers he worked with in previous roles. He has already invested significant time in the relationships that make him a resource for all sorts of troubleshooting and idea implementation on the farm.

In this new role, he has been seeing that there’s so much more happening than he realized in previous experiences. Byerly says there’s opportunity to make farms better if every expert the farmer trusts is brought into all conversations.

“There’s the production side and then there’s the conservation side, and farmers don’t see them crossing. But the potential to maximize efforts all the way around the farm exists if the communication is there to loop everybody in. I think all of us kind of build our silos and we don’t think that anything needs to travel between the two,” Byerly said.

The relationships Byerly has built with his farmers help him understand their motivation to add a conservation practice and really develop that practice into something that will work for the long-term.

“I’ve never met a grower that didn’t have legacy on their mind when it came to their operations. They are always concerned about making the right choices…and that means that their children or grandchildren, or that the next person in line has the ability to take it over,” he said. 

Keith continued by explaining how impossible it is to incentivize or force a farmer’s conservation commitment. He views his job as helping farmers figure out what their legacy dictates for their farm and driving that with conservation practices.

Listen in to this broad ranging conversation – touching on Keith’s philosophies on engagement and relationships, to his experience with farm data and irrigation in the western Corn Belt – using the player above or in your favorite podcast app.

What You Need to Know About Your Yield Monitor

“Harvest 2020 is a once-in-a-lifetime event.” 

That was the take-home message Keith Byerly shared on his recent Soil Sessions webinar, Fall Preparations for Harvest Success. In his presentation, which centered on yield data collection, Keith emphasized that we only get one shot to collect data from the 2020 harvest – so it is important that our data collection system is ready to head to the fields when we are.

Pulling from nearly 20 years’ experience in precision ag and ag retail, Keith shared his tips and tricks for setting up and maintaining your yield monitor. Following this advice, growers can evaluate, calibrate and capture the yield data that will help them make decisions for many years to come.  

It All Starts with Understanding Your System

Yield monitor systems are made up of a wide variety of wearable and non-wearable parts. Just like with any other equipment on the farm – combines, augers, grain bins, trucks – we can’t simply assume they are good-to-go. Some of the key components to get familiar with and check on include the:

  • Grain flow sensor
  • Grain moisture sensor
  • Clean grain elevator speed sensor
  • GPS antenna
  • Yield monitor display
  • Header position sensor
  • Travel speed sensor

Each piece has different “watch out” elements – from rodent damage to impact wear to collection of dirt and debris – and each equipment model is set up slightly differently. This makes taking the time to understand your system and its component parts critical. 

In his session, Keith walks through each piece of the yield monitor system individually and highlights what to look for and what to adjust (or not adjust) to ensure you’re collecting accurate information.

Calibration is Key

There’s nothing worse than getting a great set of numbers in the combine and a less-than-great set of numbers when you head to the elevator. The difference lies in calibration of your yield monitor.

According to Keith, each monitor logs data differently, so it is important to know how your system is taking in details from the field. That includes asking:

  • Where is data saved – to a data card or to the monitor itself?
  • Does your system need one calibration load or multiples?
  • Have conditions changed (e.g., crop type, moisture) since you calibrated the last time?
  • Does the monitor want a truck load or something closer to 3,000-5,000 lbs. for calibration?
  • What does success look like (i.e., do you know your monitor’s error rate)?

Take the time to calibrate your monitor so that you know the information you’re seeing is accurate and usable.

Where People Go, Data Flows

Last, but not least, it is important that you know where your yield monitor is sending data once it is collected. Some monitors will delete data 30 days after download, so if you’re working with someone who is pulling that information off the monitor, you will want to make sure you ask for a backup before they leave the field.

Which brings us to another way data leaves the farm…

Cloud services.

If your data is stored in a cloud-based database, make sure you know which connections are in place from last season and delete any connections that are no longer needed. If you are no longer working with a particular agronomist or salesperson, for example, delete them from the system.

“Trusted advisors and partners want no more [data] than what they need,” Keith says. “If I’m working with you on one field, I don’t want access to all your other fields.”

Your data has value – so know who you have shared access with and what information you have given them. 

Time to Dig In

Maintenance of your yield monitoring system will pay dividends, returning information that you can leverage in decision making far into the future. By understanding your personal system, calibrating it effectively, and paying attention to who has access to what data, you can be confident you’ll have the insight needed to make well-informed choices on your farming operation.

To dig into the details of yield data collection further, watch Keith’s complete Soil Sessions webinar here.

Fall Preparations for Harvest Success

Join Keith Byerly, Field Team Director – West, as he discusses preparing for a successful harvest. During this webinar we will discuss how to accurately collect data and put it into storage for the future, including:

  • A step-by-step process for setting up your yield monitor
  • Special considerations for crops that will not feed well into the combine
  • Available tools to streamline the decision-making process for subsequent seasons

Soil Sessions is a webinar series by the Soil Health Partnership that provides monthly, in-depth updates on various SHP programs and research findings. Soil Sessions covers a range of topics such as our evolving data insights, how SHP manages and integrates data, our connection to and work with our partners, as well as providing technical information on topics like cover crops, scouting and grazing. To view all SHP webinars, visit our website here.