Testing for the Future: Sound’s First Sustainability Field Day
At Sound’s Inaugural Sustainability Field Day in Indiana, growers gathered with Advanced Agrilytics and the Sound Agriculture team to better understand how sustainability and profitability go hand in hand. Catch up on everything from results to expert perspectives on the future of innovation in farming. Your crops will thank you.
About 30 minutes outside of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, blending in seamlessly with the vast spread of surrounding corn and soy fields, lies one of a handful of Advanced Agrilytics testing facilities. At first glance, a strip of everyday fields sits behind a workshop, with their only stand-out quality being a modest half-acre size. Closer inspection reveals a subtle but advanced system at play. Each of the plots sits atop a buried drainage system, which channels and accumulates every drop of water and all nutrients not used by the crop.
This simple but innovative apparatus provides crucial insights into the effects of different products and growing strategies; not just on a potential grower’s ROI, but also the surrounding environment and climate at large. By comparing the amount of water applied to each field using collected runoff, the system tells us the impact different strategies have on plant uptake. The same holds for nitrogen — outgoing water is tested to determine the concentration of nitrate runoff.
On a recent August afternoon, a group of some 40 growers gathered at the Advanced Agrilytics facility. Together with the Sound Agronomy team and other experts, the group convened with the goal of gleaning insights into different strategies for more efficient management of their land. They formed the basis of Sound’s inaugural Sustainability Field Day.
Sustainable Innovation Starts in the Soil
Unexpected growing challenges pose an intensifying threat at the national and global level, taking the form of more frequent weather events, diminishing top soils, and historic droughts. Growers have responded with a renewed thirst for innovations to help minimize the impact of climatic events and give way to more resilient crops. One of those innovations is SOURCE.
The beauty of third party testing is anonymity. The Field Day group passed by a thriving field treated with an unnamed product. Less outgoing N means more bang for our farmer’s buck, but also a victory for ecosystems and populations at risk for nitrate runoff. The product used? SOURCE Corn. With maintained yield and minimized loss, SOURCE had quietly succeeded in Indiana.
Across nine locations in IN, OH and IL, Advanced Agrilytics sets up a standard practice of both full and reduced rates of applied N, with and without SOURCE on both. SOURCE Corn in particular was compared to control fields at N rates of 170 lbs and 220 lbs/acre. With 170 lbs N, SOURCE improved yield by over 14 bu/acre. Our product also cranked up water quality and nutrient retention, showing 9% lower nitrate levels following application. Reduced N and SOURCE applications can deliver an irresistible win-win to farmers, who naturally want more than just improved yield.
In the words of Jane Stautz of Advanced Agrilytics, “We can really show how new technology can help improve nitrogen and water efficiency, whether in streams or underground… farmers now see, through field trials, the benefits and how they can integrate that into their farm.”
Through Advanced Agrilytics advanced testing systems, the Sound Sustainability Field Day was able to draw a clear connection: an investment in soil health leads to major savings.
Sustainable Practices, Profitable Practices
Making the case that N reduction can boost profitability has not always been straightforward. That’s especially true when there’s scant data coming from real-use applications by farmers, who often hesitate due to risk of losses should a product falter. Sound’s Nitrogen Reduction Pilot Program faced that challenge head-on by underwriting the potential risk 100%.
The cost of N is high as it is, but both increasing prices and supply-chain issues seem to be here to stay, at least for awhile. Support through the Pilot Program first and foremost aims to forge the path to reducing application on a global scale — by as much as 30%. As per our classic example, just four gallons of SOURCE can replace an entire semi-truck full of N. The combined N reduction of the 24 pilot program participants with verified results comes out to 242,111 lbs, equivalent to 1.1M lbs CO2, or 110 cars off the road.
Fitzgerald, CEO of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action, explained during the Field Day panel that agriculture is “nature’s only proven machine that can suck carbon out of the air… When [growers] make a change in their farm this season, we’re actually seeing those carbon benefits for 2040 and 2050. So it’s our farming, working land that can solve climate change.”
At the same time, those changes need to include significant payoffs to increase profitability for farmers who lead the way forward. The so-called ‘decade of agriculture’ described by growers and scientists alike only progresses with the right support. With momentum behind them, Fitzgerald believes there is enormous value to be explored moving forward.
“Measure environmental attributes. If I think about two crops, corn and soy, adding cover crops is a third, and the fourth is your soil. Soil will ultimately be considered an asset in and of itself. The fifth crop is the data and innovation farmers are doing.” Fitzgerald believes these additional assets set farmers up for unique profits, providing a safety net as they bring innovations to their own fields.
The seasonal nature of agriculture makes lasting change difficult, particularly when best practices differ from one region to the next, or even from farm to farm. Kasey Bramberger joined the panel with insights from her ambitious growing operation in Southwest Ohio, but knows that the most promising way forward is with gradual and appropriate change. She hopes to be “1% better than we were the previous year in a certain area. You don’t have to utilize all the tools in the toolbox.”
The next decade will be super-saturated with opportunities to innovate. More and more, data can be counted on to inform better practices from an economic and environmental perspective. A long lineup of crucial farmer benefits such as carbon crediting markets will continue to wait in the wings, promising to expand profit margins. In the meantime, ROI-based farming is exploding with products like SOURCE. Advanced Agrilytics itself has taken to recommending SOURCE based solely on the success of their trials.