Growing up on the farm, Matt Bainbridge’s favorite memories were riding along in the fields with his dad and grandpa, and wondering when he would be big enough to drive the tractor himself. Now, with hundreds of hours in the cab and a young son to join him in the buddy seat, Matt is grateful his family is working together to create a sustainable future for their farm.
The Bainbridge family has been growing soybeans, corn, alfalfa and raising cattle near Ethan, South Dakota, for almost 100 years. Their recipe for long-term success requires everyone to do their part. Matt and his brother, Neal, run the cattle operation and manage the crops. Their dad, Lewis, helps out with finances, crop insurance and running errands. Wives Sari, Tara and Charlene move cattle, cook meals and transfer equipment.
Their drive to improve the land for future generations is no different. They contribute new ideas and adopt farm practices so their children have the opportunity to grow and raise food one day.
It started more than 25 years ago when Lewis stopped tilling the soil. Leaving the stalks and roots from crops in the fields is a practice called no-till that’s used by conventional and organic farmers. It’s a natural way to protect the soil from erosion and feed it with organic matter that supports healthy crops.
“We feel it’s important to keep the soil covered to prevent erosion. We continue to try new techniques with soil fertility and rotating different crops to help control weeds, diseases and insects,” said Matt. Planting GMO seeds and using precision technology in their tractors, planter and sprayer also help them protect crops efficiently and sustainably.
With technology and soil mapping, they can treat fields the size of football fields like they’re backyard gardens, applying the right amount of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow healthy plants. The science inside GMO seeds helps defend them against weeds, pests and extreme weather. Having all these tools at their fingertips helps the family manage difficult times.
“This year has been a challenge. We had a wet spring that made calving and planting difficult,” explained Matt. “However, we were fortunate to continue getting rain all summer and were rewarded with an excellent, healthy crop.”
Looking toward the future, Matt and Neal are considering more changes to keep their environmental sustainability growing. They recently planted a new variety of soybean that allows them to use different types of products to control weeds. They’re also looking into expanding their cattle herd, which could add new crops the mix and a more abundant supply of manure.
“Farming changes so quickly that it’s hard to predict what it will look like in 20 years, but I believe family farms will always be part of safely growing food,” said Matt. “As a new dad, I hope my son has the same opportunities I have had. Our land and water need to be in excellent condition for our farm to be successful.”
Did you know South Dakota farmers lead the nation in farmland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program? Grow your knowledge with these local farm sustainability facts.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
If farming is like football, harvest is a soybean farmer’s championship game. They’ve clocked countless hours planning, preparing and nurturing their plants to provide nutritious food for South Dakota’s families. Now, it’s time to discover the results. Since farmers are always thinking ahead, and looking for ways to improve, it’s also a time for them to evaluate how their strategies worked and make even better plans for next year.
Last fall, we chatted with David and Miriam Iverson as they prepared for harvest on their farm in Brookings County. As combines began rolling this season, we checked back in with the family to see what updates they made and how they’ve paid off.
“We’ve had a really good growing season this year, and overall the crop looks really good,” said David. “When thinking about changes and improvements moving forward, we typically consider factors like the resources that will be needed, harvest costs and balancing the workload.”
For South Dakota soybean farmers, sustainability means doing the right thing for the environment and continuously improving the land for future generations. That’s why farmers evaluate their practices each season and make adjustments accordingly.
The Iversons made a few changes this year, such as increasing the amount of soybeans they planted and cutting back a bit on corn. They also decided to dabble in a new soybean variety and planted 300 acres of non-GMO high-oleic soybeans for the first time. High-oleic soybeans provide a source of vegetable oil for the food industry that is low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat and trans-fat-free.
Since they’re food-grade soybeans, the high-oleic variety is managed and harvested a little differently. Extra elbow grease is needed to clean out the combine, trucks, grain bins and augers before they’re harvested, and farmers have to use a slightly different crop protection strategy. However, their premium price is worth the extra effort. David said they’ve grown well on his farm so far and he may look to plant more next year.
The Iversons also use tools like soil sampling to determine which crop nutrients they’ll use for the next growing season.
“Once everything is harvested, I work with an agronomist to pull soil samples. We do this when we’re ready to rotate crops because the requirements vary for different plants,” explained David. “We send our samples to a lab, and they send back a full nutrient analysis so when a field is changing from soybeans to corn, we know exactly what that corn crop will need in the upcoming year.”
By working with experts to determine specific nutrient needs, David can be efficient with fertilizers and only apply exactly what is needed. Preserving crop and soil health is important for sustainable farming because it supports the longevity of the land, minimizes waste and maintains a healthy environment for future crops to flourish in coming seasons.
“Sustainability to me has a few different legs,” shared David. “One is maintaining soil health. There’s a lot of agronomy that goes into that aspect. There’s also the economic part of it. Improving the soil helps economically, and to be sustainable long term, you have to make decisions that financially benefit the farm.”
David’s family has passed their farm down for four generations and have achieved success through the changing times by implementing new techniques and best practices.
“The biggest aspect in recent years has been adding technology like autosteer and yield mapping,” said David. “That data helps us make better crop decisions and improve parts of the farm that are producing less.”
