Crop Dusting Plane Flying Over Corn Field

Agronomy is giving us (a lot) more with less

How Villa Crop Protection is shaping the future of Agriculture in South Africa

How can science make our world better? Imagine all the different ways you could answer that question. Medical advances. Air travel. Communications. At Land O’Lakes, Inc., this discussion is near and dear to our heart, but our response comes in the form of another question: Our planet faces a growing population and limited resources, so how can we use science to grow/feed/do more with less?

As a U.S. farmer-owned cooperative, we know it’s our responsibility to find those answers. This is one of the reasons Todd Cardwell, WinField United senior agronomist, has been working with Land O’Lakes for over 30 years. It’s also one of the reasons Todd travels halfway around the world from his home in Wisconsin to work with Villa Crop Protection of South Africa – a company co-owned by Land O’Lakes since 2015.

“We have insights, expertise and technology from research done in the U.S. that can help solve some of the challenges South African farmers face in crop protection,” says Villa managing director Dan Hennessy.

One critical challenge? Extension. In other words, getting science-backed information and inputs to the people who need it most – farmers. This is where Todd comes in with expertise on using products like InterLock®, an adjuvant that increases the application accuracy of agricultural sprays.

These days, fewer farmers are responsible for growing more and more food. When used correctly, sprays, like pesticides, can help farmers to increase their field’s potential by reducing disease and weed competition for water and soil nutrients. At the same time, being more accurate with sprays is important from both an economic and environmental standpoint.

For the past 10 years, Todd has been educating U.S. farmers on how to use InterLock to do just that – spray as accurately and effectively as possible. And now, it’s Todd and the WinField United team’s goal to take InterLock and other technologies to help South African farmers win too.

It starts on the farm

Todd’s passion for agriculture started when he was a boy following his dad around their sugar beet farm in Eastern Colorado. To be outside every day, the sense of accomplishment, the growth cycle of the plants – it stuck with him. And beyond the lifestyle of the farm, Todd developed a deep respect and appreciation for the people managing the farm—no matter where that farmer calls home. Through his travel around the world, he’s found that beyond mountains, cultures and picket fences, farmers are united by a common responsibility.

“It’s something about the tie to the soil. Farmers have an understanding, a connection with the earth and to each other,” says Todd.

At the same time, Todd also knows that each farm and agricultural region has its own unique challenges. That’s why Todd and the Villa team go directly to the source to ask that key question, “How can we help you do better?” In South Africa, Todd has found that while many commercial farmers own big sprayers, they aren’t being used properly. Enter: InterLock and Application Technology.

InterLock is a technology developed by the WinField United research and development team. When added to spray tanks, its proven to control the droplet size, which improves accuracy of each drop. As a result, farmers get better insect, disease and weed control while reducing spray drift and the amount of spray and labor needed to manage a field. “Instead of raising the dosage, you use the appropriate dosage. It’s good for the farmer. It’s good for the environment,” says Todd.

Seeing is believing

When Villa launched InterLock into the South African marketplace in 2017, its capabilities weren’t well known. Dave Schumacher, Villa’s general manager at the time, knew that the team needed to show how this science-backed product can create value. At the center of this campaign, was Todd. “His depth of knowledge, experience and passion for the product was critical to success,” says Dan Hennessy.

After one year, Todd and the Villa marketing team have trained 405 farmers through 42 local spray clinics, and certified 236 agent groups. During the trainings, Todd would use a portable model sprayer with water and InterLock to demonstrate the application process step-by-step. Some trainings would even include aerial application demonstrations using a plane or helicopter.

As curious learners, the farmers were in awe. As business owners, they were over the moon. On top of the spray clinics, Villa is sharing the value add of Interlock through the Answer Plot® program, a model developed by Winfield United that use test and display plots to showcase real-time solutions to issues affecting local crops.

After a year of educating farmers across the country, Villa has now sold 200,000 liters of Interlock in its first year – a big win for Villa, and most importantly, the farmers they serve.

Later this year, Todd and the Villa team will be launching more products from the WinField United’s portfolio, like NutriSolutions 360, a technology that allows us to look inside a plant to understand its nutrient needs and how to support deficiencies.

With these science-backed ag solutions along with Land O’Lakes’ commitment to feeding human progress, it’s clear that this South African story is far from over.