It can feel like walking a tight rope as farmers work to improve soil health and yields simultaneously. And on that trajectory, consultant Adam Kramer aims to meet farmers where they are on their journey—be a bit of a stabilizing and encouraging force.
“The first thing I do when starting to work with a farmer is go to their fields, do an assessment, see what their capabilities are, and talk about their goals,” Kramer says. “And it’s important to see through the producer’s eyes what is happening in the field, so we can put together the right practices.”
His commitment to focusing on the farmer led Kramer to being named the 2020 International Certified Crop Adviser of the Year.
Kramer’s business, Black Sand Granary, offers soil testing, data management, cover crop consulting, and equipment retrofits. He’s been self-employed since graduating with an agronomy degree from Iowa State University, and his consulting is based in southwest Wisconsin, along with some acreage he farmers in northern Iowa and uses as a demonstration farm. His consulting is focused around soil health with an eye on short-term and long-term impacts to profitability.
“You don’t change 1,000 acres at a time, you try things a bit at a time,” he says. “We’ve been on some of the same farms since 2006. On every farm, we soil test, run data for cropping plans, and serve as another set of eyes for production decisions.”
He says the biggest part of being a crop consultant is just the drive to want to help people.
“It’s about helping farmers mitigate risks while raising top end yields—and doing it in a profitable way,” he says. “And it gets really exciting when they cross one threshold, master a skill, and then they are already looking for the next thing to do better. The farmers do all the work; as an adviser I’m challenging them to do what they are capable of.”
Kramer has a natural curiosity about challenging assumptions about status quo, and he has a deep respect for the environment. Intertwined, those have fueled a lot of ideas he’s tried and shared with farmers.
“I’m always trying to get lean, find efficiencies,” he says.
As an example, the equipment part of his consulting includes rebuilding planters and drills for no-till and cover crops.
“We’ve incorporated small grains into our crop rotations for continuous cropping. So we plant early season soybeans, seed small grains by October, harvest the small grains at the end of the following July, and then plant cover crops which corn is planted into the next year,” he explains.
That system has shown increased water infiltration, improved organic matter, and reduced tillage and horsepower requirements for the farming operation.
When reflecting on his career and this award, Kramer gives credit to his wife Kellie, employees and partners at Black Sand Granary, and all of the academic mentors he had at Iowa State.
As the recipient, Kramer received hotel and travel expenses to the 2020 Commodity Classic and American Society of Agronomy Annual Meeting, a $2,000 honorarium, a commemorative plaque, and a one-year membership in the American Society of Agronomy.