Today’s technology helps farmers interpret harvest and yield data of past years to grow safe and healthy food in the future. Whether reflecting on this year or planning for the next, harvest is special time for soybean farmers. Find out how another South Dakota farmer plans for the future by reading Matt Bainbridge’s story.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Fall is a busy time for many reasons: school commitments, community events, team sports. But for farmers, it’s all about harvest. They’ve planned, prepared and monitored their fields since early spring, and now it all comes down to these last couple months. After all, they only get about 50 chances throughout their career to grow a successful crop, so they want to get it right each time.
But what does it take to reach harvest time? Let’s take a peek.
Growing acres of healthy crops requires a lot of advanced planning. Farmers start making decisions for planting in the fall by selecting the right seeds and preplant strategies for their farm. Adverse conditions like cold temps, pests and competitive weeds can challenge young seed growth so farmers get their fields in tip-top shape to minimize those obstacles.
They often use sustainable strategies like soil sampling and cover crops to protect the fields during winter, capture nutrients and preserve the land. Many farmers also choose to plant GMO seeds, which are created with the right genetics to defend against weather conditions and potentially reduce the need for insecticides.
Today’s farmers are grounded in science and data. They know their fields better than ever. Once seedlings emerge, farmers use precision technology to monitor each acre and keep an eye on how their crops are doing. If the plants are low in nutrients or facing pressure from pests or weeds, they can deliver the right product, where it’s needed in precisely the right amount to reduce waste.
Adapting to Conditions
While advancements in technology have boosted farmers’ accuracy and access to data, nothing is guaranteed in farming. There are many variables that require farmers to adjust their plans on a dime. For example, the best time to safely spray pesticides is when it’s dry, the forecast is clear, temperatures are moderate and wind speeds are low. If a product is needed, but the conditions aren’t right, farmers adjust their strategy.
As leaves change color in the fall, soybean fields transform as well, changing from green to a light golden brown. During this time, farmers watch their crops closely to determine the right time for harvest. If soybeans are harvested when they’re too wet, the combine struggles to process them, and they don’t store well. On the other hand, if they’re harvested when it’s too dry, the brittle beans can shatter, resulting in crop loss. Farmers must balance time, weather and moisture when choosing the most optimal time.
Improving for the Future
Shortly after harvest is complete, farmers get right back to work planning for the next season. With in-depth data and observations, they improve their strategy to grow healthier crops more efficiently and sustainably for the next year.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.
Butterflies are more than eye candy. Along with bees, these gorgeous insects play a crucial role in our food system, pollinating roughly 35 percent of the world’s food. That’s why Jamie Johnson decided to plant a pollinator-friendly garden on her family’s fourth-generation soybean, corn and wheat farm near Frankfort.
“Our two oldest daughters study rangeland plants and entomology for 4H, so I thought it would be fun to have our own little area to study outside our door,” Jamie said. “The plants along the barn are native prairie plants that serve as food and home to the native pollinators in our area. Some plants are host plants, which means they provide a home for the insect to lay eggs and for caterpillars to eat as they grow. Others provide nectar for adult insects to forage.”
The garden includes black-eyed Susan, milkweed, prairie drop seed grass, little bluestem grass, golden Alexander, gray headed coneflower, meadow blazing star and New England aster.
“I also have zinnias planted throughout the farmyard and in my garden, a definite butterfly favorite. It is an easy annual flower that’s very low maintenance,” Jamie explained.
She also pays attention to their other needs. During times of drought, creeks and rivers get low and stagnant, which makes it difficult for pollinators to get the water they need. She keeps a small dish of clean water near the plants so that bees and butterflies can quench their thirst when they visit the garden.
Protecting the land and insects in the natural environment is a priority for many farm families like the Johnsons. Bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects pollinate crops, helping them grow and reproduce. According to research from Iowa State University, soybeans may experience an 18 percent in yield boost when exposed to honey bees and native pollinators.
Responsible pesticide use is a crucial part of protecting pollinators. The Johnsons use precision technology in their sprayer to prevent pesticides from drifting off the crop field and onto nearby ditches, prairieland and shelter beds where pollinators live and forage. By planting GMOs or using soil-applied insecticides, they can target the insects and weeds that damage their crops without harming beneficial insects.
“As farmers, we know that having a healthy population of good insects helps keep the harmful bug population in control,” stated Jamie. “We also know it’s important to keep diversity in the prairieland, not only for wildlife, but also to keep the soil healthy. That’s why we only use the amount of pesticide needed to eliminate harmful insects or weeds.”
From protecting honeybees and practicing conservation tillage to implementing precision agriculture techniques, farmers are continuously trying to make their operations more sustainable. Sustainability means doing what’s right by the environment and leaving the land and water in better condition for future generations.
“As farmers, we care deeply about the plants, animals and soil,” Jamie contended. “Everything is connected in a delicate cycle. We try to do our very best to keep it all in balance in order to grow and raise safe, nutritious food.”
Want to learn more about the farmer and pollinator connection in South Dakota? Read this blog to learn how farmers and beekeepers work together to protect beneficial insects and grow healthy crops.
Dane’s back in the fields, and he’s taking a quick break from planting to explain how they use pesticides on his family’s farm. Dane and his dad, John, apply pesticides to protect soybean and corn crops from weeds, insects and diseases.
