Field Work

Field Work

Hosted by two commercial row-crop farmers and a dairy farmer, Field Work is a podcast that provides space for frank, realistic discussions about the benefits and challenges of sustainable agriculture. Hosts Zach Johnson, Mitchell Hora, and Tara Vander Dussen (who joined the team in season four) explore the successes and challenges farmers experience as they adopt new practices, while still getting into the weeds on the difficulties.

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Trailer 1 min 36 sec

All Episodes

According to the EPA, the agriculture sector of the economy causes 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, far behind energy, transportation, and industry. But there’s a lot of interest in how to reduce ag’s carbon footprint. Regenerative practices on the farm, especially using cover crops for soil health, can reduce those emissions by sequestering carbon below ground. Yet carbon markets for ag are still kind of the Wild West. On this episode of Field Work, hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora explore the roles of finance and government in building the markets. Guests are Cristian Barcan, vice president for sustainability for Rabo Agrifinance, one of the biggest agricultural lenders in the U.S., and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. Read more: The roles of finance and government in building the markets

Jun 23

52 min 33 sec

One of the most important resources for farmers interested in sustainable practices is a soil test commonly known as the Haney Test. In this episode, we talk to the developer of the test, Rick Haney, a soil scientist who will retire from USDA Agricultural Research Service on June 30. Rick tells Field Work producer Annie Baxter how he came up with his legendary soil health test — and exactly how it works. We also hear from Indiana farmer Rick Clark about how he converted his 7,000-acre farm from conventional corn and soybean to no-till and diversified his crops. The Haney test played a crucial role.  The two Ricks help lead a brainstorm about scaling up regenerative practices to slow climate change and help farmers be more profitable — with Iowa farmer Brian Hora (Mitchell’s dad), North Carolina farmer Russell Hedrick and Great Plains Regeneration Executive Director Jessica Gnad also joining in.  Our show was recorded at Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora’s field day June 3, 2021, in Washington County, Iowa.

Jun 16

56 min 11 sec

This week on Field Work, Zach and Mitchell talk about the future of tractors with New Holland’s Director of Commercial Marketing, Mark Lowery. First up is a look beyond diesel fuel to the methane powered tractor New Holland is planning to introduce late this year. It will have reduced fuel costs and greatly reduced emissions versus a traditional diesel tractor, with the potential to have essentially zero emissions if it is paired with a bioreactor capturing methane from manure. Later, they talk about autonomous operation, where it is now, where it is probably going next, and why we don’t need to worry about them taking over the world (yet). Read more: A methane-powered tractor

Jun 9

32 min 12 sec

Research at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, over the past couple of decades has advanced the concept of perennial grain crops to the point of commercially available kernza. Mitchell and Zach talk to a Minnesota organic farmer, Luke Peterson, who’s been growing kernza in his fields and cultivating interest in it among other farmers, food processors and retailers. They’re joined by Tessa Peters of The Land Institute who explains where the name came from and why her team is so committed to making perennial grains viable. Read more: Research at The Land Institute

Jun 2

39 min 14 sec

Marc Schober is director of specialized agriculture solutions for Bremer Bank, the nation’s 9th largest farm lender. Zach and Mitchell ask him about how he decides which #fintech and #agtech solutions are worth recommending to the bank and to farmers. Schober tells Field Work he is bullish on finding ways to incentivize transitions to regenerative ag for farms of all sizes, but less sure of how exactly carbon markets will work, or what changes they can expect with the Biden administration. Read more: 5 ideas for farmers who want to minimize risk

May 26

50 min 16 sec

Field Work hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson talk to cotton farmer Adam Chappell about cotton and sharecropping. Chappell nearly lost his farm 10 years ago to a triple whammy of drought, pigweed and a customer who didn’t pay. He fought his way back to profitability by adopting regenerative practices. Now he uses much less seed, fertilizer, herbicide and irrigation than he used to. He has integrated livestock and figured out what cover crops work best for corn and soybeans, as well as cotton. Now he’s looking into chicken tractors, sheep and downsizing his acreage because his margin is so much better. Read more: Changes Chappell made on his farm

