CHICAGO, Ill.—Achieving and improving sustainability on America’s farms is technology based, according to farmer influencers Mitch Counce, CEO of ServiTech consulting, and Fred Below, University of Illinois professor of crop physiology.
“As far as sustainable production goes, I think technology is the key. We all need to be technology leaders and that includes biotechnology, application technology, nutrient fertilizer technology and crop protection technology,” Below said.
“Knowledge is power, and there is no such thing as a stupid farmer….But the amount of things that a farmer has to know is out of control so they absolutely need help,” he also said.
Counce said, “I really think we have a lot of room for improvement, and I’m very optimistic about what growers will do, academia will do and what the industry can and is doing to support sustainability across our country and throughout the world.”
ServiTech has 85 agronomists/independent crop consultants bringing technology from the ag industry and universities to farmers in the western Corn Belt and wheat country, Counce explained.
He said the agronomists establish how technology is going to work by showing clients how to take advantage of using it. When it proves itself in the field, neighbors are quick to ask questions and adopt the same technology. “Wherever they buy their products and whatever technologies they use is their decision, and we are there to make that work.”
Company agronomists transfer knowledge “and we talk about it among ourselves on how to make those producers much more productive,” Counce said.
Below is big on sustainability related to plant nutrients and maintaining the soil. Growers need to know what plant nutrients are needed, when it is needed. “I think we are going to have to change our feed the soil mentality to a feed the plant mentality,” he said. There are opportunities for major improvements to production. “By understanding when the crops need nutrient and what nutrients they need and with the technologies to place them wherever we want today, I think there is huge opportunities for improvement.”
Below noted the obvious of what is anti-sustainable, “There is no benefit in applying nutrients you don’t need.”
Growing more with less is “almost biologically impossible, but it is growing more from relatively less,” he said. “We need to combine better nutrient use with biotechnology.” Below is famous for trying to consistently achieve 300-bushel-per-acre corn yields, and he sees biotechnology being an assist in meeting this goal.
“We are leaving a lot of yield on the table. There is a yield gap between the potential of a crop and what we actually achieve. We simultaneously must improve all those things that individually impact the crop. Nutrient use is one, but not all of it,” Below said.
Below and Counce were two members of a sustainability panel during BASF’s Agricultural Solutions Media Summit in Chicago earlier this week.
Counce contends there are a lot of excited growers looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead to maintain sustainability at a higher level than today. “They are embracing technology. I think a lot of growers are putting pressure on themselves to try to adapt and learn all that they can because they have ‘skin’ in the game.” It is their farm that they want to pass along to their children.
Counce concluded by saying, “I’m really optimistic about agriculture meeting the challenge.”