#onthefarm with Darin Grimm

On Thursday morning, I interviewed Darin Grimm from Kansas for the Twitter interview series On the Farm. I thought it was a great discussion (but I’m biased), as Darin gave background on his family’s operation, the disappearance of wheat acres in Kansas and his interest in precision ag and how he’s helping farmers get the best hybrids in the best fields.

The transcript of the interview is below. Enjoy!

n_web: This week’s #onthefarm will prob. be the last chance to hear from a corn & soy farmer until after harvest. Hope you can follow along.

n_web: Darin farms corn, soybeans, wheat and sunflowers in NE Kansas with his father. They also have a feeder cattle operation.

n_web: The farm is on dryland acres so soil and water conservation is important. Nearly all of the land is no-till.

n_web: Darin also has an interest in precision agriculture. We’ll try to cover some of that as well today.

n_web: Once Darin sends a tweet that he’s here, we’ll commence this week’s Q&A. Hope you enjoy it!

kansfarmer: Nick, Thanks for inviting me to this Twitter interview, look forward to sharing our little corner of the ag world

n_web: Let’s get started: Q1: Tell me a little bit more about your family’s farm, if you can add on to the description I gave.

kansfarmer: We are clear in NE corner of Kansas, mostly corn-bean rotation

kansfarmer: Right on edge of “good” corn country – much drier not very far west, really good crop production to our east

kansfarmer: Our 10 year avg corn yield about 135 – lower than cornbelt as we usually turn hot/dry early to mid July

n_web: Q2: Is there a lot of variability in that 135 avg.? Like 75 one year and 150 the next? I’m guessing rain is hit or miss there?

kansfarmer: Your exactly right Nick — in the last 10 years we have had about 3 years under 100 bu/acre and a couple at 180 or better

kansfarmer: Thankfully this looks to be one of the better years as long as we can get the crop harvested

n_web: Q3-4: Two parts: Does the yield range hold for your beans and wheat? and . . .

n_web: . . . How’s does that range affect planning for the next year? Seed, input, financials, etc. ? I would imagine it’s stressful.

n_web: clarification: I meant to say “does the wide range in yields hold for beans and wheat?”

kansfarmer: Wheat is much more stable, usually too wet in spring for good wheat here, but over time wheat doesn’t work as well

kansfarmer: Tremendous decline in wheat acres here last 10-20 years – we just plant corn and take our chances!

kansfarmer: On beans, same variability as corn, but less range – and generally our bean yields are closer to the “good” areas than corn

kansfarmer: Therefore, not much interest in corn on corn here except bottom ground or the little irrigation we have

kansfarmer: As far as yield range affecting planting, I guess it’s all I know -you just know you might have real short crop any given year

kansfarmer: Sometimes can be a little envious of the “cornbelt” and the yield stability, but their costs (esp. land/rent) are higher as well

n_web: Q5: You touched on decline in wheat acres. Several thoughts as to why. What’s your take?

kansfarmer: Here, decline in wheat acres simply issue of profitability – although more variable corn and beans have higher returns over time

kansfarmer: Same is true of grain sorguhm, I remember some of our poorer ground we would never plant corn on years ago

kansfarmer: Now, it has been probably 10 years or more since we planted sorghum – better corn hybrids that take our stress

kansfarmer: Genetics is probably an issue with wheat as well – seems like only small improvements vs. what’s happened with corn/beans

n_web: Q6: So, improved genetics has helped your farm in the past decade. What else? Better equip.? Better agronomics? More data?

kansfarmer: It’s hard to point to one thing that has improved our productivity – everything you mention plays a part

kansfarmer: Overall, it is just a continuous process of trying to improve, learning what works/didn’t and then doing better next time

n_web: Two more farm Qs and then switch topics: Q7: What’s your pre-harvest routine? When do you expect to get in the field this fall?

kansfarmer: We actually cut a fair amount of high moisture corn for cattle feed, so we have been running for a week or so

kansfarmer: Looks like beans will go next week, unusual for us to pick beans before dry corn but will happen this year

n_web: Looks like you may have just answered, but to make sure: Q from @nwksgmd4: Where does your corn go? Cattle feed? Ethanol?