May 19

1 hr 21 min

Farmers from 17 southern states supply more than a third of the world’s cotton and bring in $7 billion a year. But brands and retailers — cotton’s customers — are getting picky about how their cotton is produced. They want to assure their customers that farmers care about the environment. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol gives farmers a way to measure and improve soil carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and energy use, among other things. Dr. Andy Jordan, who helped write the protocol, explains how it works to Field Work hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora. They also discuss how the protocol might be adapted to other crops. Read more: Five questions about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

May 12

1 hr 3 min

John and Kara Boyd are equally committed to farming and to farm ownership for people of color.  John heads the National Black Farmers Association, and Kara runs the Association of American Indian Farmers. They told Field Work hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson they became activists because of their own experiences with a racist USDA. Meanwhile, they are trying to spread the word about cover crops, no-till farming and conservation. Read more: John and Kara Boyd

May 5

49 min 43 sec

For a few years now, Iowa State University Professor Kevin Kimle has been asking students in his ag entrepreneurship classes to take a personality test. What he’s found so far is that compared to the average person, those ag students score pretty low when it comes to openness. He and the Field Work hosts talk about what that lack of openness might mean for trying new practices like cover crops. And after taking the personality test, Zach and Mitchell learn some awkward things about themselves. Read more: The Big Five Aspects Scale

Apr 28

42 min 51 sec

The Nature Conservancy and Purdue University are among a lot of people in the sustainable ag keen to figure out what it takes to scale conservation practices. Does it come down to the availability of funding? Climate? Soils? What happens if all those factors are pretty equal between, say, two neighboring counties, but the level of adoption of conservation practices varies dramatically between them? Kris Johnson from the TNC and Linda Prokopy from Purdue talk about research in three different states where they compare counties with a robust conservation culture to neighboring counties that aren’t doing much. They talk with Zach and Mitchell about cover crop culture, the importance of collaboration among farmers, government agencies and entrepreneurs, and what they still don’t understand. Read more: The Magical Dividing Line Between Counties

Apr 21

43 min 40 sec

Young farmers coming back to a family operation often have to tease out a place for themselves with hard work, creativity and an entrepreneurial zeal. For Trent Stout, that meant taking on the family seed business and migrating it from being a local corn and soybean dealer to be the go-to source for diverse cover crop seeds. Michael Vittetoe brought cattle to the farm as an integral part of a rotation that relies on cover crops. He might just fold the chickens into the system, too. Hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson hear how some of their peers are making conservation their part of the family business. Read more: A New Generation Advances the Cause

Apr 14

1 hr 9 min

The Biden administration has ambitious climate mitigation goals, and agriculture has been called upon to be a strong partner. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack led the department throughout the Obama years and is back at the helm. He talks with Mitchell and Zach about consumer demands for sustainably grown food, how to develop carbon markets that serve farmers first, the need to create more opportunity to sell what’s currently considered waste, and how farmers can make sure their interests are part of any future plans and policies. (Hint: comment here). Read more: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on Climate Solutions

Apr 7

39 min 49 sec

Several Washington County families trace their conservation interests back decades. For Rob Stout and Darrell Steele, their dads’ interest in conservation primed them to be open to the idea of no-till. Still, getting it to work took a lot of perseverance through various failures. Eventually, the planter attachments helped. The early pioneers emerged with a willingness to share what they were learning with other local farmers. Like no-tilling, that generosity persists in Washington County. Read more: Families that Led the Conservation Charge in Washington County

Mar 31

58 min 40 sec

Paul Reed and Dave Moeller explain to Zach and Mitchell that the modern planter row unit was designed to provide good seed to soil contact in the dry, cloddy seedbed of a conventionally tilled field. And why that created a different set of problems in cool, wet early season, no-till fields. They start with the release of the John Deere MaxEmerge row unit in 1972 and follow the development of planter technology right through today’s precision technology, describing how their constant experimentation and collaboration with other pioneers like Howard Martin and Eugene Keeton led to successful no-tilling and a business selling planter attachments. Zach also gets some advice on how to set up his own planter. Read more: Zach and Mitchell go to planter school