Like many South Dakota farmers, the Horters spray a pre-emergence herbicide to keep weeds from growing immediately after planting. This helps prevent problems throughout the growing season. Safety is important so they mix the herbicide with water according to label instructions. They use the precision technology in their sprayer to apply just the right amount.
How much do they use? How big is an acre? What is auto-steer? Dane answers all those questions and more in our latest crop report video.
Cheers to spraying smart! Interested in hearing what happens on the farm during planting season in South Dakota? Watch our pint-sized reporter to learn more.
While a lot of college students may say taking care of the environment is important to their future, most aren’t as deeply committed to improving the land and water as South Dakota State University student, Cassius Pond. Cassius, who studies agronomy and precision agriculture in Brookings, spends much of his time in the field or classrooms exploring ways to make his parents’ soybean, corn and wheat farm more sustainable.
After Cassius graduates, he’ll be the fifth generation to return to the Pond family farm near Ipswich.
“We’re on the same ground we originally started with. The original homestead is about a mile south of the house where I grew up,” Cassius said. “It’s kind of neat to see where it all started and to carry on that legacy.”
Though he’ll be caring for the same land his great-great-grandfather did, Cassius plans on doing things differently than previous generations. When he went to college, his dad urged him to take classes in precision agriculture to learn all he could about technology so he could bring that knowledge home. The Ponds recognize precision agriculture is here to stay. Almost 43 percent of U.S. soybean farmers are already using precision technology to improve efficiency.
“Technology is getting integrated into every facet of the farm. It lets farmers know more details about their crops, which helps them be precise,” Cassius said. “The computers we have in the planter, for example, allow us to understand how much seed to plant and where. We have a lot more control over where things are going.”
Technology isn’t just useful while planting. It also helps farmers understand exactly how much water, fertilizer and pesticides their crops need to be healthy. This ensures nothing is wasted, which helps protect the land for future generations. The numbers show it’s working. In the past 30 years, U.S. farmers have increased soybean production by 46 percent while using 35 percent less energy.
“Using technology is just second nature to me and my siblings. When we’re working on an ag program or software, it’s easy for us to pick up how the software works,” Cassius said. “As more millennials come into farming, you’re going to see more and more technology on the farm.”
Technology aside, his time at college also taught him that farming is complex and there’s always room for improvement. For many farmers that’s what sustainability is all about: Paying attention to the most basic elements – the soil, water and sun – to leave the environment in better condition for the next generation.
“When I came to South Dakota State, I had no idea there was so much you could learn about dirt!” Cassius said. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just dirt; the stuff that covers the ground.’ Now I’m like, ‘No, it’s soil, not dirt.’ I took whole classes on chemistry and soil that made me think, ‘Wow, I never would have thought twice about this.’”
Want to meet another young farmer who is shaking things up in South Dakota? Read this profile of 29-year-old farmer Morgan Holler from Pierpont.
Now that you know farmers use pesticides to protect crops from diseases, insects and weeds, and the steps for pesticide application, it’s time to take your education up a notch. Precision technology – such as GPS, auto steer, variable rate spraying and tablets – are important tools for today’s family farms. With precision at their fingertips, farmers can track crop growth, health and yields to improve their family farm businesses each year.
Paul Casper grows approximately 4,500 acres of soybeans and corn near Lake Preston. He’s the fourth generation to run the farm along with his father Warren and son Drew. Let’s take a look at his technology and why he thinks his sprayer is the best piece of equipment he owns.
Just like you use GPS to get to where you need to go, the Caspers use it to ensure they cover each acre in the most efficient way. The GPS signal helps guide their equipment on a straight course through the field. Tools built around GPS can even turn the equipment around when it reaches the end of the row!
The Caspers also keep digital soil maps of each of their fields so they plant the right amount of seeds, and apply the right amount of fertilizers and pesticides to grow healthy crops. Using advanced software, technology transfers from tractor to sprayer to combine right through their tablet so they can track all data throughout the season.
Paul’s sprayer is loaded with advanced options that help keep his family, neighbors and animals safe from pesticide drift and crops safe from applying too much. The sprayer automatically slows to speeds of 2-3 miles per hour when he drives near a neighbors’ house or the edge of a field. The pulsating system also increases the size of the water droplets in the spray increase to keep pesticides from drifting in the air.
The two arms on the side of the sprayer, called booms, self-level according to plant height as he drives across the field. This helps them float the right distance above the plants so the spray reaches the leaves and doesn’t drift. The booms are also equipped with automatic shut offs that stop spraying when it reaches the end of the field to turn around. This helps him avoid overlapping applications.
Creating a Sustainable Future
Being a good neighbor, growing healthy crops and taking care of the environment is important to continuing the legacy of the family farm. Paul, Drew and Warren try to make the best decisions now so one day Drew’s daughter Madi has the chance to take over.
“My father recently told our banker that the sprayer we bought three years ago is the best piece of equipment we own,” said Paul. “The technology in it is so accurate. It helps us be better managers of our business and the environment because we can apply the right amount of product at the right time in the right place. We even use it to apply fertilizer.”
