Dan: [00:00:47] Oh my God, Dan. No, don’t tell any more stripper stories. Okay, well, let’s get this rolling. We already had to edit out a bunch of talk that was non PG, but that was already a lot of fun, but we’re going to get serious here on the Growing The Future podcast with a lovely couple from Antara Agronomy, Brunel and Jen Sabra.
And how you guys doing there today?
Bru: [00:01:11] Fantastic. How are you?
Dan: [00:01:12] Doing awesome. And the agricultural community, we just avoided a frost. So we’re all feeling, especially chipper this morning.
Bru: [00:01:21] You betcha,
Jenn: [00:01:21] especially after an almost two inch rain last weekend. Looking good.
Dan: [00:01:27] Good, good, good. Um, so there’s lots of interesting angles to talk about, uh, with you too this morning.
Um, we’re going to unpack some things professional, of course, being a married couple in the field of agronomy. Um, there’s some interesting aspects there, but I wanted to make a bit of a pact with you guys before we got going as agronomist. And no matter how technical my questions are regarding agronomy, you guys cannot answer “it depends”.
Bru: [00:02:04] Wow.
Dan: [00:02:08] This is the standard answer of every agronomist in the history of mankind. And it’s like completely gets them off the hook for anything that might ever happen.It depends.
My brother says it all the time. It drives me nuts. So, so as long as we’re good with that, we can, we can give her.
Bru: [00:02:23] It’s an interesting segue because part of what we do, and the reason that we started Antara was because we were tired of telling customers, it depends.
Dan: [00:02:32] Talk to me a little bit, like jumping right into that agronomy. We’ll get to your background, but what was the purpose or the why of you guys doing what you’re doing now? I read that it was to get rid of that. It depends. How do you get rid of that? It depends.
Bru: [00:02:49] Well, growing up on a grain farm in the valley here, We deal with a lot of heavy clay soils and nutrient uptake.
We’re usually dealing with excess moisture. I guess working as a agronomist, that a number of retails and independent consulting agencies, and I was getting set up with a lot of the research that’s being done is usually over a wide geography. So I was looking for more information that was specific to my growers in the red river Valley.
So part of the reason that we started the company in 2016 was to put more of a focus on what’s providing local agronomic recommendations. In a sense, you know, we will, we like to use the phrase small data before big data, but a big emphasis of what we do is, is, um, digging into the local conditions and doing a lot of on farm trials and leveraging peer groups or a bunch of growers working together to try to find new solutions to our specific problems.
Dan: [00:03:46] Absolutely. So we’ll get into how you guys defend against that unknown segment as, as agronomist. I’m very fascinated by that, but tell me a little bit about how you guys got together. And then this business came to be, and Jennifer, you had an agricultural background, but you weren’t immediately working in the business.
You came into the business as a fit later. Tell me about a little bit about the evolution of that.
Jenn: [00:04:11] Well, I mean, I met Bru in university when we were doing, I was doing my ag degree. And then after that I did my masters worked in the industry. And then, uh, I was, I taught at the University of Brandon or ACC. Did a bit, a bit of that stuff. And then when we started having our kids, I stayed home for four years or so, and then really missed the teaching aspect of things. So I decided to go back and, and do an ed degree. So then I was a public school teacher here in st. Jean. For a couple of years, just, you know, to stay here, stay home, stay closer to the kids, kind of match their schedule, which then didn’t match Bru’s schedule. Cause whenever the kids and I were free in the summer was his busy time. And so it was the kids would get one parent or the other. And so we actually started Antara in the fall of 2014. And by 2016 is when Bru had grown it to a point where he couldn’t do all of the research because there’s industry asking us to do research, he was doing. You know, field scale trials on a smaller scale, but still doing his own, like doing field scale research plus, you know, walking the fields and doing all the scouting. So it was too much. So it was either we look for someone that had a, an ag background with a master’s degree or I leave teaching and fill that role. So, um, that’s scary throwing all your eggs into one basket in a fairly young company. We have four kids, so, you know, that’s a big, big responsibility to, um, you know, to think about and to feel secure. But, you know, I think we definitely are happy with the decision that we made. We can really tailor our schedule around what the girls need, obviously, except for when it’s peak season and it’s a go time in the field. And, uh, yeah, it’s been, it’s been a really good fit so far.
Dan: [00:06:17] That’s a cool story. And I was kind of wondering, so my understanding of you too, and I know you guys a little bit, uh, and getting to know you better working with you, but Bru, you’re kind of the visionary and Jenn, you’re kind of the integrator, if you will.
So I’m wondering like how did this all come together? You know, if, if who was pursuing who and how did, what was the initial attraction here? How did that all work out?
Bru: [00:06:48] Oh boy,
Dan: [00:06:52] there had to be a beginning. Yeah. I mean,
Bru: [00:06:57] Uh,
Jenn: [00:06:59] we’ve known each other since 1994.
Bru: [00:07:01] Yeah. We went our separate ways after university and then ran into each other again, 10 years later or so things went off from there. We’re both passionate about agriculture. We’re both scientifically minded. We both like trying to find answers and teaching others or sharing knowledge with others, teaching them things that we’ve learned or passing the information on.
So it’s been a really nice fit that way, you know, and Jen, with the teaching background and the science background really integrates well with doing research, writing reports and stuff. I guess we work really well together because I’m more of the dreamer and the big visionary thinker. And see the big picture. We’re as Jenn is more organized, pays attention to detail So we compliment each other in that way. I’m the dreamer, she’s the doer.
