Know More. Grow More.

A technology services podcast provided by Centra Sota Cooperative

Centra Sota’s technology Services Manager, Andrew Lambert and TSP Nutrient Management Specialist, Amy Robak- Bruce, along with Steve Cubbage, VP of Farmobile’s Data services, discuss how technology plays a large role in Nutrient Management planning.

Andrew Lambert:

Hello everybody. My name is Andrew Lambert, the technology services manager here at Centra Sota co-op in central Minnesota. Welcome to the Know More Grow More Podcast. If you’re new to this podcast, that’s all right. This is a new series that we are starting and hope to continue with a focus around precision agriculture and why it matters to growers here in the state of Minnesota. So, today, I have two guests with me, Mrs. Amy Robak-Bruce, Centra Sota’s nutrient management specialist and crop advisor. And Mr. Steve Cubbage, the vice president of services for Farmobile. For those of you who don’t know, Farmobile is an independent farm data company, they specialize in collecting real-time agronomic and farm machine data from mixed fleets of equipment. Thanks, both of you for being here with me today. Today’s topic is going to be about why data matters to the livestock producers in Minnesota.

Andrew Lambert:

Because, here in Minnesota, both the producers of agricultural products and the public in general really love our lakes. And within the past year, the state has made plans to put billions of dollars in the next few years to protecting our waters and our natural resources. So, I want to jump in and say, what does data have to do with Centra Sota and our nutrient management goals for our growers when it comes to water quality and nutrient management? So, let’s just jump right into the conversation. Amy, can you give us your perspective on what the Minnesota imperative on waters have to do with our nutrient management program?

Amy Robak-Bruce:

Yeah, well thank you, Andrew, for having me on here today. So, some of the state goals here in Minnesota is right around water quality, so excess nutrients in our surface and ground waters and, of course, excess sedimentation in our surface waters. So, those are the main two goals that the state is starting to focus on. So, with our Yield Quest Nutrient Management Program, we’re able to be proactive with producers in our area and with these matters to help them understand the rules and regulations and come up with a living plan for those producers that can help address some of these items.

Andrew Lambert:

All right. So, if a grower’s going to have to make plans around their nutrient management, obviously they’re going to have to have information being collected on their farms. So Steve, can you give us some insight on how you think maybe collecting data may be important in this role and maybe how they should approach the idea of making sure they’re capturing different layers of data?

Steve Cubbage:

Yeah, I look at data collection, especially in the precision ag side. Pretty much it’s no longer an option. I mean, it’s a necessity. I look at it the same way you would as far as just keeping seven years’ worth of back taxes. I mean, at some point you’ve got to have a history, especially in the regulation side of things that when somebody comes around you want that history to be as complete as you can and have that historical record. So, that’s why Farmobile is that system of record at that grower level. It’s like what actually took place out there on that farm? So, how much size did you actually take off every acre? What did you apply as far as from a waste standpoint or back on the field? So, we can literally track that and have that full circle from application to removal. And that’s really important obviously in the nutrient management side because they’re looking at things like that very, very closely.

Andrew Lambert:

Right. So, knowing that farmers have potentially the ability to do this through technology that is offered through Centra Sota, like Farmobile, Amy, are there specific layers of information that a farmer should be thinking about today and making sure he’s capturing starting in February this month of 2020 and beyond?

Amy Robak-Bruce:

Yeah. Any layer of information that we can get from the producer is going to be helpful when developing any sort of farm plan with them as applied information is something that the government is starting to look at it a little bit closer, especially with programs that they’re enrolled with NRCS. And it’s just there to prove that they are doing those good stewardship options practices that the government’s potentially making them do or electing to do.

Amy Robak-Bruce:

The other thing, we can start collecting our yield and our phosphorus and our nitrogen and those are important pieces of layers because eventually, the end goal is to have variable rate manure applications. So, all that information that we can collect now can help develop that plan down the road.

Andrew Lambert:

So, beyond the as-applied information, what other types of information does a farmer potentially need to be collecting if he or she were to become involved with a nutrient management program, service provider like you, and intertwining that with government rules and regulations?

Amy Robak-Bruce:

Yeah, of course, in-season scouting is going to be a huge factor and with that, we have our soil nitrates testing. That would be done in-season before a sidedress application. Stock nitrate samples at the end of the season. Tissue sampling, manure testing, and then, of course, if you have irrigators, that’s another important thing to consider because we need to look at nitrates in the water.

Andrew Lambert:

So, nitrates in the water. Are there any specific examples that you know of within our territory of Centra Sota?

Andrew Lambert:

I know we spanned the West side of the Twin Cities all the way up to more or less vacation land, Brainerd, down to the Glencoe and South area of the world. Is there any specific examples where collecting this information, soil nitrate, water nitrate test, has affected growers already?

Amy Robak-Bruce:

Yeah. So, once you get North of St. Cloud, along the Highway 10 Corridor, it’s a very, very sandy piece of ground for a long ways. And there’s a lot of large pivots up there along with potato acres and edible bean acres. So, one thing I’m encouraging producers in that area is to take well irrigation, well nitrate samples, and continue to take them for years at a time so we can get a good basis to show the NRCS or DNR and PCA that we are being proactive and we’re not actually contributing to nitrates in the water.