In addition to the mechanical advancements, Paul says many of today’s pesticides are less likely to drift off the field because of new formulas that require more water. He also adds a soy-based agent to the tank to help the spray he applies during the growing season adhere to plant leaves and resist movement with wind and humidity.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with farming. You have to have the right tools to apply the right products and make the best decisions possible,” said Paul. “We track what we do and try to improve each year. It’s all part of being a good neighbor and creating a sustainable future for our family farm.”
Keep learning how farmers use technology like drones and treated seeds to grow safe and healthy food in South Dakota by reading these:
We recently asked the question: What would you do if you drove by a field and saw a farmer spraying pesticides? If you missed it and want to know more, read this. We hope you give the farmer a friendly wave as you drive by. They have your family’s safety in mind.
Today, we go behind the scenes to learn about pesticide application on the Casper family farm near Lake Preston. There’s a lot that goes into making sure crop protection products are applied in an effective and safe way before they even get to the field.
Let’s take a look:
Step 1: Put Safety First
Safety comes first for Paul Casper and his family who grow about 4,500 acres of soybeans and corn near four South Dakota lakes. “We take spraying more seriously than planting and harvesting,” he said. “It’s about being a good neighbor, making sure our children and grandchildren are safe, and growing healthy food we can all feel good about eating.”
Being safe includes having the right certification to apply pesticides, using protective gear when handling and spraying products, and knowing the right amount and time to apply. Paul’s sprayer even has a cab shield so his granddaughter, Madi, can ride along with her dad, Drew, in the field.
According to Paul, many of the products and safety practices he uses are no different than avid gardeners, just on a larger scale. In fact, Paul’s wife, Korlyn, is a gardener who uses some of the same pesticides to protect her plants.
“We get bugs on our tomatoes and potatoes. If we didn’t use pesticides, our fruits and vegetables would be eaten up,” explained Paul. The whole family enjoys grabbing healthy snacks fresh from the garden. They just wash them first to eliminate any dirt, microbes and pesticide residues.
Step 2: Identify the Pest and Solution
The Caspers may be certified to apply all types of pesticides on their crops, but just because they can, doesn’t mean they do. First, Paul and Drew employ crop rotation, minimal tillage and use GMO seeds to try to prevent problems before they start.
“I’d rather treat a specific problem and take care of it early instead of applying pesticides to growing crops in the middle of the summer. GMOs help us be more precise and efficient with crop protection products and still grow healthy plants,” said Paul. Scouting fields regularly also helps them identify and deal with issues early.
This year, a weed known as marestail invaded their crops. Paul and Drew had to act fast to control it and talked with their crop consultant about solutions. He helped them identify the weed and recommended a contact herbicide that absorbs quickly to maximize application safety, but before they can apply it, they have to wait for the right weather conditions.
Step 3: Wait for the Right Weather
The ideal day to spray pesticides is dry and warm with wind speeds less than 15 miles per hour and no rain in the immediate forecast. Humidity should be between 50 and 60 percent and outside temperature no greater than 90 degrees. This helps keep the spray from staying in the air and drifting into different areas.
If the weather conditions aren’t right, Paul and Drew wait for another day to spray. “It’s just not worth taking a chance,” Paul said.
Step 4: Mix With Water and Apply
Once all the conditions are right, it’s time to transport the bulk pesticide product to the farm, mix it with water in tanks and pump it into the sprayer. Then they head out to the field to apply.
For the marestail herbicide, Paul and Drew combine approximately 18 gallons of herbicide with 1,000 gallons of water and a special soy-based product that helps the pesticide adhere to plant leaves and absorb better and faster. This mixture protects approximately 70 acres of crops. That may sound like a lot, but it turns out the actual amount of pesticide applied to an acre of land might be much less than you think.
“It’s about the size of medium latte spread over an area the size of a football field. Most of what you see being sprayed on the field is water,” explained Paul. The water truck stays with the sprayer and can cover 500 acres per fill.
According to Paul, the sprayer is the best piece of equipment they own. Not only does it have safety features that protect his family, it’s also equipped with precision technology to protect the families who live around his farm. We’ll take closer look at it in our next blog.
Pesticide residues on your food can be a scary thought. Maybe the topic crossed your mind while making dinner or as you shopped the produce aisle in your grocery store. Pesticides are used to protect crops as they grow, but do they remain on plants after they leave the field? And, more importantly, should you worry about feeding your family those crops?
If you’ve spent time online reading lists like the Dirty Dozen, you may think your family’s health is at risk. The truth is crop protection products like herbicides and pesticides must meet safety standards before they can be used in the field. The farmers who use them are required to attend educational classes and become certified so they apply them in the right amount, at the right time and only when needed. They use precision technology to make sure their application is accurate. After all, they feed their families the same foods you do and want to make sure they’re safe for everyone.
So what is the right amount? Well that depends on the crop, product and pest problem, but the average farmer applies only about a coffee cup’s worth of pesticides per acre of crops. An acre is approximately the same size as a football field. Most of the spray that goes on the field is water. Any pesticide residues that may remain on plants in the field decrease considerably as crops are harvested, transported and exposed to light.
By the time food reaches the grocery store, it has gone through testing with the USDA to ensure it meets requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is safe to eat. Pesticide residues allowed on produce are so small they’re measured in parts per billion. In fact, the average child could consume 7,240 servings of carrots in one day without any effect, even if the carrots have the highest pesticide residue allowed by USDA.
