From questions on soil fertility and precision agriculture, to stacked-after-stacked seed varieties and herbicide selection, the $4-8/acre premium for a crop consultant can deliver a much bigger bottom line.

“It can be hard for the grower to keep up with technology, soil fertility and many other factors in raising a crop,” says Billy Jones, agronomist and certified crop advisor (CCA) for Ag Valley Co-op, Indianola, NE. “With a CCA, a grower can build a relationship that can help him make the right decisions.”

CCAs are certified through the American Society of Agronomy. They receive regular training through various seminars from universities and/or their private companies and the National Association of Independent Crop Consultants.

There are several major reasons to hire a crop consultant. Here are five good ones:

  1. SOIL FERTILITY

    “By far the majority of crop programs are based around soil fertility and tissue analysis,” says John Obermeyer, Purdue University integrated pest management (IPM) specialist, West Lafayette, IN, and secretary of the Indiana Association of Professional Crop Consultants. With the huge input costs involved, it can mean the difference in applying 150 lbs. of N and 100 lbs. — or $20-30/acre.

  2. PEST MANAGEMENT

    “A missed timely application of pesticide is a critical issue,” says Obermeyer. “Yield is lost.” A crop consultant's ability to make the application at the correct time, or not apply at all, is essential. With the cost of chemical and application around $15/acre, it doesn't take too much to cover what a consultant's fee may cost you.

  3. SEED SELECTION

    With the numerous types of seed technology suited to a particular region, a crop consultant's knowledge of a particular company's proven hybrids or varieties, biotech and/or treated seed (or not) can help assure correct seed selection. “It's difficult for farmers to keep up with what is available and what works in their area,” says Jones.

  4. WEED MANAGEMENT

    With resistance to glyphosate and other herbicides growing as fast as johnsongrass in July, crop consultants can usually recommend a change in herbicide chemistry and what combination, if any, is best suited for a particular region or farm.

  5. TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES

    Infrared and aerial imagery, variable-rate application, auto-steer, more precise irrigation and other precision agricultural tools are making farming more efficient. A CCA can help a grower select the best new-age equipment for a certain situation.

Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension agronomist, says crop consultants may be from a co-op, seed company, fertilizer retailer, private consulting service or university school of agriculture. “For example in Indiana, the number of independent crop consultants are relatively few,” he says. “Farmers more typically get similar advice from input suppliers. Many of those folksare CCAs.”

Fees for a crop consultant will likely differ from farm to farm. Some may be based on acreage, some on bushels of production. Paul Gordon of Gordon & Associates, Bentonville, IN, says acreage-based fees may range from $5.75 to $6.75/acre, which may or may not include field scouting and IPM services. Obermeyer says field scouting alone may cost $4/acre.

Nielsen says larger growers, those with several thousand acres, may get better value from a consultant. “They have way too many acres to manage themselves,” he says.

“For growers with 5,000-6,000 acres, an independent crop consultant may prove more value,” he adds.

Purdue periodically offers consultant training to help consultants stay abreast of new technology. Its annual education conference for CCAs in December 2007 drew about 600 individuals. Most were from input suppliers and industry agronomists, says Nielsen.

“I had better be with it,” says Jones. “If a tech fee for seed is $8-9/acre, I need to make the right recommendations. That's where that relationship with the grower is important.”

For more on crop consultants and a guide to consultants in your state or region, go to www.certifiedcropadviser.org.