Mar 24

52 min 40 sec

Mitchell and Zach are trying to understand how Mitchell’s home county in Southeast Iowa developed such a strong conservation culture. Jim Frier, now 88, showed up to the interview with a box full of documentation of all the work he put into educating farmers: flyers from the twilight meetings and field days he organized, which could attract as many as 500 attendees, articles he penned promoting conservation tillage, including one that wondered, back in the 60s, whether traditional tillage systems were on their way out, and photos he took of equipment attachments folks were designing to make no-till work with their existing planters. To be sure, there were a lot of other key people who helped build a conservation movement in Washington County, but Jim Frier teaches us the value of cheerleaders. Read more: Evening meetings helped launch a conservation culture Video: Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington (County, That Is)

Mar 17

49 min 50 sec

On this episode of Field Work, hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson talk money with the founders of two startups. Sami Tellatin says FarmRaise will be a one-stop shop to help farmers apply for grants and loans. And FarmRaise will do all the paperwork! Robyn O’Brien helps lead rePlant Capital, a new venture capital fund that invests in farmers who implement regenerative practices. Replant is working with Danone, and other big food companies whose customers want to know more about sourcing. Read more: New Ideas in Ag Finance

Mar 10

1 hr

President Joe Biden has said he wants to pay farmers to grow cover crops and put land into conservation. How will that work? He also has big plans to reduce and capture carbon emissions, which could spell opportunities for farmers. But the science is still tenuous and the math would have to pencil out. Zach and Mitchell tap Farm Journal News Director John Herath for an overview of how the Biden administration is addressing sustainable ag and who farmers need to pay attention to. Then former USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey discusses his takeaways after serving as the first head of Farm Programs and Conservation, where he brought FSA, RMA and NRCS together under one mission area. Read more: Five things to keep an eye on in the Biden administration

Mar 3

1 hr 2 min

Farmers Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora are back with more honest and authentic conversations about the ups and the downs of sustainable agriculture. They'll explore new sustainability standards for crops like cotton and the outlook for conservation under the Biden administration. This season, Zach and Mitchell also travel to Mitchell's home county in southeast Iowa for a special miniseries on how generations of farmers there built a deep conservation culture. The new season launches March 3, 2021.

Feb 24

2 min 36 sec

The world has changed in some massive ways since Field Work hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora sat down to record the first episodes of the season back in December. We’re now living amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, farm incomes were expected to rise. Now they’re projected to dip as commodity prices slump. So that raises the question: what is the outlook for sustainable ag in this environment? What becomes harder-- and what becomes easier-- for farmers wanting to swap ideas about conservation practices? What are the roadblocks or advantages to trying something new right now? In our season finale, Zach and Mitchell discuss these questions with Lauren Lurkins, the Director of Environmental Policy at the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Jun 2020

45 min 57 sec

Samantha Schmidgall, the Agronomy Marketing Manager with Ag View FS in Walnut, IL, is driven by the cooperative foundation of her agricultural retail company.  “If we're not doing what our farmers and our farmer-based board want us to do, we're not checking the box of doing the right thing that day,” she said. In recent years, her farmer community has encouraged the company to embrace sustainable ag technologies and practices. “We might have one or two growers that suggest, you know, hey, can you look at this? Can you see if this is cost effective for us? And when we find those things, we're implementing them across our company,” she explained. Over time, the addition of these conservation practices has evolved into a core philosophy of how they run their business. “Trying to be the leader in conservation is something that we truly take pride in and our customer owners do as well,” Schmidgall said. Agricultural retailers have a significant impact on the types of agronomic practices farmers adopt in the communities they serve.  Farmers rely on these companies for everything from seeds and inputs to essential agronomic advice. That role of trusted adviser gives retailers influence with the farmers they work with. Trust In Food, in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund, recently published a report called “Growing for the future: Business lessons from ag retail’s conservation leaders”. The report notes, “More so than almost any other stakeholder, ag retailers are positioned to play an influential role in the continuous improvement of sustainability across the agricultural value chain.” But many retailers prefer conventional growing over sustainable ag. “Retailers can be a roadblock to adopting sustainable ag practices if they’re not into conservation,” said Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora, a farmer in Iowa. That’s why Hora, along with fellow farmer and co-host Zach Johnson, wanted to hear from folks on the retail side who have made conservation a top priority. Malcolm Stambaugh works with Schmidgall at Ag View FS as a Crop Specialist. In 2012, he began working with his farmers to implement 4R nutrient management.  4R Nutrient Stewardship is an efficient framework for applying nutrients that emphasizes using the right fertilizer source, the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place.  Since 2012, Stambaugh has helped 16 growers participate in the 4R program, and was recognized as one of the 4R advocates of the year in 2019. Along with their 4R work, Ag View FS encourages all their salesmen to use the ‘maximum return rate on nitrogen,’ or MRTN, tool to calculate the most profitable rate of nitrogen application for each grower. “Just to make sure that we're doing the right thing economically and we're doing the right thing agronomically,” Schmidgall explained. “It doesn't do any good for anyone to put on an excess of nitrogen that's not getting used in the right way.” Schmidgall has seen that as more growers adopt conservation nitrogen application techniques, it sparks interest in the larger community. “When people in the area see that we have more of these enduring farmer 4R advocates… there's a lot of guys that are asking, ‘How do I do that? How do I be a part of that?” she said. That initial interest in conservation opens the door for Ag View FS to introduce those growers to a whole set of sustainable practices that could benefit their operation. “It's not only fertilizer, it's not only doing the 4R practices, but it's soil sampling on a grid. It's VRT (variable rate technology) application of lime, phosphates and potassium. It's no applications on frozen ground. It's utilizing cover crops,” she said. Schmidgall and Stambaugh see that it’s going to take years to refine the best uses of newly developing conservation techniques. Right now, they’re collecting data on the best uses of these techniques. That information will guide their company over the coming decade. “So right now we're doing the legwork, doing the trials to figure out what's going to work, what isn't working,” Schmidgall said. “And if you're not working with an ag retailer who's interested in doing those trials and working with those products, there's a potential for you to get left behind.”