Most fresh fruits and vegetables test below the threshold levels set by EPA, so you shouldn’t be worried about their safety. The best way to protect your family from unwanted residue, dirt or surface microbes is simply washing all fruits and vegetables before serving. This is also true for foods grown organically. Rinsing fruits and veggies is an easy task. For most foods, a quick water rinse should do the job. Thick-skinned produce such as carrots, potatoes and squash should be scrubbed. With leafy greens, toss the outer leaves.
Watch this video for a quick review.
You can also create your own produce wash by mixing one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar with two cups of water in a spray bottle.
Have you ever calculated how much fruits or vegetables you’d have to eat to feel the effects of pesticides? Try this calculator. You might be surprised at the results. Learn more about how farmers responsibly use crop inputs like pesticides by reading these blogs:
There’s no doubt farmers are busy when it’s time to plant and harvest crops, but the work doesn’t stop once the crops are out of the ground. Farmers make many decisions throughout the year to keep their plants healthy and family businesses thriving. Let’s look at what typical soybean farmers have on their calendars that keep them hustling throughout the year.
As the new year begins, farmers have already selected and purchased most of the seeds they will plant. During January and February, they are busy preparing business financials, evaluating data, assessing their marketing plan to sell their soybeans throughout the year, learning about new technologies to improve their family farm and attending classes to renew important certifications like pesticide application.
In March, they meet with agronomists to determine what kind of fertilizer they should apply and to discuss other factors that will help keep their crop healthy. They inspect equipment to make sure their tractors, planters, discs and sprayers are ready to run in the field for planting. It’s also time to purchase crop insurance to protect their soybeans since Mother Nature is anything but predictable.
Before the equipment rolls across the field, farmers send their planting plan to the USDA for tracking. At the end of the season, they also report how many acres they harvested. Then it’s time to load field maps into the precision technology in the tractors so they plant just the right amount of seeds and use the right amount of crop inputs.
In South Dakota, planting officially starts in late April or early May when the soil temperature reaches at least 50 degrees. Most farmers do some type of tillage to prepare the seedbed. Many are more sustainable by reducing their tillage over time to control erosion and take care of their soil. Soybeans are a friendly crop that require less tillage and fertilizer than other crops.
It takes about 15 days to plant soybeans. If the soil stays warm and the weather is sunny, plants can sprout in as little as four days. Farmers try to finish planting by June 1 so the plants have plenty of time to soak up the sunshine, nutrients and water needed to grow. Some farmers may apply herbicides to make sure weeds don’t overtake young soybean plants.
Farmers spend the summer months monitoring their soybeans. Many use drones to take pictures of their fields. If they notice a problem, they can take quick action by applying a crop protection product like a pesticide. In addition to evaluating their own soybeans, farmers look at other fields. Seed and crop input technology is constantly improving so attending summer events, talking with neighbors and watching for market trends help them determine what to plant and purchase next year, as well as ways to improve their management practices.
By the beginning of September, farmers select the seeds they will plant next season and prepare the combine for harvest. The first week in October is typically the busiest. After all the soybeans are picked, it’s time to store, market or deliver them to the elevator or biodiesel processor. Fertilizer application, tillage and tile drainage improvements wrap up the harvest season and then equipment is cleaned and stored for winter.
As the end of the year approaches, South Dakota farmers pay for their seed, analyze field data and visit their landlords. Some farmers don’t own all the land they farm so it’s important to stay connected to those who do. Then it’s time to spend time with family and friends, give thanks for the food on their tables and the opportunity to grow more healthy and safe soybeans in the new year.
Want to learn more about the soybean’s journey after harvest? Read this.
Dig deeper into sustainable planting by reading this Q&A with farmer Paul.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and green is everywhere. He may not be Irish, but that doesn’t stop local farmer, Jeff Thompson, from going green on Saint Patrick’s Day, or any other day for that matter. Sustainability is something he implements daily on his family farm near Colton.
“I farm some of the same land my grandfather purchased in 1877,” said Jeff. Thanks to advancements in research and technology, Jeff grows more food using less crop inputs than his grandparents.
It’s a trend that’s been on the rise as the family farm has changed hands through the generations and one Jeff plans to continue. Focusing on growing food in a sustainable way means someday he can pass the family business to his nephew who is just starting to get involved.
What are some of the ways Jeff goes green? One of the basic practices is rotating corn and soybean crops to make sure the plants don’t deplete the soil of important nutrients. This is like what many gardeners do to keep their seedbeds healthy and productive. He also enriches the soil with manure from a nearby dairy.
Soil sampling is another important part of his sustainability plans. He uses the information to create digital maps of his fields, uploads them into his tractor’s precision technology system and then applies just the right amount of fertilizer needed to grow his crops. Similar technology in his planter and sprayer ensure he doesn’t waste seed or overspray.
“Today’s farming technology helps me use just the right amount of seed and crop inputs to reduce waste,” said Jeff. “My planter has row shutoffs so when I turn, it stops dropping seeds where I already planted. The same is true for my sprayer. It also has an automatic shutoff to keeps me from overlapping pesticide applications on the end rows.”
