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Brothers Tom and Mike Franke, along with their sons Ian, Joe and Jared, farm corn and soybeans in Hayfield, Minnesota. As Central Farm Service (CFS) farmer-partners enrolled in the Central Advantage GS program, they are no strangers to precision agriculture. But over the last few years, Tom and Mike have started looking even harder at how they can make ag tech work to boost efficiency through the use of conservation agronomy.

Variable rate technology (VRT) is one way they have been able to both cut input costs and safeguard their waterways. Implementing VRT for both seeding and nutrient application was a decision that just made sense. “We’ve been able to get down to the 0.8-0.9 pounds of nitrogen per bushel,” Tom reported. “We spoon feed crops nutrients when they need it. With variable rate application and seeding, you eliminate a lot of the costs per acre by not throwing all that product out there that isn’t needed.”

“Think about how if you had 10 people standing in a room, not all people are going to eat the same,” Tom explained. “Our fields maybe have three or four spots that are different, they don’t all need to be fed the same either.”

In addition to implementing VRT, the Frankes also worked with Truterra staff to become certified through the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP). This voluntary program allows them to be proactive with management practices that protect waterways. Outside of experiencing the benefits that come with conservation management practices such as VRT, this program also provides farmers with regulatory certainty, recognition and financial assistance in implementing these new practices. Franke Brothers Farm will utilize financial assistance from the program to implement a grassed waterway to prevent erosion and protect water quality.

“Instead of waiting until we have to fight somebody to keep what we have, why don’t we be proactive now,” Tom explained about why his family got involved with the MAWQCP. “We’re concerned about the environment. We don’t just farm here, we live here. I don’t plan on moving, so we try to be smart with our practices and promote good water quality.”

The Frankes utilize the Cedar River Watershed Partnership, a unique public-private partnership that include Central Farm Service, Truterra, and MAWQCP, in order to navigate the certification process. The partnership aims to streamline conservation implementation efforts in the watershed to adopt management practices such as VRT, cover crops and minimal tillage that are not only good for the environment, but positively impact their bottom line as well. This collaboration brings together guidance, services and resources from all of the partnership’s members to make the adoption of these practices easier for farmers.

Over the next ten years, Tom and Mike hope the next generation gets involved with their farm and incorporates their own conservation ideas. “We don’t want to be narrow minded when something new comes along,” Tom said. “We try to at least give new things a try and that’s where Central Advantage has really helped us.”

Interested in learning about the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, the Cedar River Watershed Partnership or how conservation agronomy could work for you? Contact the Central Advantage team for more information.