Andrew Lambert:

Yeah. So, again, I see a trend developing here of having historic layers of information, whether it may be machine-captured data from Farmobile or agronomic captured data such as soil samples or water samples is becoming extremely important. So, knowing that and what the growers may need to start focusing on, would you have a general genre of growers that are going to be most affected first in the state of Minnesota?

Amy Robak-Bruce:

Yeah, so right now with different things that are happening with different watersheds, the first thing is a forest. They’re going to be looking at the larger animal operations, those concentrated animal feeding operations. CAFOs is what they call them. So, anything over a thousand plus animal units. So, they’re going to look at those operations first. They have to submit yearly paperwork, things like that. In 2021, the new regulation for Minnesota for the CAFOs will be coming out, so that’ll be interesting to see what that’s going to look like. So, that’s the first area they’re going to look at. The next area is going to be looking at that central Minnesota area and, of course, the sandy soils just because we’re doing a lot of research with degrading the water quality up there with nitrates and then, of course, taking out too much water in different streams and things like that with the irrigators.

Andrew Lambert:

Yeah. So, that’s some of the insights we see and I think beyond Minnesota it can travel. We’ve seen examples from other areas of the country too. And Steve from being down a little bit more South, have you seen examples where farmers have run into certain situations, having to prove application records or whatever it may be, to maybe defend our right to some degree when it comes to applying nutrients both from livestock or commercial?

Steve Cubbage:

Definitely. I don’t think any state is immune from what’s going to happen. I mean, some states are further advanced and obviously have more regulations, but it’s happening. Back in my home state of Missouri, where we did a lot of operations, there’s a lot of poultry operations, especially there in that Southwest part of the state going down into Arkansas. That was definitely on the minds of a lot of those guys. One of the things that … I mean, soil testing was always just required if poultry litter was going on from some of these operations and what happened was, they had to start expanding out to newer fields and a larger radius to basically get rid of that litter.

Steve Cubbage:

You just have to play by the rules, otherwise you’re going to get … bad things may happen. So, certainly, whether you’re in Minnesota or Missouri, you’re going to just have to have that record of what’s going on and have the equipment and the time and the expertise to make that happen.

Andrew Lambert:

Yeah. So, again, I think that there’s going to be rough waters ahead potentially for the growers having to navigate what they can and can’t do. And through our nutrient management program here at Centra Sota cooperative and having an on-staff TSP, Amy is going to help us provide that guidance to the grower and partnering with companies like Farmobile and working with people like Steve is going to enable that grower to make sure we’re collecting the information they need to continue farming in the future and maybe prove their sustainability or whatever it may be.

Steve Cubbage:

I think that’s a good point on the sustainability side. Nutrient management kind of gets the real focus, especially if you’re a livestock producer of any size, but this data that’s being collected literally from the fields. Centra Sota uses a lot of software systems to deliver the services to their growers and, and I think that’s the misnomer. There’s not just one single system that literally does it all. There’s several systems. And with that data has to be able to flow into those systems. I know that sustainability is right there alongside nutrient management because they use a lot of the same data and I think that’s what the grower needs to realize is that regardless of whether you’re doing it on the sustainability side, a lot of it crosses over to the nutrient management side and vice versa. So, you’re going to hear a lot about sustainability here in the next year or so. It’s going to become a big, big deal.

Andrew Lambert:

Right. To wrap it up, Amy, do you have any final comments or words of wisdom for our potential customers and customers here at Centra Sota?

Amy Robak-Bruce:

I think Steve is right when he just said sustainability is going to become a huge deal and proving to the government that our farmers are sustainable, which they are. They do a great job out in the countryside looking and managing the rules and regulations. It’s just hard sometimes to get their voice to the government. So, one of my goals is to help bring that voice to the government agencies and say, “Our producers are doing this well. We have the data to back this up. Can we potentially lessen some laws, regulations, things like that in the future?” So, I think it’s an important part. And then, of course, keeping records. That’s just a huge, huge part is keeping records.

Steve Cubbage:

I think it’s always good to be proactive. I mean, as a grower, I don’t think you can lose with that approach. It’s when you become reactive that bad things sometimes happen and the ability to have someone to guide you through that, I think obviously in Amy’s role, she does a tremendous job and there’s plenty of work to do obviously. I mean, I look at that, why do you have a financial advisor down at Edward Jones or whatever? In this case, literally to be able to navigate some of the aspects of what’s going on in there today. There’s no way at the individual farmer level, you can keep up with it all, knowing what’s coming at you. That’s really the benefit of having the Centra Sota team with Amy literally as part of the whole Yield Quest Team from the nutrient management side because there’s so much crossover as well on the agronomy side as well. Andrew, obviously, you bring that to the table in your team on the agronomy side. So, that’s a win-win.

Andrew Lambert:

Yeah. So, I want to thank everybody for tuning in the podcast today. This is going to be wrapping up our first episode focusing on nutrient management and I hope we have more to come. I know there’s plenty more to dive into with individual programs. They are constantly changing. So, thanks everybody for tuning in. Thank you, Steve, and thank you, Amy, for joining us today and hope to talk to you guys again.

Steve Cubbage:

Sure will. Thank you, Andrew.

Amy Robak-Bruce: Thank you