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Onion grower increases crop size, quality and tonnage with Simplot SmartFarm

By helping this Washington grower use costly fertilizer more effectively, SmartFarm helps him achieve bigger, healthier yields.

Skone & Connors Produce, Inc., are best known for the potatoes they've grown in the Columbia Basin for 65 years. But in the last decade, onion crops have become an important part of the company's business, rapidly expanding from about 100 acres to more than 700. Today, they sell their yellow and red onions both domestically and around the world.

Bruce Swindler, who manages onion production, takes a cautious approach to farming, carefully considering every angle before committing to new technologies and expenses. But when SmartFarm approached him with an opportunity to use precision agriculture in his farming practice, he decided to see how it could help him improve business.

THE PROBLEM:

The farm's sandy loam soil produces wide variations in pH levels and nutrients within a single field. It also affects the way different areas of the field absorbed and held water. Without being able to address these variations, Swindler was wasting resources and producing crops of inconsistent size and quality.

THE SOLUTION:

SmartFarm precision agriculture manager Patrick Williams and SmartFarm agronomist Dave Fraser worked closely with Swindler and his crop advisor Chad Redding to determine the soil variations affecting the onion fields. Together, the team created a treatment plan to deliver a variable blend of nutrients, pH balance, and moisture, so each plant got what it needed for optimal health.

“The reason my tonnage increased this year was because my onions were more consistent throughout each of my fields. Simplot SmartFarm helped us to get here."— Bruce Swindler, Onion Manager Skone & Connors growing division
SmartSoil

Williams began by measuring soil variability across every field using electroconductivity (EC) mapping. EC mapping sends electrical currents deep into the soil, revealing the soil texture and density. Then physical soil samples were extracted to confirm the properties of each variant, including nutrient levels, pH levels, and water-holding capacity.

SmartRX

The right pH balance and nutrient levels are essential to a successful onion crop. By varying the application of lime and elemental sulphur for each zone, Williams brought every zone closer to an ideal pH balance between 6.5 and 7. Nutrients were also applied variably, zone by zone. As a bonus, Swindler could manage his drip irrigation system more effectively by using the zones to determine the optimal flow for each area.

SmartZone

Using data from EC mapping and soil sampling, a detailed, zoned map of the farm was created, with each zone corresponding to a certain soil type and treatment plan.

THE RESULTS:

The relationship between Skone & Connors and SmartFarm is now reaching its ninth year, and Swindler has seen a noticeable improvement in his crop consistency and quality. The "best" and "worst" areas of his farm now offer similar yields, onion sizes are more consistent, and the overall crop quality is higher.

But Swindler says it's not just about better results today. He sees SmartFarm solutions as an investment in a more profitable future. Thanks to precision agriculture, he and his team are better stewards of the land, protecting the long-term health and productivity of their soil.

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