Dan: [00:07:55] Well, that’s a great fit. So when you guys started your business, was the research something that you wanted to have part of it right away or did that kind of come later out of necessity.
Bru: [00:08:06] It’s something that we did right off the haul. Um, it’s something that I was already doing in my career. In agriculture, the advent of GPS technology and guidance and scaled cards makes it a lot easier for producers to conduct on farm research than it had been in the past.
So it’s leveraging that technology to learn as we go. Like typically when we start with the customer there. The biggest hangup is the extra time that it takes the way off trials at harvest, but there are tricks to the trade. And once they’ve done a couple of trials or a couple of years, they realize that it’s not a real problem, that there’s a lot of things that we can do to make it less time intrusive.
We’ve had a really good uptake with the on farm research part of it.
Jenn: [00:08:49] And we do all our own protocols and we take a look at the equipment that we’re going to be using like their equipment. So we take, we take a look at all, like what’s the best way to harvest very efficiently. So there’s very little cleanup or downtime, wasted time. We’re always looking for efficiency.
And I think that’s the big difference where maybe 10 or 15 years ago, maybe a producer got a jug of this or a jug of that and okay. Just apply it. And then we’ll see what happens at, at harvest. But we’re taking a look at really, uh, you know, whether it be, you know, we tend to do like six strips we’re looking to, to, uh, Take into account all of the field variability by, you know, spraying say for example, spring or applying our treatments, the length of the field, we’re crossing ditches so that, you know, we’re taking up those types of variables.
When they spray, we try to get them to scrape perpendicular to the treatment strips. So we have the same number of tracks crossing all the strips, you know, so we do all of that thinking so that when it comes time to analyze all of the data, we can really see that there’s the, we try to limit as many variables, right.
So it’s just our treatment versus the standard. Or the check and that’s where I think back, you know, 10, 15 years, maybe the producers, not a lot of that thinking on their plates. And so maybe it just became too much and they just, I’m just, I’m done with it kind of thing. And it helps when we’re standing there in the field and they are going to finish the harvest the trial versus just saying, huh? The heck with these flags and let’s just harvest rain’s coming or whatnot.
Dan: [00:10:33] Yeah. I hear a lot about how trials are incredibly hard to complete for producers. I mean, there’s always that good intention when they’re still on the ground, but it’s incredibly hard to actually execute on these trials.
Bru: [00:10:43] But part of what we do too, though, is we have an on farm research network or a group of growers.
So there is accountability that forces, the growers to do a proper job of implementing and collecting the data. So in our group, we typically run 15 to 20 producers. We’ll host two trials, each two field scale trials, but then we pool all the data together. It’s tremendous value for our growers that they do two trials, but they get the results back from the forty.
Dan: [00:11:12] You know, I was talking to David Laulin who’s on the ag days board with me about that. And he was talking about the program and he said it was just tremendous value because the data was so specific to his farm, that it really had a whole different dimension of value. One thing I find with, with trial data and results, it doesn’t matter what sort of results you’re getting around the world, or even even different parts of the same province.
Producers want to see how that service or product physically works in their field before they’re sold on it. Right.
Bru: [00:11:51] For sure. And in our group, we’re evaluating a lot of, it’s not only evaluating new products or practices, it’s also evaluating what we’re currently doing and maybe we shouldn’t be doing, but yeah, everything that we do within the group is all within a 20 mile radius.
So like you mentioned the best compare, what works on your farm and it’s all, all of the data gets collected by ourselves, which ensures consistency in the data. So we might run the trial, the same trial on three different fields, but we’ll see a result on one field and not the other. So we’re better positioned to explain why, where the product may or may not work so that we can learn how to better implement it going forward to.
Dan: [00:12:34] Do you guys have a secret handshake?
Jenn: [00:12:39] Not that we’re willing to share.
Dan: [00:12:44] Pay your money before you get that secret handshake. Yeah, I knew it.
I knew it.
You know, I’m wondering a little bit about that because if I’m a producer and I’m approaching you guys, it seems like a little bit of exclusive cloud. I’m like, Hey guys, I want to be in the Antara agronomy club. Is there a limit to how many producers can come in? Are you just working with producers in that capacity? They’re doing research with you or are you scouting for others? Do you know? It got to know the secret handshake. How do you get in this club?
Bru: [00:13:10] The on farm research club, the farmers pay us basically to manage or facilitate the collection of the data and the printing of the reports.
Jenn: [00:13:21] But they also get full agronomy on those fields. So I’m there usually weekly, if not couple times a week, if we’re watching for insects or something like that. So there’s, you know, there’s a good package, I guess you could say that’s included with that part.
Bru: [00:13:37] Or there has to be a fit that has to be producers that are interested in learning and interested to put in the time.
That want to want to learn and continually want to get better. That asks a lot of questions. So when we talk about the peer group learning, when we have our meetings and get everybody in the same room together, too, there’s incredible ideas that are shared in knowledge. I think that that’s part of the appeal for some guys as well.
Dan: [00:14:01] I bet that’s a huge part of the value. How do you guys structure that in terms of getting together in the meeting? Obviously COVID has been a bit of a hiccup speed bump here, but, uh, do you guys usually get together a couple times a year and discuss what’s going on?
