GMS Labs ‘Gets it Right’ with Precision Ag

Georgia and Herb Steffen - GMS Labs
Last year, GMS Labs made a recommendation that saved a client in Iowa $60,000 in seed. “If that doesn’t impress someone, there’s something wrong,” says Herb Steffen, vice president of the north-central Illinois company. “That’s the power of precision ag.”

By changing the seed population based on variable-rate recommendations, the 6,000-acre grower saved 300 bags of seed. “In southwestern Iowa they have really variable soil types,” adds Steffen. “The farmer had been overpopulating much of his land. We varied the population of his planting from 36,000 to 22,000 seeds per acre, while helping him achieve his yield goals. It adds up!”

What started in 1983 as a soil testing lab run by Herb’s wife, Georgia, to supplement the farm income, has grown through the years to encompass a full-service testing and precision agriculture firm serving clients in four states. In 2010 Steffen quit farming to work full-time with Georgia, who remains president of GMS Labs. Their son, Aaron, now farms the land, passed down through five generations.

“We’ve always used software to make our information going back to the client better,” explains Steffen. “Early on, we did site-specific testing for farmers and made color-coded maps. It was the first time some of our farmers were able to see how diverse fertility was in their fields.”

Variable Rate Technology Saves Money

GMS helped save clients money from the start with variable rate technology (VRT) — especially with lime applications. “Before that, guys were making blanket lime applications,” notes Steffen. “We showed them visually that some areas don’t need lime — or potash either. But it works both ways — it can show you areas that need more inputs, too.”

From the beginning, GMS has relied on MapShots software. “As the industry has evolved, so has MapShots,” Steffen says. “We’re now using MapShots AgStudio® software and there is almost no limit to the things it can do. The biggest advantage is its analysis capability. It’s over-the-top cool!”

GMS Labs’ clients encompass about 50 percent fertilizer dealers and 50 percent private clients. The farms they service range from 500 to 10,000 acres. By inputting data into AgStudio software, GMS can provide layers upon layers of information.

“For example, we can tell how different herbicides affected the crop, how different insecticides performed with the crop, compare varieties with soil types — you name it,” Steffen notes. “It boils down to ‘how much do you want to know?’ That’s what we can find out with AgStudio software.”

Plugging into Database from the Field

One new program Steffen offers its client is AgStudio SELECT, a web-based browser version of AgStudio software. It allows mobile access to data through tablet devices.

“Our clients can put AgStudio SELECT on their iPads and look at information immediately, wherever they are,” adds Steffen. “It’s like plugging into our website from the field. AgStudio SELECT gives them an opportunity to see and work with the information and make decisions and recommendations.”

Though GMS primarily deals in soil testing, the firm also conducts tissue and nitrate testing, screens for corn and soybean nematodes, and tests water and manure. The big hog houses in Illinois must test tile water every three months to make sure there is no leakage from the pits. Manure testing is a big part of GMS Labs’ business, as well.

“With the price of fertilizer so high, manure has become a big deal,” says Steffen. “Manure used to be something people with livestock wanted to get rid of, but now it’s a valuable commodity. We test it to determine fertility content.”

GMS recently started a new software company called CropC Systems, with a fulltime sales person who works strictly with AgStudio software. The expanded capabilities have allowed them to further broaden their offerings to clients, providing deeper analysis and enhanced recommendations.

“It’s amazing to be able to collect all the as-applied data and use it to plan everything a grower needs to do with his crop — plant, fertilize, spray, and harvest,” says Steffen. “AgStudio software not only saves our clients money — it can make them money. In the end it’s all about getting it right.”

Georgia Steffen GMS Labs
Georgia Steffen, President, GMS Labs
Herb Steffen GMS Labs
Herb Steffen, GMS Labs, Cropsey, Illinois

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