Like most farmers in South Dakota, Jeff plants seeds developed through biotechnology that are resistant to the pesticides he sprays. This way he kills the weeds while the seeds flourish. GMO seeds also require less water, meaning they can tolerate dry weather to reduce or eliminate irrigation.
Sometimes sustainability involves doing less.
Conservation tillage helped Jeff cut his fuel usage and protect his most valuable resource: the soil. While tillage helps to create a good seedbed for planting, too much can lead to soil erosion. In the fall, he leaves cornstalks and soybean stubble in his fields to prevent the land from washing or blowing away. By spring, he can either plant directly into the stalks or make one quick tillage pass before he plants. Doing less tillage helps him keep more soil in his fields and fuel in his tank.
He has also reduced his liquid petroleum usage by upgrading his corn dryer to an energy-efficient version. He uses the dryer in the fall to reduce moisture in his corn before storing or selling it. Since building it two years ago, he has cut his liquid petroleum use in half.
Jeff’s not alone. Today, 63 percent of U.S. farmers practice conservation tillage, up from 36 percent 20 years ago. According to a report released by Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, farmers have also reduced soil erosion over the past 30 years by 47 to 67 percent, and greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 42 percent depending on the type of crop grown.
So, as you celebrate going green today, remember to tip your hat to farmers who are growing your food in a sustainable way every day.
Have questions for Jeff about his pesticide use or other sustainable farm practices? Leave them in the comments below. Learn more about how farmers go green during planting season by reading Paul’s story.
The tradition of the family farm is alive and well in the United States and South Dakota. In fact, many may not realize that 97 percent of farms in this country are family owned and operated, a statistic very few other industries can tout. Although the “American Gothic” picture of the family farm is no longer accurate, many are thriving.
Today, more and more young people seek education and careers outside the farm and join their parents later in life, which means a wide breadth of knowledge and experience when multiple generations come back to farm together. To find out more about what that means, we talked with Matt Bainbridge, a farmer from Ethan, to learn about his family’s farm.
Matt says the family aspect is what makes farming unique. “If you look at other industries around the country, how many are still family owned and operated? There are not many businesses that have stayed in one family for more than 100 years. If you look around South Dakota, it’s really cool to see how many farms are kept in the family for at least that long. We are providing the next generation with the opportunity to keep that business going.”
Matt says that in order to pass the farm on to the next generation, families like his focus on sustainable farming practices.
“We think about future generations while we farm,” he said. “We practice no-till farming so we can conserve the soil as best we can, keeping it healthy to sustain it for generations to come. We also diversify our operation financially by growing a variety of crops and raising livestock. That way, if one part of our operation doesn’t go well one year, the others will help us to maintain the business.”
Many farmers today use technologies like auto-steer, soil sampling and GPS to manage their land more precisely. By managing everything more efficiently, farmers can lessen their impact on the land and be more sustainable.
While many farmers hope to keep their land in the family, there are many different options how to go about it. While he was still in college, Matt bought his farm from his grandmother. He grows soybeans, corn, winter wheat and alfalfa, and raises beef cattle. His brother, Neal, also has a farm nearby, and his father operates the farm where Matt and Neal grew up.
“We have separate operations, but we work together,” said Matt. “We share each other’s equipment and labor. We try to keep it as equal as possible.”
“Our dad isn’t going to farm forever,” he said. “Once he decides to slow down and eventually retire, my brother and I will farm more of his acres. We’ll rent the land from him, which will help pay for his retirement.”
Matt recently got married and is looking forward to sharing the farming experience with his future children some day.
“If you are a farmer and have children farming along with you, I think it’s really important to give them a chance to farm the land. A lot of farm families take pride in being able to offer that to the next generation,” he said.
Do you have questions for Matt about his family’s farm? Leave them in the comments.
Precision agriculture is a way of farming relying on maps, data and technology to precisely manage farms with increased efficiency. Many farmers have adopted precision farming methods on their farms, and the technology is growing and evolving constantly. To learn more about precision ag, we met with Craig Converse, who operates a seed sales business, and raises soybeans, corn and cattle on his farm in Arlington. He told us the ins and outs of the technology, which had us thinking about the latest gaming fad that has everyone walking around glued to their phones. You guessed it: Pokemon Go.
“Precision agriculture is all about fine-tuning the way we farm,” said Craig. “We’re farming on a smaller scale within the field and applying seed, fertilizer and pesticides specifically to the areas that need it. By doing that, you’re maximizing the potential of the land you farm.”
Think of the fertilizer and seeds like Pokeballs: They’re the tools you need to meet your goals in the game. Farmers use their tools to grow strong and healthy crops.
Mapping Out a Plan
Like Pokemon Go, farmers start with a map. In this case, a soil map that tells them the types of soil in their fields. These different soil types have different potential as far as how well crops will grow. They can also use a yield map, which gives them data from the previous years so they can see which parts of the field are going to perform the best. From there, they convert the yield map into a planting prescription map. This will show them which parts of the field won’t do so well, which is where they can apply less seed.
“Traditionally, farmers would look at an entire field in order to make decisions about how much fertilizer and pesticides to use and how much seed to plant,” said Craig. “However, today we know that saying one whole field is all the same may not be the case. If we know one area of a field will give us higher yields, we will maximize our inputs there. If we know one part of a field traditionally doesn’t grow crops as well, we won’t use our resources there. We’re being smart about what we’re doing and what we’re applying.”