Bru: [00:14:15] Yeah, up until now. It’s more in the winter, we’ll meet, two or three more times during the winter, just to discuss what we saw in the trials this year, what we want to do for next year.
Dan: [00:14:25] So help me understand as a producer, I mean, people are always trying to figure out what products to use or what’s going to give them an edge or where to spend their money. And there’s so much stuff out there that I feel like it’s hard not to become jaded about products and practices. And especially if you’re under a lot of adversity, maybe just going back to tried and true practices is the best way, but in the Pantheon of different data that you can collect, you know, on the spectrum of, you know, replicated, you know, a small plot, you know, uh, the trial data.
The research stations, and then you guys are doing very, very controlled, replicated stuff, but you’re doing it on a field scale unless correct me if I’m wrong. And then of course, there’s the old throw a jug in and see if the crop is tolerant and you think you got more yield. So where do you guys fit in?
What do you think is a good mix for data? If you’re farmer looking at using a product, or if you’re a guy like me looking at bringing products to the market,
Bru: [00:15:22] what’s the deal on data?
Jenn: [00:15:24] Well, I mean, when we first started, we would do four replicates because if you just do one side of the field versus another side, right? Like, so say, you know, 10, 15 years ago you put a jug in the tank spree, half the field, well, even without treating that particular field any differently without a trial, you might have better production from one side or the other just based on field history. If there was a farm yard or maybe there’s animals that were kept there. So there could already be variables in the field. Right? So what we like to do is have a minimum of four replicates. We prefer six just because you never know if hail, insects, um, an error at seeding or spraying, harvest, and taking into account. Error human error. And then we want to have three solid reps minimum so that you can say two worked, one didn’t, you know, cause otherwise it’s one works versus the other. So that’s where the side by side trials have very little validity in my eyes. And, uh, you can’t really put much statistical significance behind it.
So when we start to do many more replicates, you know, that’s where the producers at first would get a little concerned. Cause they’re like, wow, that’s a lot. But then once they start to see what can happen throughout a year, you don’t know where the bugs are going to show up. You don’t know if you’re going to get hail.
You don’t know if there is going to be a human error aspect of the trials in order to capture statistically significant data, we have to have enough reps. And so I know have moved to six and sometimes we only get to harvest four or five because of those afforemationed, you know, unexpected things that happen in a year.
Um, but yeah, that’s where, you know, you need to, and then if we’re just doing one treatment versus another, we’ll do alternating strips so that we can really capture the variability in a field. And there’s no bias to one particular treatment or the other, if we’re looking at three they’re friends, Treatments are more, there’ll be a randomized complete block design so that the computer generates my, my plot layout completely randomized.
And there’s absolutely no bias towards one treatment or the other. And then you’re looking at. These treatments in the same field, just replicated across the fields so that you can cause that field, you know, yes, there’s variability, but it’s gonna see the same weather generally. I mean, you might have, if it’s a half section, you might have some more like more rain on one side than the other, depending on the cloud. But typically you’ll have the same type of weather. You’ll have the same type of bug pressure, that kind of a thing. So we’re really trying to eliminate as many variables as we can with also accounting for field variability.
Dan: [00:18:20] As you’re talking, I’m just thinking, how much have you learnt about agronomy just by virtue of doing this research? Like it’s a whole different level of engagement with the field, with the producer, with that feedback loop. How has it, how do you think it’s made you guys better as agronomist.
Bru: [00:18:38] It Depends
Dan: [00:18:41] Aww, you did it. You broke the pact. No. Start over. I thought you were doing really good up until that point.
Bru: [00:18:54] It’s answered some questions, but it’s definitely opened up a whole lot more. Mmm, but going back to the other part of your question was how do we decide what trials to run? So if we typically, like in our group, we had 40 trials, we might have 10 or 12 that we replicated on three or four different fields.
Like whether, if it’s a fertility trial seeding rate, or a growth regulator, let’s say that kind of stuff. But then each individual farmer is free to choose their own trails and they come up with some of their own ideas. And we’ve got one, it’s not really a trial this year, but we have a grower that wanted to try soybeans and wheat.
That’s what he means on 30 inch rows and then we’ve got twin row in between, but there’s always these one off trials or some guys really want to push the envelope and figure out how much nitrogen or how much fertility they can sock to a field. So we have all of these one off trials that we try. Okay. If we see interesting results, then we’ll replicate it the next year on more fields or with more growers, just to try and get more information. There’s some trials we run two or three years to get better information across different weather conditions. And then other trials ideas are driven off. We have an agronomy benchmarking program that fits within our product ecosystem that a lot of growers, if we start seeing trends in there, we might say, okay, well maybe this is something that we should try to see if there’s actually something to it. One of those we trialed this year was adding a bit of phosphorus in furrow with our soybeans on low testing fields. We saw a bit of a bump in our benchmarking data. So now we’re implementing it in our on-farm trial. So everything compliments each other. When you look at the cycle of doing the planning in the winter and implementing and monitoring in the summer, then in fall, we evaluate everything and make a plan for next year. So it’s a continuous cycle of improvements with the guys that we work with.
Dan: [00:20:53] You said product ecosystem. How does that work? Is it a combination of the producers choosing what they, what they want to check out? Or do you have some corporate folks? I know myself, I’ve, you know, we’re working together on some trials on products to get some data to, how do you figure out what products to try out?
