For many farmers, changing methods is difficult. But for Jed Fleske, of Fleske Farms in Larned, innovation is key to growth.
Fleske grows corn, milo and soy beans on his family farm. Last year, he became part of a test pilot program. As soon as he heard about an innovative crop research initiative his co-op was involved with, he signed on the dotted line.
Two years ago, Great Bend Cooperative partnered with Truterra, the sustainability solutions business of Land O’Lakes, to provide customers with access to agricultural technology and services. These services are available free-of-charge. Essentially, this initiative provides the farmer, with the help of their co-op’s agronomist, a detailed blueprint of what practices work or do not work on their land.
"I wanted a way to measure and see how we were doing and how we were progressing," Fleske said. "I wanted to have something beyond soil types."
Truterra helps farmers in 19 states navigate profitability, conservation and ability. Three cooperatives in Kansas participate in the Truterra program. Along with Great Bend Cooperative, farmers can be a part of the initiative at Alliance Ag & Grain or Ottawa Cooperative.
"Truterra allows a producer to apply the proper amount of nutrients down to the zone," said Cammie Vaupel, conservation agronomy specialist for Great Bend Co-op. "It helps them see it from a new angle."
For Land O’Lakes, sustainable agriculture means a farm is always improving its stewardship. By having a plan for the future, a farmer makes decisions that keep their operation viable.
Truterra allows producers to create and maintain a database and keep detailed records of each plot of land for future management. By using variable rate application equipment, the producer can vary their fertilizer applications through zone management. They also can estimate the potential rate of return by following this program’s recommendations.
Gary Van Horn, of Van Horn Land & Cattle in Ottawa, understands his soil’s health is important to his crop’s survival. He is grateful to obtain customized recommendations for every acre.
"There’s multiple ways to achieve what you’re trying to achieve," Van Horn said. "Being able to visualize and see what your fields’ potential can be in their insights engine is pretty neat."
Like Fleske, Van Horn started using Truterra a year ago. Because of their foresight and desire to improve, both farmers signed on immediately. Each of the three co-ops only accepted a few farmers for the first class. But now, with one year under their belt, the three co-ops are hoping to increase the amount of farmers who want to be a part of this special, free project.
"This year, we’ve really expanded," said Lindsey Sylvester from the Ottawa Cooperative Association. "We’re reaching out to more growers."
Sylvester said this program helps farmers both increase yield and reduce weed pressure.
"We’re very excited," Sylvester said. "It’s definitely a win-win situation."
Because consumers are wanting to know where their food comes from and how it is grown, having records like these will help many producers in the long run.
"Customers are demanding more sustainably-sourced products in the future," Vaupel said.
These co-ops created agronomist positions to work with Truterra and to help bridge the gap between producers and the local NRCS. Many of their clients are thinking of going either minimal-till or no-till, but are not quite ready. Vaupel said they can start the program from any level. The important principle is to learn and grow.
"If a person was using minimal-till and they went to no-till, they could see how much their score would increase," Vaupel said.
Van Horn grows corn, soy, wheat and barley. He said this program changed his thought process and gave him a lot of new ideas.
Fleske believes if you take care of the land, it will take care of you. He wants his land to be healthy, retain moisture and maintain soil health. He said, with this program, there is always an agronomist to answer questions.
"You’re not shooting in the dark," Fleske said. "You save money at the end of the day."