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Across 1,300 acres in Lake Crystal, Minnesota, first-generation farmer Kevin Poppel is constantly working hard to make his farm as efficient as possible. Before Kevin was a farmer, he was an agronomist trained in precision agriculture, but he started farming full-time when his uncle gave him the opportunity to rent land. Like many farmers, Kevin is facing narrow margins, unpredictable markets and changing consumer trends, and for him, managing these factors as a relatively new farmer has been even more challenging. But by implementing new and innovative technologies, Kevin has been able to boost efficiency, yields and ultimately, profit, all with stewardship in mind. “We’ve taken a little bit of a different approach to farming because we’re a first-generation farm,” Kevin said. “To make it work, we need to be really, really efficient.”
Kevin has found that working with his local cooperative, Central Farm Service, has been integral to implementing new technologies and building an efficient farming operation. In the first couple of years of their farmer-ag retailer relationship, Kevin was just beginning to understand all of the technologies available for his farm, including the Truterra™ Insights Engine. “Now, they are challenging us to get to the next level through looking at ROI on a much more granular basis,” he said. “We’re not looking at our farm on a field by field basis; we’re looking at it acre by acre.”
As Kevin integrates these new technologies, he is thinking about how to balance an efficient, profitable operation with sustainability. “Sustainability is on the forefront of my mind,” Kevin explained. “Our goal is to leave the land better than we found it. We now have the ability to spoon feed our crop, reduce run-off, lessen our carbon footprint, and build our levels of organic matter. Our soil is the only thing we have and it’s one of the only things that’s in our control when a lot of other things are not.”
Kevin is being proactive in managing nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter, so the farm won’t have to get to a point where nitrogen application is dictated. Toward this end, Kevin participates in “NitrateNow,” a program offered by Central Farm Service that focuses on in-season nitrate grid sampling and the utilization of Management Zones. The program is helping him determine where he should apply nitrogen in his fields, and he is seeing decreased costs and increased yields in return. “The Nitrate Now has been a blessing for us,” Kevin said. “Not only are we putting the nitrogen where the plants are going to use it, but we saved on our nitrogen costs. We went into the program using about 1.0 – 1.1 pounds of nitrogen a bushel and now we’re down to somewhere between .65 and .7. It’s hard to believe the results to be honest.”
In addition to nitrogen management, the Poppel farm is seeing great results from strip tillage, especially with fertilizer placement. When Kevin still used conventional tillage, he saw the benefits of stripped fertilizer. Now, as the farm moves toward 100 percent strip tillage, he’s seeing even better results. “What’s really been interesting to us is the overall soil health and the reduction in our carbon footprint,” he said. “We’ve been seeing an increase in the soil’s microbial activity, worm population growth, more organic matter and our soils aren’t blowing like they used to.”
Looking ahead, Kevin has set goals to continue to balance profitability with stewardship and will use technology to drive his goals forward. He hopes to get his farm to a more sustainable size that can be managed strictly with 100 percent strip tillage and intense nitrogen management. He is also working to have clean water coming off his fields, in the hopes that the water quality will be better for when his 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son take over the farm. Kevin said he is always looking at new technologies for the future. “I want to be able to continue to implement new concepts coming down the pipeline,” he explained. “We’ve done testing with microbials and I think that they will be a huge part of our nutrient program moving forward. Overall, technology will continue to drive our operation.”
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It's never too early to discuss a project, or to consider the sustainability posibilities for your organization.