Jenn: [00:21:14] Almost right now, like on a first come first serve. So within the, within the research group, if we have like between 15 and 20 producers, I know that I have between 30 and 40 sites to manage, right. So we’ll have like 10 or 12 different trials, but then replicated across those. Those fields. And then I know I have capacity to take on industry trials such as yourself.
So then that’s where I can provide the high quality service that we offer to X number of industry trials. So, you know, that’s kind of where we, we tend to look and see how much can we cover while still maintaining the service that we, we will change what we offer, like are the quality of service.
So yeah, like if you contact me first and they’re like, well, I’ve got space free space for either the next person, but maybe the fourth industry or company calls and says that I’m like, okay, I don’t have capacity this year, but I can put you on the books maybe for next year. That kind of thing.
Bru: [00:22:15] It has to have an area or a fit with the growers as well.
[00:22:18] The growers have to be interested in it. Like we work with industry, but we also work closely with government extension, university extension, some of our peers and colleagues and producers. So having grown up in the Valley and been in the ag industry for 25 plus years, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we want to look at and what we shouldn’t, or maybe shouldn’t be looking at.
Dan: [00:22:42] So explain to some of the listeners. I know, I know Dallas Samson is a big fan of the show and he lives in the Red River Valley. So he gets it.
But for everybody else, that’s listening, that’s not in the Red River Valley. What is so specific about the Red River Valley? Because in my experience, it’s a universe unto its own.
And so many ways: the people, the soil, yeah. The culture.
Bru: [00:23:07] To Some people it’s a swear word.
Dan: [00:23:09] Well, I mean, I shouldn’t say that from my point of view as an outsider. I mean, I love it to death. I want to be a part of it. I want to do business there. But honestly, I found that, you know, they kind of have their ways of doing things.
The soils are so specific that you can’t just go in there and assume that something that works in Landsberg Saskatchewan, or, um, you know, Rosetown, Saskatchewan or bull violin, Alberta is going to work even remotely in the Red River Valley. True?
Bru: [00:23:39] Yeah If we look at the history of the Red River Valley, we’re on a glacial Lake bed, Laisha Lake Agassi. So 10,000 years ago, we were under icebergs up to 5,008 years ago. We were under a giant Lake , so were on where we are right in the bottom of the Valley, you know, a lot of our soils here, we’re sitting on 200 feet of heavy clay. So our big issue and very little topography. Now, right against the Red River is not bad, but you go five, 10 miles out, you have tons of drainage. This all used to be swamp until it was broken a hundred, 120 years ago. So when we’re talking elevation, you know, a lot of our fields, we might have two or three as little as two or three feet elevation on a half mile or a mile. So they’re high clay soil is very slow draining.
We’re generally not lacking much. Um, we’ve got lots of heat units. Not the coolest climate. So for some crops that hurts us where we’re not always the highest yielding, but we’re very consistent year to year to year it’s it’s, I’m sure it’s a lot more challenging in other areas with variable rainfall.
Were Typically for us rain isn’t delimiting factor. It’s more of an excess rain is more what’s going to hurt us. So it does lead to its challenges in you know, a nutrient uptake and trying to predict what’s going to happen. The fall before is very, very hard for us. We don’t have slider soils. We don’t have ridges that shed water.
Our variability depends on how much rain we get in season and how much and what stage of the crop was at.
Dan: [00:25:24] So being that you guys are site specific and the Red River Valley, what’s been some of the things that you guys have researched with your customers that have worked. Work the best. Do you have any examples of that, that you can share?
I mean, without having me to pay to be in the group or know the secret handshake?
Jenn: [00:25:42] Well, for example, like we do a lot of seeding rate trials and what we’ve seen the last few years with it being extremely dry that, you know, high seating rates aren’t necessarily, what’s going to bring you big yields. Right?
You know, I know companies, aren’t going to be happy. You hear that, but you know, when it’s dry out, uh, having fewer seats, I’m not saying which rates you’re going with, but high, the highest seeding rates, we’re not the best yielding rate. Treatment strips. And that’s likely because there’s just so much moisture because we didn’t have very much the last two growing seasons.
So if you have more plants, they’re competing for that moisture. And then the nutrient uptake is just not there because our soils like Bru said, like if we don’t have the rain, like those, the nutrients are held so tight in the clay that the plants can’t access it. So when you have more seeds in the ground, you’ve got more competition compared to a slightly lower.
Seeding rates, you can get the same or maybe even a bit better yields. And we did this, you know, across a bunch of different crops, that kind of thing. So I’m not giving away too many details, but that’s just an example where we can see if we can see it’s a dry fall in the spring. You know that we haven’t had much precipitation over winter and like the spring isn’t really looking very great in terms of moisture.
Some guys might want to take a look at this and go, Oh, you know, maybe I’ll dial back on my seeding. Right. And then if you do get some decent in-season, uh, Precipitation. Then we can take a look at maybe doing some top dressing where, you know, the nitrogen you had down, we’ll go towards yield. And then we can take a look at topping up protein or oil content, those kinds of things.
Dan: [00:27:26] How do you, how do you manage this secret sauce? I mean, obviously you guys have learned some things and, and just there’s like, you know, these customers are paying to be part of this, this information circle, that information is confidential amongst the group, right?