Jun 2020

23 min 11 sec

 Crop prices ain’t what they used to be, so some farmers have sought out additional sources of income. On this episode of Field Work, Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora talk to Pat Duncanson, a fifth generation corn and soybean farmer in Minnesota who has installed multiple solar panels on his land. We also hear from Fritz Ebinger, who works with farmers to assess their options for solar panels or wind turbines.

Jun 2020

46 min 23 sec

There’s a whole world of funding that can help to bring conservation practices onto a farm, but wading through the web of federal, state, and private programs can feel like a full time job of its own. So Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora bring on Kevin Norton, the Associate Chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to learn about government cost share programs. Then, Wisconsin dairy farmers Tom Zwald and Todd Doornink explain how their farming community has banded together to find money for sustainable agriculture on their own through the Western Wisconsin Conservation Council. Be sure to check out a video of Mitchell’s visit to Tom’s farm on our YouTube channel, where Tom describes what he’s doing on the crop side of his farm to protect water, and how his dairy is also re-using water multiple times in its operation.

Jun 2020

58 min 30 sec

Food companies are seeing a lot more demand from consumers for sustainably-grown food. But how is that demand translating into actual incentives for farmers to adopt conservation practices? In this episode, we bring you the conversation Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora moderated in November 2019 at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit. Panelists included Unilever’s Stefani Millie Grant and Ben Crook from Hellman’s Mayonnaise, who explain how big food companies are trying to encourage more farmers to use sustainable ag practices, and farmer Scott Henry, who participated in Unilever’s sustainable soy program. Special thanks to the host partners for inviting Field Work to record at the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture Summit. It’s an annual gathering for major food companies, government agencies, academics, conservation groups, and farmers committed to advancing a coordinated and comprehensive approach to driving change in agriculture sustainability. The Host Partners are Field to Market and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The next summit will be held in Phoenix, AZ in November 2020.

May 2020

53 min 57 sec

There are certain regenerative practices that help to put carbon back into the ground, which can be beneficial for crops, soil, and the broader environment. Some companies are trying to provide another benefit to these practices -- a way for farmers to get paid. Through emerging carbon markets, companies trying to offset their carbon emissions can pay farmers for the services that take carbon out of the atmosphere. This week, Field Work hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora talk to Christophe Jose, the co-founder of Nori, one of the companies working to make this possible, about the challenges and benefits of carbon markets.

May 2020

33 min 38 sec

Water plays an important role in all of our lives. But how much do we actually understand key water topics, like the share of Americans who get their water shut off or the biggest causes of pollution? Field Work co-host Zach Johnson talks to Andi Egbert from the American Public Media Research Lab as well as Kinsie Rayburn and Drew Slattery from Farm Journal’s Trust in Food initiative about research into average Americans’ and farmers’ understanding of key water issues.