In Pokemon Go, layers of information show you where to go to find Pokemon, where the Pokestops are and the location of the nearest Pokemon gym. GPS transmits information to your phone, which you then use to guide you where you need to go.
Farmers can create a prescription map on their computer. They can transfer that map to their tractor, which follows the GPS and automatically changes the seeding or fertilizer rate to match what the program prescribed.
“It’s a completely automatic process,” said Craig. “Many tractors also have auto steer technology that drives the tractor precisely in straight lines so you don’t overlap.” This is similar to the paths Pokemon Go players take when searching for Pokestops. “On planters, because the computer knows exactly where it is, the seed will automatically stop if it runs into areas that were already applied so you’re not wasting seeds or resources.” Just like the game already knows where you’ve been and what you’ve collected.
Gotta Catch’em All
Craig says precision agriculture technology is advancing just like the rest of the world. Think about how much more advanced today’s games are compared to Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong. Today, Craig uses an iPad in the tractor to record yield data and another computer controls the planter. That’s two computers, plus GPS on the tractor and auto steer.
“What we do is look at the soil types and historic data for the field and decide where to use our inputs,” he explained. “For example, if you have an area of your corn field where you’ve only ever seen a maximum yield of 150 bushels per acre, and the rest of the field usually gets 200 bushels per acre, you don’t want to apply the same rate of fertilizer on the whole field aiming to get 200 bushels per acre. That would mean you would lose 50 bushels per acre of fertilizer on something you know isn’t going to pan out and the costs associated with it. Every day, we’re striving to be more sustainable and smarter smart with our resources.”
Just like you wouldn’t want to waste your Pokeballs on a Pidgey when you know there’s a Snorlax nearby.
Craig says the technology is constantly changing and improving.
“There’s a lot of research that hasn’t hit the farm yet. It’s a fast-changing environment right now, just like everything else. It takes some time to adapt, but we know what’s out there, and we’re figuring out the best way to use it so we can improve our yields and protect our land.”
What’s the next Pokemon Go that will take over every phone around you? Maybe it will be rooted in the same technology as the next agricultural innovation.
This is planting season for farmers. Right now, they are spending countless hours in their fields planting crops for the year. In South Dakota, soybean planting usually begins in early May and goes through mid-June, but farmers think about planting for much longer than just when they are out in the fields. To find out more, we sat down with Paul Casper, farmer from Lake Preston.
HFT: When does planting season start?
Paul: For me, it starts as soon as last year’s crop is harvested. Once we see how our crops did, we start planning for the following year. We look at a lot of factors to determine how we can be more efficient, grow a healthier crop and be more profitable the next year.
HFT: What different factors do you evaluate?
Paul: We look at seed varieties, soil health, pest pressure and nutrient needs. We review when we applied pesticides and fertilizers throughout the year and how much we applied. We think about how we can be more sustainable with our energy inputs. Whatever we can do to cut down on products, fuel, water, time and human energy, it’s going to make us more sustainable.
HFT: Is sustainability a priority for you?
Paul: Sustainability is our number one priority. I’m a fourth-generation farmer, and my son will be the fifth. This land is what and who we are. It is our livelihood. Protecting it from chemicals, water and soil erosion: that’s our job, and it’s one we love. As farmers, protecting the environment is our goal because we want to leave the land in better shape for the next generation.
HFT: How do you stay sustainable when planting?
Paul: One of the big things we do is mapping. That means we create maps of our fields telling us the soil type, the nutrients available to help the plants grow and crop yields from the year before. In a 150-acre field, we could have four different soil types. Some soil types have more nutrients or hold water better than others. Mapping tells us precisely where and how to use our resources so we know exactly what the crop will need. This lets us use the minimum amount of inputs needed and still be extremely effective.
Technology lets us see those maps in real time from the tractor. As we plant or apply nutrients, our machinery automatically adjusts the rate applied to just the right amount. This reduces impacts on the environment and saves us money. Technology in agriculture has come a long way and helps us improve how sustainable we can be.
HFT: What do you do once your crops have been planted?
Paul: Throughout the year, we want to protect the health of the crop and help the plants grow. We monitor fields for anything that might compromise that, like weeds, insects and diseases. It’s survival of the fittest, so we try to minimize competition for sunlight, nutrients and water. Weed control is so important early in the year. The rest of the summer is spent monitoring our crops and making sure they grow as healthy as can be.
By the end of September, Paul will be back out in the field harvesting his crops, seeing how well his seed varieties performed and farming practices worked. Then it all starts over, making plans for the next planting season.
Paul Casper is a fourth-generation farmer from Lake Preston, South Dakota. He raises 4,800 acres of corn and soybeans with his son, Drew. He and his wife, Korlyn, have four children. He has been a member of the South Dakota Soybean Association board since 2007.
Have questions for Paul? Leave them in the comments below. You can see his planting adventures along with other farmers on social media by following #plant16.
From the way we shop to the way we socialize, technology has infiltrated our lives and changed the way we do things. The same is true for farmers. Farmers are constantly looking for new ways to evolve their practices to protect the environment. Thanks to advancements in farm practices, like precision agriculture, farmers are more efficient and sustainable today than they ever have been.