Bru: [00:27:42] Yeah, the information that’s within the group, the group itself chose to keep the information within the group.
So they pay for it. It’s exclusive to themt, or they’re not allowed to share it outside of the group, the industry trials that are paid for by industry, the data belongs to them. So we don’t share it outside. It’s up to them, what they want to do with the data. Um,
Jenn: [00:28:02] Other than change it,
Dan: [00:28:06] right? Yeah. We don’t want to be dealing with those unethical input retailers. That’s just not going to work, but no, that’s, that’s really interesting. Um,
Bru: [00:28:14] yeah, like Jen mentioned the last couple of years have been exceptionally dry in our area. So a lot of the things that we’re trying to do to push yields did not result in any extra yield.
We probably there’s a few cases where pushing plant populations did result in a drop in yield. Which is opposite of what we want, but a lot of the times, you know, we were getting similar yields. So, but when we’re looking at it, it’s not only when you look at the profit equation in farming, which is your, your yield times, your price, less your expenses.
We didn’t get any extra yield out of it, but we did incur extra expenses from going to higher seeding rates or using a fungicide or so on and so forth. So it’s not just about how hard can we push yeilds? It’s where can we. How can we better manage our expenses? So it it’s, it’s doing a better job of record keeping as producers too, when you’re comparing one year to the next.
What are we starting with for moisture? What are the, there’s still a lot. We still can’t predict mother nature to the level that would make a lot of these, this decision, make it easy. But if we can take things like nitrogen use efficiency and go from 50% to 60 or 70%, that’s already a big plus, you know, I don’t know that we’ll ever get to 90%.
Dan: [00:29:27] You talked about marrying the economics with the agronomy. How, what is the filter for figuring out if, if things pay agronomically? What’s the formula? Do you guys have a filter for ROI?
Bru: [00:29:40] Profitability equation and ROI, yeah? What is, what is the risk of, you know, when are we going to get what is going to be the return on investment?
You know, you want to, at least it. Two to one or three to one, I think on most inputs, most guys are targeting four or is it at the minimum, or at least going to break even where it’s not going to have a negative effect
Jenn: [00:30:02] And you see for us, like we’re not selling anything, we’re not selling any product. We’re not what we’re selling is ours, our knowledge and our services. Right? So, you know, we just really want to make sure that our producers that we’re working with are maximizing their profitability. So if we can. You know, we’re not looking for a big home runs every single time. You know, we might be looking for the two, 3%, you know, drop their expenses by two, 3%.
And in the end, you know, you get a really nice increase and then you can show an agronomist like a hired agronomist. Well, we can pay for ourselves and help with decision making and you know, can give you a little bit more time to, you know, see you the family, or just do other projects that you might want.
Cause you’re not stressing. Did I make the right decision? What about this? Should I do that? Is it time? I seen him with my neighbor out. Should I be spraying? What is he spraying? What does he have? You know, those kinds of things, because we travel in different fields. We see, okay. Oh yeah. This is a, you know, particular wheat pest this year, you know, grasshoppers have emerged and okay.
Those kinds of things. So they can provide that information and that outlook to the producers quite timely.
Dan: [00:31:15] I love that you mentioned quality of life and it’s great. If you can know that that’s something you’re actually offering to people. And I think that. You know, there’s an equation there. We have 15 different jams.
It’s very hard to know what jam to pick. If you got five, well, maybe you can kind of narrow it down and give it some thought, you know, you’re kind of burning calories, trying to figure out what jam to take. But if you got one big economical jam that you know is great, that’s at Costco. You only have to burn any energy.
So with all the decisions that farmers have to make, if you can give them clarity on that, that that is, you know, somebody like my friend, David Loughlin there, I think that’s how he sees it. Like he’s more in the know he can sleep more at night. He can make decisions easier from what he’s learned with you guys.
Jenn: [00:32:00] Yeah.
Bru: [00:32:01] I mean, he’s made the comment that I make less mistakes.
Dan: [00:32:05] Well, that’s the big thing in business. Isn’t it just don’t do anything stupid. That’s half the battle. So as, as coming from a farmer perspective and also as an industry guy, you know, there’s that room that you walk into at the trade show with all the Hazel drizzle juice, right.
And you want to be excited. You want to believe. That’s spraying this thing on there made who God knows what bug or this, then that thing will give you X amount of times, ROI or yield. But like what, what is the equation? Because there’s always that old farmer adage that, you know, if you put all this stuff on, well, you’d have 300 bushels.
Like it just can’t all be true. So do you guys look at it like you have a single bullet for each chamber, like. You know, you got your seed and you got your chemical and you got your fertility and you got your biological and you can only have one for each, or how do you, how do you manage that? Like how do guys know exactly what the optimum mix to put on is via your service?
Bru: [00:33:02] It’s in learning, it’s in doing proper replicated on farm trials, on your own farm and using your own equipment, you know, realizing they only need five bucks, but some of these products. It’s taking the time to properly evaluate them on your own farm. There’s no getting around guys ask all the time.
Should I do this? Should I do that? There’s a trial idea. Do a trial like we’re, we’re, it’s keeping an open mind and saying, okay, we’re willing to try and get different. These different things and see what makes sense, what doesn’t, or at least learn how to better use the product, you know, certain fungicides or certain microbes might have a fit in certain cases, but not always.
