Lee Briese (left) and Grif Vlietstra were named NAICC Consultants of the Year.
Lee Briese (left) and Grif Vlietstra were named NAICC Consultants of the Year.

Being an agricultural consultant requires multifaceted professionalism. For almost 25 years, the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants (NAICC) has honored up to three of its members with the Consultant of the Year Award.

The 2017 Consultants of the Year are Lee Briese and Grif Vlietstra both of Centrol Crop Consulting.

“My job is to be a steward of the land,” Briese says. “For example, if we manage soils well, they are more productive. I’m a practical environmentalist. I want to manage ecosystems, not problems.”

Briese serves farmers within 75 miles of Edgeley, N.D. His typical farmer-clients grow 2,000 acres to 3,500 acres of wheat, corn and soybeans, but he also works with those growing up to 16 different crops.

Vlietstra says he’s focused on every grower and field to help farmers succeed despite the headwinds of 2017.

“The best part of this job is seeing growers succeed,” Vlietstra says. “I have a vested interest in each grower and each field. It’s on me to show I have their best interest in mind.”

For example, using GPS soil sampling, variable-rate technology (VRT) fertilizer application and VRT planting populations, he cites examples of cutting inputs in half on the most marginal acres while harvesting more bushels overall in these areas with past normal practices.

Vlietstra serves farmers in the southeast corner of South Dakota. His client base mostly grows corn and soybeans. He also provides manure management for permitted facilities and handles USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program paperwork.

“I learn new things every day,” he says. “In 2016, we had the best crops ever in general, which helped smooth things out under the price pressures. In 2017, the biggest challenge will be maintaining positive attitudes with tough, breakeven prices.”

Progress Adds Up. As a consultant, Briese is encouraged by helping farmers make little gains every year that can add up to big changes.

“Sometimes it’s about finding the compromise and embracing that change is a slow process because farmers have to manage a lot of risk,” he says. “It takes about seven years to adopt a new practice on a farm. Year 1, they’ll listen to you. Year 2, they’ll ask some questions. Year 3, they’ll go to some meetings. Year 4, they’ll try it. Year 5, they’ll try it on more acres. Year 6, they’re in. And in year 7, they are teaching you.”

On the front of the radar for these consultants is resistance.

“We will really be watching weed control,” Vlietstra says. “We’ve had resistant waterhemp, and now Palmer amaranth has been identified in areas of the state. We’re going to have to be on top of our game.”

Briese is trying to discuss diversity as a roadmap to success.

“It’s not always the most economical, but we have to talk about how to rotate technologies, rotate crops and add diversity to our system to make it more resilient,” Briese explains.

Due to the industry’s size and the importance of the work, Vlietstra and Briese cite that NAICC networking opportunities help in navigating challenges they face out in the field.

NAICC is grateful to BASF for sponsoring the Consultant of the Year program. Award winners must be NAICC members of good standing and nominated by another NAICC member. Applications include career information, involvement in ag-related organizations, honors and awards, community involvement and educational background.