Not all farm fields are created equal. One field may contain many different soil types, pest pressures, nutrients and moisture levels. With precision agriculture, farmers can manage their fields based on what a particular area needs to grow a successful crop. This way, they can efficiently allocate resources like fertilizer, water and pesticides.
Hear more from South Dakota farmer John Horter about how he uses technology on his farm.
Hungry for Truth is celebrating its first birthday! It’s been one year full of food, farming and fun conversations that connected South Dakotans from farm to table. Hungry for Truth is all about answering questions, and we’re thrilled to connect with you and help answer some of your questions. Through these conversations, we’ve also had the chance to learn a lot about what’s important to you when making food choices. As parents, community members and farmers, this interaction is what drives our passion for Hungry for Truth, and we can’t wait to continue connecting in 2016.
To celebrate, we’ve rounded up a few highlights and most frequently asked questions from the past year.
1. I would like to feed my kids organic food because I’ve heard it is healthier, but it is too expensive for me to afford. How can I make sure my kids are getting the healthiest food?
“A young mother approached me with this question, and I explained that all foods in our grocery stores, no matter the growing practice, are safe. Organic really refers to the way a product is grown, not a product’s health or nutritional value. Whether food is raised organically or conventionally, they both offer the same nutritional value,” Jerry Schmitz, a farmer and Hungry for Truth volunteered shared.
2. Are the farming methods that our ancestors used better than what farmers use today?
“Our ancestors used a plow and cultivators to control weeds that rob moisture and nutrients from crops because that was their only option,” Schmitz said. “Today, science and technology offer farmers lots of different options to choose from, and it’s up to the farmer to choose the best practices based on the soil characteristics of each field they farm. One technology that’s had a huge impact on how I farm is GPS. GPS technology has done more than help give directions around town. Today, I use GPS to map fields into garden-sized plots for soil sampling and fertilization so that each small area receives the exact prescription of nutrients the plants require.”
3. Do farmers use hormones when raising livestock, and does that affect the meat I eat?
Tip for the savvy shopper: Added hormones are NOT used in hog or poultry farming, so if you see chicken, turkey or pork labeled “no added hormones,” it’s just a marketing tactic, and you don’t need to pay extra for that label. Farmers can use a naturally occurring, slow-release hormone in cattle if they choose. The use of these hormones is strictly regulated. If used, the hormone is typically put in the ear of an animal, and it is slowly released over that animal’s lifetime. For more insights into this question, we connected with Morgan Kontz who is a beef farmer from South Dakota.
“On our farm, we do choose to use added hormones in our beef cattle because it helps the animals convert their feed into lean muscle more efficiently. But the real question is, what does that mean for us when we’re buying beef at the grocery store?
A 3-ounce serving of beef from a steer that had a hormone implant contains 1.2 nanograms of estrogen while that from a steer with no implant contains 0.9 nanograms. To put that in perspective, one egg contains 252 nanograms of estrogen and an adult woman has around 513,000 nanograms of estrogen naturally occurring in her body.”
Have more questions about food and farming that you’d like to ask a farmer? We’d love to hear from you!
Farmers gathered with fellow South Dakotans this November for meaningful conversation and delicious local food at the Hungry for Truth Harvest Lunch. Guests learned some surprising facts. Did you know some cows sleep on waterbeds? They also heard stories about the multiple generations of family farmers in South Dakota.
The lunch took place at Prairie Berry East Bank in Sioux Falls. During each course, local farmers shared how they raise healthy crops and livestock on their own family farms. Prairie Berry’s Chef Mark Benedetto also spoke about how the restaurant sources food for its kitchen and the importance of knowing where our food comes from.
Guest Kaylee Koch, a Sioux Falls blogger who writes about her Midwest family adventures at Apple of My Ivy, enjoyed hearing from farmers about how working on the farm is a family business.
“I loved learning how the farms have been passed down from generation to generation and that it truly is a whole family experience. Each member of the family has a specific role. It’s a coalition of hard work that unites to bring the delicious and healthy food to our tables,” Koch said.
Vermillion farmer Jerry Schmitz loved connecting with fellow South Dakotans and answering questions about his family farm and how he raises healthy crops. One question in particular stood out to Jerry: Were the farming methods that our ancestors used better than what farmers use today?
“Our ancestors used a plow and cultivators to control weeds that rob moisture and nutrients from crops because that was their only option,” Schmitz said. “Today, science and technology offer farmers lots of different options to choose from, and it’s up to the farmer to choose the best practices based on the soil characteristics of each field that they farm. One technology that’s had a huge impact on how I farm is GPS. GPS technology has done more than help give directions around town. Today, I use GPS to map fields into garden-sized plots for soil sampling and fertilization so that each small area receives the exact prescription of nutrients the plants require.”
Many guests remarked that when shopping in the grocery store or throwing together a quick dinner for the family, the connection between the farms and the farm families who raise our food can sometimes get lost.
“Our farmers are so important, and meeting with these local farmers reminded me not to take the food I eat for granted. Our farmers spend a lot of time, work and love to bring us our meals,” Koch said.
Have your own questions about farming in our state? Share in the comments to get connected with a local farmer. Plus, if you want to see more photos from our event, check out our Facebook photo album.