There’s no silver bullet, but there is one key to unlock the secrets to helping farmers seek out sustainable innovations—listening to them.
That’s the lesson shared by BeckyJo Smith and Gibbs Wilson, both sustainable solutions specialists at Valent.
“It’s like being a good detective,” Wilson says. “To solve a case, put the soles of your leather boots on the scene, and start crawling around doing the hard work and asking questions.”
Wilson admires how farmers are naturally wired to care for the land they farm and embrace ways they can improve their stewardship.
“In this journey, you can be a valuable resource, but first, you have to do a lot more listening than talking,” he says. “You learn what’s important to the farmer, what practices they have been doing, and then address their needs.”
Wilson works with a team of seven Valent territory managers from Virginia to Florida. He says few things are as powerful as being able to demonstrate an idea as a practical solution on the farm.
“We have shown a lot of success with limiting tillage, variable-rate fertilizer, variable-rate irrigation, reducing herbicides and using cover crops,” he says. “But it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. What I am here to do is share that we have new tools in the toolbox. I don’t think anything is the silver bullet. And I think it’s important to respect and revere what farmers are already doing.”
To help farmers implement new sustainable solutions, Valent is one company that has invested in broadening its portfolio, which includes biological insecticides, a biological fungicide, plant growth regulators (PGRs), and MycoApply brand soil health products (products featuring mycorrhizal fungi).
Smith, who works in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, says farmers have a lot of questions surrounding soil health, and MycoApply brand products weave well into discussing potential solutions.
“Farmers see soils that have been degraded over time, and they want to build back that land to healthy soil,” she says. “The return on investment is top of mind because if it doesn’t make them money, it’s hard for them to take the risk.”
As Smith notes, farmers have to see the evidence for themselves that the new products and practices they are implementing are making a difference. While the yield monitor may be the final judge and jury, Smith also encourages farmers to take note of the in-season and incremental improvements.
“The way to build back soils won’t be seen by the naked eye in year one, and even if you don’t see the yield bump you were expecting, the soil health benefits are starting to happen,” Smith says. “For example, are more nutrients coming into the plant? If so, you may see less firing in the lower leaves of the treated plants vs. untreated plants. Also, if you hit a dry spell the treated plants may not exhibit leaf rolling as soon as the untreated.”
Smith and Wilson say the most challenging part is also the most rewarding part of helping farmers on their journey with new sustainable practices and products. While it’s never case closed, there’s always room for continuous improvement.