Small acreages, farm stands,  and antiquated equipment and production practices—all things people may associate with organic farming. None of these descriptors fits Greg Schreiner or his Wellington, Colo., Silver Reef Organic Farms. His is a business thriving on data and technology.

Documentation is a necessity to maintain organic status. But, the  1,600-acre organic pinto beans, corn, silage, winter wheat, spring wheat, alfalfa, and hemp producer has gone far beyond the standard.

He and his office administrator, Amanda McGee—armed with spreadsheets, apps, and precision technology—do their best to remove guesswork from farming. This includes evaluating practices new and old along with the many products marketed to them.

For instance, collecting and analyzing data allows Schreiner to pursue regenerative production practices while keeping a close eye on the cost and benefit.

“The consumer is telling us they not only want to know where their food is coming from but that it’s being produced responsibly,” Schreiner says. But it also has to be produced profitably, which brings us back to data.

The data Schreiner collects varies from basic records to high-tech analysis.

At the base level, there is the data collected and maintained on cost and profit potential for each crop. This analysis is used to strategically plan crop rotations.

“We are firm believers in knowing cost per acre. We can then calculate the exact yield and price needed to make a profit,” Schreiner says.

Agronomic inputs, crop insurance, electricity, equipment, farm labor, and more are all calculated.

Starting during the prior growing season, McGee and Schreiner set an overall farm profit goal and assign crop acreages. They adjust crop acres until rotation and profitability needs are satisfied.

From his staple crop of pinto beans to new endeavors such as cover crop cocktails, Greg Schreiner carefully evaluates and balances cost, profit potential and regenerative value of decisions.

Initial acreage plans are then altered as needed to fit changing data through planting.

“If we can’t get in a field to plant pinto beans, or maybe a market took a nosedive, we’ll go back to the spreadsheet. We run the numbers to see which crop we can plant instead to keep us close to our income goal,” McGee says.

Data also helps when reacting to something gone wrong, like hail. They adjust expected yields, add insurance payments, and determine if action is needed to overcome or minimize shortfalls. They may opt to sell straw or cut inputs or other expenses.

Precision in planning flows into accuracy in the field. Fields are soil sampled on 2.5-acre grids and, in the case of corn, variable-rate planted with RTK guidance. Actual seeding rates are recorded and used to update the master spreadsheet. They’re again updated when stand counts are complete.

During planting and other fieldwork, Schreiner uses remote monitoring technology to improve both his and his team’s efficiency. With 15 employees, this saves Schreiner a lot of time.

“Using John Deere Operations Center, I can get on my phone and pull up a picture of where each tractor driver is working. I can see how many acres per hour they’re doing and estimate when they’ll be done. I can direct them to the next field without having to call or drive out there,” Schreiner says.

The system is also recording valuable data for evaluation.

“We know how many tractor hours go into each crop. We were at 3.64 hours per acre on average. Switching to vertical tillage reduced time to 2.63 hours per acre. We can document we’re saving staff and tractor hours,” he says.

They’ve targeted manure applications for further efficiencies.

It takes 35-40 tons of cow manure per acre to meet the nitrogen needs of corn. It takes just 3 tons of chicken manure. “It may be more expensive per ton, but it reduces fuel, labor, carbon emission and impact on roads since we use less,” Schreiner says, which aligns with his regenerative goals.

Hauling manure directly to the fields where it will be applied the next year, instead of stockpiling, trims more fat from the plan.

Schreiner also collects data for immediate use. He gets daily satellite field imagery from Farmers Edge. He keeps tabs on every acre, quickly spotting and addressing issues.

To monitor crop irrigation, he uses FieldNET on his phone to remotely adjust his pivots as needed. His methods are certainly anything but antiquated.

“We’re not going back to how they farmed in the ’70s just because we’re organic. We want to continuously improve,” Schreiner says.

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