Dennis Bulani’s Ultimate Yield Management Institute teaches producers how to take results into their own hands.

What’s the difference between a good crop and a great crop? It might just be a different way of thinking.

Dennis Bulani’s 30 years at the head of Rack Petroleum – a one - stop shop offering crop inputs, fuels, custom application and agronomic services in northwestern Saskatchewan – has shown him what works and what doesn’t for his customers. His conclusion: it’s not just the products that determine optimum yields. It’s a way of thinking about them in a six-factor model that includes pest management, seeding date, seed depth, seed bed prep, seed quality and nutrient management.

“Through trial and error, we discovered if we ignored one of the factors and made a recommendation to the grower, then we weren’t thoroughly accounting for all the issues that could impact his yield,” he says. “So we started this process to make sure we covered off all the six factors and we could predict what the outcome was going to be if he followed the program.”
The establishment of the six factors was a turning point, according to Bulani. “It’s really why we exist as a company. We went from selling product to selling knowledge, and the belief that we can make a difference to the efficiency by which growers produce food,” he says.
And so it was that The Rack’s Ultimate Yield Management Institute (UYMI), a unique educational resource, was born. UYMI offers a critical process for achieving outstanding yields in spite of less than ideal growing conditions.

Bulani explains that the process has been refined, and re-refined, through the decades, but the Ultimate Yield Management Institute name was only coined ten years ago. The word ‘institute’ was included to convey an education-based approach to crop diagnostics. “We specifically used that word to indicate a virtual university of science-based learning, accessible to every farmer, and to every chunk of ground we work with,” says Bulani.

“So when we evaluate the six factors, we ensure that if we make a recommendation within any one of the categories, that pure science is used to understand why those factors can impact his outcome,” he says.

Bulani and team have amassed a repository of assets under the UYMI brand over the years, relying on them to inform the crop plans created for The Rack’s customers.

Process-Driven Results

The ultimate goal of the UYMI program is to help growers discover opportunities for improvement in their system, so they can significantly improve their overall production. The Rack’s innovative institute is making it easy to understand why some Saskatchewan farmers are achieving top grades in crop yields.

The UYMI plan starts with a rigorous farm production appraisal. A comprehensive list of questions determines the status of the six factors. Bulani believes in the merit of asking the right questions, first and foremost.  “The UYMI system is really a way of thinking,” he says. “Even if growers are not on the program, they get a lot more information out of a discussion with one of our employees, and the growers gain confidence in making decisions about their own crop plan.”

The next steps involve scientific diagnostic testing of soil, understanding previous cropping history and soil types in specific fields, as well as other pertinent details. “After gathering up all the science on the grower’s field, we’re able to make recommendations in regard to things he can change to improve the situation,” says Bulani.

At the end of the growing season, yield results are meticulously studied by the UYMI research division to evaluate the fields that produced successfully. “As important,” says Bulani, “we pay particular attention to those fields that fail.”

UYMI’s PhD staff scientist assesses the results using pure research methodologies, and has been able to prove consistently that when scores are high in all six factors, yields are improved.
“We can demonstrate that if we apply the entire system to a particular crop, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit that the growers are not taking advantage of – and our research division proves that,” says Bulani.

Growing Word of Mouth

“There’s a lot of interest in our system,” says Bulani. “The word gets around and people seek us out.”

One of those people is Stuart Lawrence, who is the fourth generation on a family operation south of Rosetown, Sask. “UYMI and Rack resources have elevated the agronomy program on our farm to the next level,” he says.

Lawrence thinks UYMI is a system that growers can readily wrap their heads around. “It’s really helped us get back to the basics for things like how fast we’re travelling with our equipment, for example,” he says. “It’s not just doing the job, but it’s about actually rating the job that we were doing, so that we could stop leaving yield on the table.”

“The UYMI program distills down what it is that a farmer has to do to be successful and grow a good crop. All we can do is control what we can control and the weather takes care of the rest.”

John Wright, who farms 6,000 acres north of Swift Current, credits UYMI with providing the depth of knowledge and expertise that has helped his farm break through several plateaus. “Troy (LaForge, senior agronomist with The Rack) has a lot of information behind him that I wouldn’t have access to,” he says. (To read more about LaForge, recipient of this year’s CAAR’s Choice Award for Agronomist of the Year, turn to page 16).

Wright recalls putting LaForge "through the wringer" by asking him a lot of questions and initially thinking that his yield predictions were too aggressive.

“But in hindsight, we’re very close to where he said our yields should be,” he says. “I was pleasantly surprised and would have no problem recommending the UYMI process to other growers.”

In an industry where highly specific and scientific information is essential to getting the most out of a crop, Wright sees the benefits in working with an organization like The Rack. “It’s at the stage where we have to hire the expertise now,” he says. “You can’t be an expert in everything.”

Sidebar: Six UYMI Factors for Success

  • Six UYMI factors are applied to each field’s yield potential. The process starts after harvest so growers can expect to record target yields in the next year.
  • Each of the six factors is scored and if one factor is low, it impacts the other five because of their inter-relatedness. UYMI compiles the recommendation information considering how the variables impact yield.
  • The prediction system is based on “good, better and best” scenarios. Depending on grower selection, the yield performance will be optimum regardless of the growing conditions.
  • Fees for the UYMI follow an à-la-carte model.  Factors like high-definition soil testing, crop scouting, fertility recommendations, herbicide recommendations, reporting and gathering of growers’ mass data and other specialized services also impact the price.

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