May 2020

23 min 19 sec

Farmers often get the advice that they should “start small” when it comes to conservation practices. But Indiana farmer Rick Clark of Clark Land and Cattle is proof that you can do regenerative ag at scale. He raises no-till soybeans, no-till corn, and has had great success planting cover crops on his 7,000 acre farm. What’s more, this is the first year that all his acres will be grown without chemicals as he transitions to organic. Field Work co-host Mitchell Hora visited Clark’s farm to learn about his journey as a farmer. And he learned the secrets to Rick’s massive cost savings of $670,000 a year.

May 2020

49 min 17 sec

After a big bet on growing asparagus backfired, the Nuss family had to rethink their approach to running Nuss Farms. Tim and Tyler Nuss, the 5th generation on the farm and the hosts of The Modern Acre podcast, join Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson to talk about how their family decided to embrace regenerative agriculture. Featuring: pastured poultry, diversifying your business, how to change an old school farmer’s mind, and a really bad chicken joke.

Apr 2020

27 min 50 sec

Like much of the world, agriculture is facing a lot of uncertainty and change from COVID-19. In this bonus episode, Field Work host Mitchell Hora hops on the mic in his home studio to talk to AgriTalk host Chip Flory about the biggest challenges and solutions facing farmers right now. The two talk about the pork, dairy, and ethanol industries and the role sustainable agriculture could play as farmers assess how to diversify their crops and boost their bottom lines.

Apr 2020

34 min 9 sec

The word “organic” is familiar to a lot of consumers -- in the last decade we’ve seen a rise in organic foods in our grocery stores and markets. And there’s a whole raft of standards, developed by federal regulators, that farmers have to meet in order to certify as organic. That kind of check list does not exist for food grown according to “regenerative” principles, which are gaining traction in conservation circles. Field Work hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson talk to Eric Jackson from Pipeline Foods and Sara Harper from Grounded Growth about the differences, markets and challenges of regenerative and organic practices.

Apr 2020

30 min 19 sec

Growing hemp was illegal in the U.S. for decades. But recent changes in federal law have opened the door to growing the crop. So as farmers across the country begin to experiment with hemp, hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora decide to learn more about commercial hemp production. In October, Mitchell visited Scott Thellman at Juniper Hill Farms in Kansas to hear about his first stab at growing industrial hemp. They talk sourcing seeds, keeping hemp under legal THC limits, harvesting with chainsaws, and much more.

Apr 2020

22 min 54 sec

Tim Hammerich is the founder of AgGrad, an agribusiness recruiting company, and the host of the Future of Agriculture podcast. He joins Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora to talk about the latest innovations in farming, the changing skill sets agriculture demands, and the essential role of data management in sustainable ag. They also discuss the reasons why it’s so hard to recruit young people into ag and why more farmers should think of themselves as CEOs.

Apr 2020

27 min 26 sec

Edge-of-field practices like bioreactors, buffers and wetlands filter a farm’s runoff before it reaches nearby waterways. Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson bring on Professor Amy Kaleita from the Iowa State University Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering to explain how edge of field practices work and who might be able to install them on their land. Farmer Mike Ehlers also joins the show to talk about his experience installing a bioreactor and why conservation practices are important to him. Also included: kayaking in drainage ditches, magic wood chips, and a dead zone in the Gulf of New Mexico.

Apr 2020

45 min 58 sec

Maybe it seems crazy to some row crop farmers to add livestock into their field rotation. But for Michael Vittetoe, the benefits of adding cattle to his Iowa farm have been plentiful. Hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora talk with Michael about how livestock integration adds carbon back into the ground, helps to keep soil cool and moist, and saves money on resources. It has also become a new revenue stream. Also in this episode, Zach chats with Dave Scott, a sheep farmer in Montana, who’s at a pro level with his grazing management practices. He’s been able to get his soils to work for him in a such a way that he no longer needs fertilizer applications.