So it’s not something that you might use every year, but if it’s a wet year versus the dry year versus at a time when the crop is really stressed, these products have to fit, so it’s learning how to make these products sync in a sense.
Jenn: [00:33:54] Yeah. And essentially just know like, Bringing the other factors in such as you know, which crop on which field what’s the history on that particular field.
And then, you know, what, what are we trying to gain? Because if, like you said, if you go with adding five to 10 bushels or percent, yeah. We should be producing like 200% of the yield on every single field. And we know we don’t see that. So. And it’s also to know when you do need them when you don’t need it.
So the last two years, a lot of our producers, even though they budgeted for fungicides, because it was so dry, we didn’t have the scores, we didn’t have the disease pressure. So we were suggesting that our producers don’t spray, which made them really nervous because it’s budgeted. It’s just something that they have always done.
But when we walked the fields, we didn’t see the pressure it’s not there. And then you take a look it’s flowering by the time that the, if the spores were to develop, the plant would be out of this susceptible. You know a time, so it didn’t pay. So then, you know, there were producers like, wow, like that was, that was awesome.
But that’s something that you can’t just say, well, I’m never spraying fungicides again because that’s not, that’s not the way to go about it either. You have to have that knowledge and know when to apply that knowledge in every single situation.
Dan: [00:35:19] Yeah, no, I love it. I think that’s a really interesting aspect of coaching.
I know I get cautioned not to do certain things that I want to do, and that’s really tough. And I think about somebody like Evan Shout when he was presenting, he’s the CFO for Aberhart Farms and he’s got the consulting business, Maverick Ag, right? And he was talking to producers at farm forum this year about, well, if the economics don’t fit.
You shouldn’t be buying that piece of land regardless of how close it is to the home quarter. So sometimes you guys get to give advice that’s maybe outside of producers comfort zone, how do you find people’s level of coachability and how that all works? And you find some people aren’t really coachable at all and maybe not a fit or people, highly malleable to what you tell them.
Maybe Jen, you just get really just, Listen. This is what you’re going to do.
No backtalk. No.
Jenn: [00:36:12] What I’ve noticed coming into this industry, like later than, you know, Bru has been in it for, well, he grew up in it, but also like being an agronomist for like 25 years. So maybe say I came into the game a little bit on the late side. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of innovators and that’s a lot of fun, but then there’s also others that just sit and watch. They want to see proof before they adopt. And here’s my example. I mean, regenerative ag, cover crops, you know, preventing soil, wind erosion, really nourishing the soil, maintaining it so that the sustainability side of things, um, most people told me, Jen, I think you’ve fallen off your rocker with that.
And the Red River Valley. Those are swear words. Don’t talk about it. Like it doesn’t work here. And now like four years later, guys are like hey, the water’s like infiltrating more. We’ve got, like, we had mentioned, we have a producer. Who’s like, Oh, I’m going to do some intercropping just for fun. Can you help me keep an eye on it?
Yes. Yes, I can.
Sometimes it takes a little bit to get through that. We’ve always done it this way, but if we’re not getting the results, you have to do something different than what you’ve always done to get different results. Right. So, um, but it takes, it takes this special producers who are willing to give those 20 or 40 acres to just try and learn, and then we’re gonna adapt and then try and we’re going to tweak it and then we’ll apply that to the next year.
But you’d better believe there’s a lot of people watching. Cause when I’m scouting a field and I see vehicles like trucks start to slow down when they start to see flags and somebody in the field, they’re looking, they’re looking to see what’s going on.
Dan: [00:37:58] I bet. Well, farmers do watch each other to a large extent for sure.
And I, I always feel like farmers don’t do a lot of things that their neighbors might look at, you know, with, with consternation or just wonder is like, What are they, what are they doing? Like nobody wants to be seen as the one that’s, you know, taking a chance. If it doesn’t really work out, I find, you know, with our product, that’s often it’s, you know, uh, the scrutiny of others prevents them from maybe trying something that they might initially believe in.
And then they go back and think about it as well. I don’t want to be the guy who tried something in the area that absolutely didn’t work. And it was a massive train wreck. It fascinates me though, because, um, there’s a lot of untreated acres in agronomy.
What would you guys say to somebody who’s not working with an agronomist like yourselves? What would you say to them about joining in, on the quality of life and the decision making process that you guys offer?
Bru: [00:38:57] Well, generally consulting fees are a small portion of the total input bill for a producer. And I mean, you, what you’re buying from an agronomist is you’re buying the knowledge, the peace of mind.
You’re buying time as a farm manager, these days in the large scale operation, you know, you’re running HR, you’re running, you’re making significant decisions with financial repercussions.
So it’s, um, we find with a lot of our growers that. It’s it’s a matter of buying someone’s expertise, but it’s also freeing up your time, whether it’s for more family life or focus on other areas of the business, it differs on every farm.
Some guys liked the agronomy side of it. Some guys like the green marketing side of it. They hate the agronomy side of it. Some guys are running other businesses, so they can’t focus the right amount of time to agronomy. In our area, the typical farm size is three to 5,000 acres. So a lot of guys are still very much hands on in the field.
You know, as far as walking their fields or driving equipment, we don’t have as many large, large scale operations, as you might find in Saskatchewan and Alberta, but there’s smaller farms or average farm size there too, I guess. So, you know, it comes down to growers. Are they comfortable walking their own fields?
