Just over the Big Blue River in Ulysses, Nebraska, Lukas Fricke farms with his mother, Lori, brother Brenden, and longtime employee Michael Batenhorst, producing corn, soybeans and sorghum in addition to being sixth-generation pork producers. Together they make up Union Farms Inc., where “being exact and thoughtful” could be their farm motto. To Fricke, sustainability on their farm can be summed up in three parts:
- Being environmentally responsible
- Being economically sound and
- Creating community awareness
Union Farms weaves each of the above parts into their operation by bolstering precision technology with tools such as the Truterra™ Insights Engine, which provides conservation and profitability insights. The team also works to adopt new practices that are efficient and climate conscious, a habit that has led them to involvement in several organizations. Lukas acknowledges he “wants to be part of the conversation” when decisions are being made that will impact his operation in particular and agriculture in general, which is why he is one of 34 farmers and ranchers selected for the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium’s first Producers Circle. Fricke also is active with the National Pork Board Sustainability Goals Task Force and Nebraska Pork Producers Association.
Union Farms takes pride in finding ways to make their operation more efficient while remaining environmentally responsible. Fricke stresses that they work to be exact and thoughtful with what they doing to preserve the land for generations to come while also feeding the world.
A key tool in being exact and thoughtful is precision technology to place crop nutrients and inputs. “We want the right farming practice, product and amount on the right acre,” Fricke said. By using precision technology coupled with guidance from ag retailer Tim Mundorf at Central Valley Ag, Fricke has been able to accomplish this high level of on-farm efficiency coupled with environmental responsibility. Fricke works closely with Mundorf to analyze and extract insights from tools such as the Truterra™ Insights Engine and Winfield United’s ag tech tool R7 to increase their profitability and stewardship footprint.
Furthermore, Union Farms uses the Truterra™ Insights Engine to create a stewardship baseline for their farm. By having a stewardship baseline for each field, Fricke and Mundorf can build a customized conservation plan for each field designed to maximize profit and conservation efforts and track each field’s progress overtime. More specifically, Union Farms uses the Truterra™ Insights Engine to track carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate the impact of practice changes that sequester carbon and/or minimize emissions. The result is the ability to demonstrate and document continuous improvement producing safe and sustainable products for their end users.
Drip irrigation is another important tool. For the past 15 years, Union Farms has been using subsurface drip irrigation where possible, which uses about a third less water compared with a regular center-pivot system. Advanced irrigation management is all about “using water when we need it and at the right amount,” says Fricke. All irrigators are scheduled, and each puts out a calculated amount of water based on need. Cover crops, nitrogen stabilizers, buffer strips and minimal tillage round out Union Farm’s current sustainability measures in the field. Beyond the field within the livestock operation, Fricke points to LED lights in all hog barns and variable frequency drive wells as two more resource efficiency measures.
Fricke said his late father, Jan, emphasized sustainability throughout his years of farming implementing new practices. Now with the Truterra™ Insights Engine, Fricke is able to take that focus one step farther by establishing a baseline and tracking progress over time to tell their stewardship story. “The Truterra™ Insights Engine makes us more efficient at raising animals and crops,” Fricke said. He added that alone, helps make their operation sustainable for generations to come.
“What we [US Farmers and Ranchers] are doing is making big waves, and we have to continue to find ways to remain open to new methods and share our story,” Fricke says.
Interested in learning more about Truterra? Reach out to Tim Mundorf with Central Valley Ag at Timothy.Mundorf@cvacoop.com.