Mar 2020

47 min 20 sec

The “New Mexico Milk Maid,” Tara Vander Dussen, reaches people around the world with her social media posts shedding light on the dairy industry. She’s even had the chance to speak before the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Committee on World Food Security. Tara tells Zach and Mitchell about the challenges of farming in the dry southwest, the latest sustainable technologies on dairy farms, and what it’s like to be an international ambassador for American dairy farmers

Mar 2020

52 min 8 sec

Field Work hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson kick off Season 2 by catching up on what happened in their fields since they last met up in the studio. Zach tells Mitchell last fall was full of challenges due to constant rain. Down in tropical Iowa, Mitchell’s harvest was pretty uncomplicated. They discuss the new things they’d like to try this year and important considerations, like how to properly pronounce the word “wheat.” Be sure to listen to the end of the show, past the conclusion of the music, for a super funny voicemail left on Field Work’s new hotline.

Mar 2020

19 min 2 sec

Farmers Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora are back with more honest and authentic conversations about the ups and the downs of sustainable agriculture. They’ll explore how farmers’ failures with cover crops and strip till can give way to revelations, and how producers on the frontlines are figuring out how to pay for costly technologies like bioreactors to make their farms more sustainable. This season, Zach and Mitchell also look beyond row crops and start examining trends in animal agriculture. The new season launches March 11, 2020.

Feb 2020

2 min 3 sec

For our last episode of the season, we bring you our first live show ever, recorded at Farmfest in Morgan, Minnesota. Zach and Mitchell round out the season by bringing back some pals you heard from in earlier episodes, including their dads. Nathan Johnson and Brian Hora reflect on how their challenges with farming have been different from their sons’ and how the new generation is leading the charge of experimenting with sustainable practices. Field Work friend Jodi DeJong-Hughes, a University of Minnesota soil scientist, also returns to the show. (With her usual wit, she says she’s just glad she didn’t get killed off after episode 1). She and cover crop expert Cody Nelson of Soil RX deftly answer tough audience questions about how and why to adopt sustainable practices. Finally, Zach reveals that he and Mitchell have, in fact, achieved their goal of procuring a helicopter. Be sure to listen all the way through to find out what happens to it.

Aug 2019

1 hr 3 min

We know that corn and soybeans are the most economically viable crops we have on farms, at least in the Midwest, and that’s why they dominate the ag systems here. But there are efforts underway to add in a third crop. Third crops can be helpful for breaking up weed cycles, fixing more carbon and nitrogen in the soil, and possibly even increasing yields. Zach and Mitchell talk with farmer Darin Voigt along with Nick Jordan, a professor of agricultural ecology at the University of Minnesota, about how to integrate third crops and what the roadblocks may be to doing so.

Jul 2019

31 min 48 sec

Field Work host Zach Johnson has tried planting cover crops a few times on his heavy clay soils in Central Minnesota, but has had nothing but failures. In this episode, Ken Franzky, an agronomist with Centrol Crop Consulting, gives Zach some insights into how to try again. Ken tells Zach and Mitchell that his recs on aerial applications, herbicide rotations, and seed mixes vary a lot by geography. “I haven't seen a cover crop system that's a one size fits all approach,” he says.

Jul 2019

21 min 47 sec

Many farmers care about soil health, water quality, and about being good neighbors to each other and to people in nearby towns and cities. But sometimes it may feel like what farmers do individually doesn’t make much of a difference. In this episode, Zach and Mitchell talk about what it looks like when farmers start working together, as well as with others in their watersheds. Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser, Texas A&M research scientist Liz Haney, and the ag director at the Environmental Initiative in Minneapolis, Greg Bohrer, weigh in. Resources: Cedar River Watershed Partnership Cover Crop Insurance Incentives Midwest Row Crop Collaborative Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP)

Jul 2019

29 min 30 sec

Consumers are demanding more sustainably grown food. So are big food companies. But how willing are they to offset the costs — and the risks — that farmers bear as they change up their practices? Zach and Mitchell talk with Jerry Lynch, the chief sustainability officer at General Mills, about supply chain incentives for growers. Resources: General Mills Regenerative Agriculture Initiative

Jul 2019

24 min 51 sec

Our production team is taking a break the week of Independence Day. We’ll be back with more great conversations July 10th.