kansfarmer: Pre-harvest routine — don’t ask this year,,,,

kansfarmer: Too many projects to finish before harvest, so it was pretty much hop in the combine and pray ir runs!!

kansfarmer: Corn – part to cattle feed, part railed out to wherever needed, part to ethanol

n_web: Q8: What’s the benefit of feeding high-moisture corn to cattle? For the non-ag folks . . .

kansfarmer: Have to ask a nutritionist for feed details, but advantage for us is it lets us get started on harvest earlier and not pay drying

kansfarmer: Before we started feeding a wet ethanol by-product feed ration was really dry and HM corn helped that, but that issue is gone

n_web: Let’s move to something you’re excited about: precision ag and tech stuff for ag. Take a couple tweets to explain your interest.

kansfarmer: Have been fascinated with computers since mom and dad got first one back in early 80’s and I was still a kid…

kansfarmer: My main interest is data and numbers and trying to use them to improve our decision making process

kansfarmer: Help some local ag service providers and farmers with mapping/doing varible rate applications, and trying to make sense of it all

n_web: Q9: Have you made any sense of it yet? :) Or is it too early to tell? Guessing farmers like to have all the data for their farm?

kansfarmer: We’ve learned a lot – primarily how little we know..

kansfarmer: It was easy to think that all this data would somehow have magjc answers, but probably complete wrong approach

kansfarmer: Really, data and analysis of it, no matter how sophisticated, is really just a tool

kansfarmer: Farmers, or any other manager, then combine that with all the other items used in making a decision, to hopefully improve

kansfarmer: That kinda sounds all mumbo-jumbo and like a used care salesman or something – for specifics…

kansfarmer: We are varying seed rates based on ability of soil to produce (that we have gained from prior year yield maps and soil mapping)

n_web: Can you explain “variable rate applications” for those who don’t know what that means? How would that help a farmer?

kansfarmer: Also, trying to place hybrids in the right fields, sometimes in the right parts of big fields

kansfarmer: “Variable rate applications” is putting right amount of product where it is needed rather than treating an entire field the same

kansfarmer: It is about maximizing the economics of each “part” of a field, rather than the entire field

kansfarmer: Also, esp. in case of fertilizer, there are large environment benefits as less change for runoff of excess

n_web: Q10: And that helps with yields and efficiency, correct?

kansfarmer: Yep, sometimes adding product where we know we can get better yields, in others less product where soil simply won’t grow much

kansfarmer: All about getting best yield possible at least cost in each location

kansfarmer: And no question we are very much in “learning” mode on how to do all this correctly…

n_web: Q11: So the farmer has all this data. Are we getting to a point where it’s information overload? Or is all of it that imp.?

kansfarmer: But that is no different than ag has ever been — make improvements were you can and keep moving forward

kansfarmer: Too much data — absolutely a problem…. No diff than how many people feel overloaded with the messages in their Twitter stream?

kansfarmer: It’s hard to punch a button and say “this is what farmer X needs to know” – farmer X has to figure that out..

kansfarmer: Even in are case, there is always tradeoffs — when the crop needs harvested and the yield monitor isn’t working, we harvest!

n_web: Q12: How do you feel your family’s farm is situated for the next decade? What do you need to do to stay in biz and profitable?

kansfarmer: A key issue for future change from farmer working alone in his fields from dawn to dusk – now connected world even ag is in

kansfarmer: In our biz, I hope we can build those relationships needed while still maintaining the traditional farmer work ethic

n_web: Final Q: What are your thoughts on the state of ag in Kansas? Big state with different climates and farming ops? (More)

n_web: . . . I’m guessing water issues/rights will play an even larger role in the future? Are you exp. any of the water issues?

kansfarmer: Interesting ?, I have been involved in a technology group in Kansas (KARA) and have had opp. to meet farmers across the state

kansfarmer: Water issues are big in the western part of the state, I don’t know the issues completely..

kansfarmer: But as always it is important for all groups involved to work together to find common ground, fair to all

n_web: Thanks, Darin, for the time today. Sorry we went over a bit. Great insight. Hope you found it worthwhile! I know I did!

kansfarmer: Sorry, correct link for followfarmer database is: http://bit.ly/Mg10O (expand )

n_web: Yes, good call on the #followfarmer. Plenty of great aggies to follow there. I need to catch up on some of them!

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