How much do they want to push things? Like there’s professional services like ours that are independent, but there’s also great agronomists that work at crop input suppliers and retailers. So it’s. Um, you know, there has to be a certain level of trust between you and the person giving you the advice. Um, we’re targeting our business more on the guys that are wanting to get better that are wanting to push things that are wanting to learn that are willing to share ideas with others so that we can all get better.
There’s historically been a lot of individualism with producers because you’re often competing with your neighbors. Guys hold their cards very close to their chest. And they’re maybe not as willing to share. I mean, other than the coffee shop yield as you’re going around the table, but I think the newer, next generations are more open to sharing.
So. We have a lot of clients. Most of our clients we mentioned are within a 20 mile radius of where we work, but they’re, they’re more willing to share with other producers that are maybe five, 10, 20 miles away than they would be with your closest neighbors. Just cause if a piece of land comes up for sale, you know, they want to be able to compete for it.
I don’t know. I think that’s changing too with social media and with sharing farmers are lot more connected to the outside world and they may have been in the past and then a lot of rural areas. We look at how ag is, how strong agriculture is on Twitter. And, you know, there, there’s a lot of sharing that goes on there that maybe we wouldn’t have seen 10, 15 years ago, 20 years ago.
Dan: [00:41:51] So you think that affects how producers actually see each other in a competitive sense?
Jenn: [00:41:57] They’re taking note what other people are doing, not maybe necessarily implementing it, but that’s where this one intercrop in trial came. Like their producer saw is, you know, from someone on Twitter. Let’s try it.
Let’s see if it works. Okay.
Dan: [00:42:18] Well, I love it that you guys are talking about this cause with all due love and respect, I wouldn’t think that the first place that would start spawning regenerative agriculture would be the Red River Valley.
So tell me about that. You guys have a passionate for, you gotta have a passion for the soil and soil health and sustainability. Tell me a little bit about that.
Bru: [00:42:37] That’s actually what you mentioned, the red river Valley probably wouldn’t be a place to start. Um, two years ago we launched it in red river, soil health summit and talking to some of the sponsors and some of the people that were interested in attending, it was a one day conference where we brought in a group of speakers.
It was as much for agronomist as it was for growers. We just helped organize it. Yeah. When they went to their bosses to try to get approval to come to this conference, their bosses are like, What? Soil health in the Red River Valley zero till, what?
Dan: [00:43:12] That’s the thing, they love making a black over there.
Jenn: [00:43:15] And for good reason, I mean this spring, we saw some, you know, fields, especially the corn fields that did not get work less fall because of the insanity that we had with the rain and then the early snow storm in October there, um, we had a heck of a time. We had a really hard time this spring with a lot of, uh, deal conditions that, you know, Bru says he’s never seen before.
In all the time that he’s been in the Valley. So there’s something to be said for, you know, working some of the residue in, but, um, you know, with trying, you know, not just cover crops or like, you know, see letting your volunteers grow until like they’re going to winter kill. So just leaving something on, like covering the soil.
We now know that it’s not really beneficial at all to. A summer fall of field, because when you don’t have any live roots, you don’t have the rises to really nurse all the microbes. And those are like your powerhouses of converting your nutrients or some of them and making them available those kinds of things.
So when you, when you think about starving them, But not having anything growing. That’s essentially what happens in the spring. You have to wait for the source of warm up and get those microbes going and reestablishing those colonies so they can then work for you. So a lot of the work happens under the ground.
And if we don’t take care of that, even if we’re in the red river Valley and it’s special clays and this and that, we can still find ways to work with it, but it’s to figure that out. We are working with Avon Lawley at the University of Manitoba, um, to try and figure out like, you know, if we’re going to put in cover crops with species work the best, what’s the best timing for seeding so we can get some biomass before it freezes.
As Bru mentioned, we have an extremely short growing season. It’s not like we’re harvesting, uh, you know, beginning of July where we can then, you know, see the cover crop. And it actually gets a significant amount of growth before it gets too cold. So, you know, there’s all those different factors that we are working to try and figure them out.
You know, we’re just trying to like, But again, like you have to ask the producer what is the problem that you’re trying to fix. Right. Are you trying to fix soil erosion, wind erosion? Are you trying to like, have better infiltration capturing the water that we do have, as you had mentioned, like it starts with asking questions to the farmer.
What are your issues and what do you want to solve? And then we work from there.
Dan: [00:45:45] Are you getting to the point where you’re actually making headway in terms of, you know, marrying, marrying the economics with the agronomy of, of being sustainable. Are you seeing that you can measure kind of baseline a micro horizon where you start to rebalance your fertility?
Like, can people make money? Moving in this direction yet, because there’s things like bio gas and solar power and electric cars, and it’s all great, but without well, meaning people who want to, you know, tax you to subsidize it, it doesn’t work. Are you getting to the point where you can say like, look, this is a great business move.
Jenn: [00:46:21] We haven’t done any, any kind of research like that yet, you know, we’re just trying to figure out when’s the optimal window for seeding so we can get some biomass. And how’s that changing the soil profile underneath. That’s what we’re looking at right now in terms of business models and profitability.
Not, not as much that hasn’t been the focus yet.
Dan: [00:46:47] So with, with the microbial activity in the soil, is it just that we’re trying to adjust our practices to foster that life or is there ways and means, you know, there’s a whole new world of biologicals coming and surely you guys would be on the front end of kind of figuring out what do these work and in what circumstances, where what’s your take on all that hizzle jizzle juice.
