This image represents half-acre, 1.0-acre, and 2.5-acre grid sampling methods. On a 2.5-acre grid, a sample is pulled every 330 feet compared to a half-acre grid where a sample is drawn every 150 feet.

Layers of sustainability for a better future

By Matt Reese

The term sustainability has been closely tied to agriculture for many years, but to be truly sustainable, farms rely upon a broad network of agribusinesses focused on sustainability for their businesses as well as the farms they serve.

This summer, the Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) is working with member businesses highlighting the benefits of these layers of sustainability for Ohio agriculture as a whole.

Chris Henney, president and CEO of OABA, has put significant organizational emphasis on sustainability.

“Sustainability probably means a little something different to almost everyone, but when I think about sustainability, I think about a three-legged stool. I think about it in terms of what most people think of as the traditional environmental sustainability. We want to be good stewards of our environment, but it also has to make economic sense from a business standpoint. You have to be able to stay in business to be sustainable,” Henney said. “And then finally there’s a social aspect to it too. How are we good neighbors? How are we operating in regard to the rest of the community and the state? Do we have the right to farm and permission to operate? So, sustainability to me means social, economic and environmental — having all three of those to make sure that businesses and farms can continue to operate and be viable for generations into the future.”

In terms of services for enhancing membership sustainability, OABA houses the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program, which serves as a voluntary third-party audit for participating ag retailers and crop consultants.   

“We also make sure that our members have the right information and are connected with the right programs. That could be government programs or trends in the private sector to help them take advantage of things that they can use as a company and use with their customers and partners at the farm level as well,” Henney said. “Also, you’re not going to be sustainable if you have regulations or legislation passed that makes it difficult to continue to operate, whether that be at the farm level or the agribusiness level. So OABA serves as the advocate for our industry alongside farm organization and commodity organization representatives. We lobby on behalf of our companies at the Statehouse in particular, but also at the federal level and a little bit at the local level to make sure that we have a sustainable business climate in the state of Ohio. In fact, advocating for Ohio AgriBusiness by creating a sustainable business climate is a portion of our mission statement. To do that we’re bringing groups together that might not exactly see issues the same. We have a great partnership with The Nature Conservancy and a few other environmental organizations. We bring them to the table along with farm groups, government folks and others to try to come to positive solutions on issues.”

From an organizational framework, OABA serves its members in these ways, who are then better equipped to serve farmers on the ground, implementing sustainable agricultural practices. Dave Scheiderer, CCA, and CFO of Integrated Ag Services (IAS) has been helping farmers be more profitable and better environmental stewards for more than 30 years.

“Several years ago now, IAS became 4R certified. As CCA crop advisors, we always felt like our job was to balance customer profitability while maintaining land stewardship through solid agronomy. Since becoming 4R certified we have become more focused on the environmental impact using modern crop production practices,” Scheiderer said. “Some of the tools we use to improve environmental stewardship are high density soil sampling in half-acre grids or less, data analytics to determine best management practices emphasizing environmental impact, multi-layer variable rate prescriptions, and high-density scouting using artificial intelligence. With the increase in weed resistance, we use new technologies such as AI scouting for alternative methods of weed control.”

These practices can make a big difference on farms. With the recent spikes in fertilizer prices, for example, many farmers turned to agribusinesses like IAS to help more efficiently manage their nutrients.

HD Soil Sampling simply does a better job of “guessing” from soil test point to soil test point, ultimately providing the clearest and most accurate picture of what’s going on in your soil to guide variable rate technology.

“Soil sampling sets the foundation for everything you do on your farm. If you take care of the soil, the soil will take care of your crop,” said Evan Delk, CCA, IAS president. “While good soil conservation practices are critical to successful farming, not all soil sampling is created equal. HD Soil Sampling, or high-density soil sampling, is any grid soil sample density under one-acre grids. Those who have implemented HD Soil Sampling on their farms are surpassing record-breaking yields.”

The smaller sample areas help refine the specifics of the nutrients needed.

“Grid soil sampling is simply ‘guessing.’ The more technical term is ‘interpolating’ from soil test point to soil test point to determine what the levels are in that given part of the field. Essentially, the soil test points where the samples were collected create the nutrient zones recorded in your soil sample booklets,” Delk said. “There are tremendous amounts of nutrient variability in our soils. Using a football field as an example, if a soil sample is taken every 10 yards across the field, drastically different nutrient values will be found at each 10-yard line. The only way to combat this variability in our soil is to take more soil samples. The efficiency and accuracy of HD Soil Sampling can help identify the most profitable soil fertility programs to implement.”

The technology, paired with the expertise at IAS, and the framework of the 4R Certification Program, put to work on production acres in Ohio, makes for more profitable farms and a more sustainable future for all Ohioans.

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