Jul 2019

1 min

There are a lot of technologies available these days like sensors, geo-mapping, robots, and all sorts of other big data tools. The idea behind them, of course, is to make farming more efficient, and ultimately more profitable. Those technologies can also help growers farm more sustainably. Mitchell and Zach talk with precision ag expert Raj Khosla and Illinois farmer Michael Ganschow and try to parse how good some of the tech really is at this point, especially when it comes to nitrogen sensors. Zach and Mitchell also contemplate a world where robots take over. Skynet is becoming aware, people. Resources: Raj Khosla at Colorado State Michael Ganschow The Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council

Jun 2019

31 min

Cover crops blanket the soil from the time you harvest one crop until you plant the next. And there’s a long list of benefits they provide: they can replenish soil in between planting, prevent soil erosion, slow water down, pull moisture deeper into the soil, and increase soil organic matter over time. For Doug Adams, an Iowa farmer and soil conservation technician at USDA-NRCS, cover crops also provide a way to recycle his nutrient dollars. In this episode, he tells Zach and Mitchell about how much he hates seeing valuable fertilizer leak out of his system, as it’s never coming back. “If I can get a good cover crop established,” he says, “it will help sequester some of those nitrates and other fertilizer and keep it from getting flushed out of my system.” Also in this episode: Mitchell explains what it means to “keep it squatchy,” and Zach weighs in on how to speak Minnesotan to earthworms.

Jun 2019

22 min 29 sec

Farmers collect a lot of data on fields, inputs, and yields. But many questions remain about how to use the data and who to share it with. Zach and Mitchell talk to Charles Baron of Farmers Business Network and John McGuire of Simplified Technology Services about what farmers have to gain or lose in sharing their data, especially when it relates to sustainable ag practices.

Jun 2019

37 min 51 sec

Many farmers have heard the alarming statistic that we’re losing topsoil to erosion about 10 times faster than it can be replenished. We want to keep our soil healthy and intact so we can continue farming and be more resilient in the face of increased severe weather events. In this episode, Zach and Mitchell talk to Jim Isermann of the Soil Health Partnership, an initiative of the National Corn Growers Association. Jim tells the guys that building soil health takes time, but it’s something every farmer can improve, whether they’re starting with high quality or poor quality ground. Resources: Soil Health Partnership

Jun 2019

20 min 4 sec

Nutrient management is an art as much as it is a science. And nitrogen, in particular, can be a difficult nutrient to manage. Understanding how it behaves in soil systems can help farmers increase its uptake and minimize nitrogen loss to the environment, where it can pollute water. University of Minnesota extension specialist Brad Carlson and Minnesota farmer Mark Bauer have been working together for years to figure out the best plan for nutrient stewardship on Mark’s farm. They share their insights with Zach and Mitchell and get nerdy about nitrogen. Resources: Nitrogen Smart

May 2019

37 min 51 sec

Sometimes the hurdles to sustainable practices come from people right in a farmer’s network: family, landowners, neighbors, seed dealers, and lenders. Bryan and Lauren Biegler, farmers in Minnesota, join Zach and Mitchell to discuss how they fought back the image of being “hippie farmers” as they started strip tilling and planting cover crops. Mollie Aronowitz, a land manager at the People’s Company in Iowa, and Randy Dell from the Nature Conservancy also offer helpful insights into landlord/farmer dynamics around conservation. Resources: Bryan and Lauren Biegler People’s Company Collaboration is Key for Farmers and Landowners

May 2019

40 min 37 sec

There are a lot of big questions to consider for farmers interested in trying out cover crops. Perhaps the most important one, according to cover crop coach Steve Groff, is this: what do you want to accomplish? Zach and Mitchell talk with Steve about the benefits of cover crops, the roadblocks to their adoption, and why he thinks farmers need cover crop mentors.

May 2019

23 min 26 sec

We explore the benefits and downsides of drain tile with Rodney Rulon, an Indiana farmer, and Matt Helmers, the director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University. Drain tiles dry out and warm up fields, boost productivity, and extend growing seasons, which can make them important economically. But they can also have negative effects on water quality. Zach and Mitchell talk with their guests about how to offset some of those negative effects within the farm’s system. Resources: Drainage Water Quality Impacts Study Study looking at impacts of nitrogen application timing and cover crop inclusion on subsurface drainage water quality

May 2019

36 min 47 sec