Name: Paul Sproule Farm: Sproule Farms Location: Grand Forks, N.D. Size: 15,000 acres Crops Grown: Corn, Soybeans, Sugarbeets, Edible Beans, Hard Red Spring Wheat, Durum Wheat, Oats, and Potatoes Valuable Tech Tools: Razor Tracking, Conservis, Precision Planting 20/20 SeedSense, Climate Corp. FieldView Pro, Autonomous Pivot
Precision Pain Point: Solving the logistical challenges of a large, diverse operation to improve efficiency
Leveraging Diverse Tracking Tools to Solve Logistical Challenges
When Ben Franklin coined the phrase “time is money” more than 200 years ago, the innovator – and part-time farmer – couldn’t have imagined its modern relevancy for Sproule Farms, a progressive 15,000-acre operation based in Grand Forks, N.D.
The family farm, formed in 1993, raises sugarbeets, soybeans, edible beans, hard red spring wheat, Durum wheat, rye, oats, and corn throughout the Red River Valley. In 1997, the family formed a partnership with Neumiller Farms in Savanna, Ill., and established Neumiller-Sproule Farms, where they raise 1,000 acres of irrigated potatoes.
The logistical demands of effectively managing such a diverse operation - that also includes a trucking business - requires the ongoing adoption of advanced technology to maximize monetary return on everyone’s investment of time.
“We want to be on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge, with our management decisions,” says owner Paul Sproule. “There are going to be failures and setbacks, but we won’t ever want to be obsolete. If we’re not continuously improving, it’s going to cost us inefficiency and lost opportunities to advance.”
Tracking Efficiency Gains
One of the most valuable efficiency tools on the farm isn’t directly involved in planting, spraying, or harvesting. So nearly a decade ago, the operation added Razor Tracking fleet management technology to every piece of equipment Sproule Farms owns and operates.
This includes 12 tractors, four combines, and three sprayers – all Case IH – along with the operation’s three service units, three pick-up trucks, and 15 semis that are part of Sproule Farms Trucking.
“We’re pretty spread out with equipment, so the ability to know exactly where our equipment and vehicles are in the field or on the road is invaluable,” Sproule says. “Let’s say we’re harvesting and have 15 semis hauling that corn 40 miles, and we’re coming to the end of the day.
“We can see where all our trucks are on a screen without having to get on the two radios with each operator and tell one to come back to the shop, or we need one to move to a different field. It’s a huge time-saver.”
With operator turnover increasingly common, season-to-season, Sproule says the Razor Tracking systems provide reassurance that drivers are where they should be throughout the day. For example, he notes one instance where a driver hauling product to a processing plant didn’t make the delivery because he fell asleep in a convenience store parking lot.
The small hubs, or “pucks” as Sproule likes to call them, attach to vehicles and equipment, then record and transfer a variety of machine data, including tractor hours, vehicle miles, fuel consumption, and scheduled maintenance.
He recalls spending about $25 per month for a Razor Tracking subscription and says the benefits – both tangible and intangible – have more than paid for the investment.
“The time savings are hard to quantify, but we’ve had operators end up in the wrong field, and they might be a mile or two away from where they should be,” Sproule says. “Instead having to drive out there, I can see where they are, give them directions to where they need to go. Or if a machine or truck can come back to the shop vs. drive 30 miles to another location, that’s a substantial economic savings, especially when diesel is $5 a gallon.”
Sizing Up Opportunities
While tracking equipment efficiency provides valuable decision-making data, so too does intensive collection and analysis of field and crop performance. Sproule Farms started using the Conservis platform more than a decade ago as a risk management tool, recording layers of field data that efficiently connects them with their crop insurance agent, ag lenders, landlords, and other stakeholders.
The farm management platform allows the operation to measure and then manage acreage in a more economically responsible way, Sproule says. “We used to farm close to 20,000 acres, but a couple of years ago, we did a detailed analysis of the land we were farming and ended up releasing acreage that just wasn’t going to ever be as productive or profitable as we wanted,” he explains. “We don’t want to farm just to farm.”
With several years of recorded data to rely on, Sproule Farms discontinued farming 2,300 acres located about 100 miles away from its headquarters in Grand Forks, N.D., because it wasn’t cost-effective to manage, and then let another 1,600 acres of less productive land go.
“With the cost of inputs today, we can’t afford to invest too much in the land that doesn’t pay,” he says. “We added some acreage in 2022, but we’re much more selective on what we add to our operation.”
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