Bru: [00:47:11] I think we’re in a challenging area in a sense that six months of the year, the ground is it’s frozen hard and there’s no biological activity happening. So we’ve got very short growing seasons. I mean, most of the growing season, we do have a living crop. On the soil from like we’re growing corn, we’re growing, soybeans are growing edible beans, all that.
So we’ve got a diverse rotation, but we’ve got a lot of long season crops in there. So our challenge again, like when Jen talks about cover crops is getting them established and getting enough. Within the fall that they’ll actually make a difference. If we can only grow two or three leaf plants, you know, is that enough to really tip the scales to, to make a difference one way or the other?
Can we get them growing earlier in the season to get more of an open fall or open growth? So those are there, there are so many questions are like, we’re just starting the agriculture community as a whole across the world is just starting to dive more into these things to get a better haddle on what’s happening.
Dan: [00:48:14] Yeah, exactly. It works in, it works, it works in a controlled environment. Or, you know, you can find one set of routes on the field that looked better than the others. I mean, it’s, it’s just hard to know. And obviously we’re, we’re interested in that space too longterm, but it seems like there’s a lot of variability out there and, uh, but it’s a great story.
A great sales story. Uh, where do you guys see you taking the business next? It seems like you guys are really keen on evolving the business. Growing what you’re doing.
Bru: [00:48:44] Yeah, where we see our business evolving is trying to marry the economics with the agrinomic. So on one hand, all of this stuff that we’re doing, the benchmarking, the on-farm trials is trying to get a handle on what practices work, which ones don’t, which ones should we stop doing, but using the economics to kind of find the balance between the two.
It’s not necessarily trying to grow the highest yields, but it’s trying to be the most profitable that we can while still being sustainable. So there’s all sorts of benchmarking services, um, on the financial side of things, but that don’t necessarily take a deep dive into the agrinomic. So we’re seeing an opportunity for us to, to try and marry the two together.
Dan: [00:49:23] I love it. No, that makes sense. At the end of the day, this stuff all has to pay. That’s what it’s all about. And everybody wants to be sustainable and use the best practices, but it’s gotta, it’s gotta make money because if you don’t make money and you’re not, you’re not in the business, it doesn’t doesn’t matter what you did.
I’d love to see you expand the model. Do you guys, you guys should be franchising this all over Western Canada.
Bru: [00:49:46] Well, part of the benchmarking project that we do, like the agronomy is kind of tough to, to scale it is doable, but part of the benchmarking stuff that we’re doing, I think more of the ideas that we can scale it and franchise it, it’s more plugging numbers into the computer and then comparing yourself against neighbors.
So that’s something that I think is a little bit more scalable than being out in the field, boots on the ground. That’s gotta be done on the local level with local experience that maybe there is coaching in their future.
Dan: [00:50:22] Yeah. Well, I think the peer groups are a great idea. It sounds like you’re offering your producers a great service there and, uh, and I’m excited to see some of the stuff that we’re working on together.
So thanks a lot for coming on the show this morning, and we’ll be talking to you guys more in the future and good luck with everything out there. Uh, everything’s coming up pretty good out there, I guess.
Bru: [00:50:41] Yeah, we, we can’t complain. There could be a lot worse as a, as well. We got everything harvested last fall.
So we were already ahead of the game, I think with a lot of our neighbors to the West and to the south. So we, for the most part, we can’t complain and our cereals are looking really good.
Jenn: [00:50:57] There’s moisture below that because we have to dry like a top to be able to. Cross the field, this rain, the last, like this last weekend is what has now bridged the gap between like the seed sitting in the dry, and then now being able to germinate emerge and then like those roots will follow that moisture down.
So we should be, should be okay. I mean, they say it only in the red river Valley, can you grow a really good crop of a four inches of rain? But that’s thanks to the soils as well.
Bru: [00:51:26] Well, we have some fields then now they’ve been underwater three times in 12 months.
Dan: [00:51:33] Yeah. Extreme conditions. It’s been wild. So, uh, lots of people talk about how the conditions have been some of the craziest and, you know, four decades of farming.
But as a parting question, what advice would you have for people that are working together? Family business. So obviously you guys, you know, there’s probably lots of challenges, but it seems like you guys have managed to work together as a, as a couple and as business partners. What, what advice do you have for people that are working together?
Bru: [00:51:58] Well, community communication is key. Number one, I guess,
Jenn: [00:52:02] for at least one of us that talks a lot and one that listens
Bru: [00:52:07] That’s balance. Just communication, being able, you know, um, we share a lot of those same interests or family life definitely has improved. Yeah. We’re busier during the summer because we’re both involved in ag, we make up with the girls in the winter with a lot more time and flexibility to take them to different activities and to take off, take off for the weekend with them for quick holidays. There’s good and bad. It’s no different than a farmer, or if any farming families that are working together.
Dan: [00:52:37] Awesome. Well, good for you guys. Thanks so much for coming on this show. Um, let’s stay in touch. Obviously. We got a few things we’re working on together this summer. I’m excited about that and good luck out there in the field with your producers.
Bru: [00:52:49] Right on. Thanks again for the opportunity here. It’s been fantastic. Yeah.
Dan: [00:52:53] Awesome. Yeah. Take care of you guys.