Terry: [00:01:30] All right. So super excited today for another episode of growing the future podcast and very, very excited to have one. And the only Les Henry you with us today, data about living legend in agriculture and the Prairie’s here, especially in Saskatchewan. Les has been around for a long time, as an extentsion and research, agrologist worked at the university of Saskatchewan.
Sure taught a lot of young agronomists and farmers going through the college there or university, a lot of amazing things, and I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with Les numurous times in, in my career and very excited to have a Les on the podcast today. And. And learn some of his insights from a very, very long and legendary career in agriculture.
So, welcome. Welcome to thepodcast, Les
Les: [00:02:22] thank you, Terry. And thanks for being a part of this I met Terry first to the anchor tread farm forums here in Saskatoon, and always been interested in the goings on at Aberhart Farms
Terry: [00:02:35] for sure. I definitely remember the first time time we met, I was one of the first times they made a precision Ag presentation in Saskatoon at the farm forum, unless it was in the back of the room and started drilling me with a bunch of questions.
And honestly, I was kind of thinking at first, like, who is this guy? And you know, what does he know about precision agriculture being the. Politely the, the vintage that you’re at. And then after the presentation, you came up to me and he started asking me more questions. And then I realized like, Oh boy, I’m in a lot of trouble here.
This guy really knows his stuff and is asking me some really, really tough questions. But yeah, that was their kind of first encounter. And since then I’ve been following what Les has been doing. And many, many people in the industry, would have read Les’ book Handbook of Soil and Water, which is kind of like an agronomist Bible for, for learning the basics of soil and water, which is a huge thing that, that affects crop growth and those kinds of things.
So very excited to be talking to you today and learn a little bit more about, about your career in your history in ag.
Les: [00:03:46] so it all started out on the farm at Milton. It was Brunswick farm. My grandfather was on sand in Manitoba and he wanted to have goggles. So he came to where it stuck to his boots and that turned into a big rich farm.
And I was raised in a mansion. It was built in 1917 and they were going to be millionaires by 1930, 1935. They were broke. 1940. I was born and I didn’t know anything about the depression from experience, but I did from my father. So I’ve always had a conservative bent because of that. So as I graduated high school, I spent two years on the farm and it was a decent farm for the time, five quarters, a lab and some pasture and some cows, but I was young and rabby.
You know what, a week I could have the crop in and out. And what am I going to do then. And dad said, there’ll never be another mortgage on this farm. And I agreed with that. So I went off to do other things and I’ve never regretted that decision, but I’ve always been tied to the land. So when I went off to university, I’d been away for two years and I really didn’t know how I’d make it or not.
But to make a long story short, I did that was 1960. And if you look at the graphs of fertilizer use and most of the developed part of the world, The graphs usually start about 1960. There was some fertilizer use on in the States much earlier that that on the Prairies and a little bit, but the serious use of fertilizer started in 1960.
So I guess you could say that I’ve, I’ve, I’ve lived the growth as a fertilizer industry in this province. And the highlights along the way were probably graduating from university and heading off to be an ag rep district agrologist to call it extension agent Alberta. And I got called into the head of the Soil Science department.
He said, what did they give you for money? 5,000 bucks a year. That was a lot of money in those days. I’ll give you that. You don’t have to chase Volk extra. They’ll have a blend here. They’ll have to dig holes and soul serving the summer, but you get a master’s degree. So that, that was turning point. So then I, I graduated and did a master’s, but the big advance in soil science and soft fertility in Saskatchewan came in 1966, when the Saskatchewan soil testing observatory was opened. And Dawn Granny was the head of the department in those days. And we were a hugely lucky at the university. At that time, there was no bureaucracy, if you wanted something you asked Granny he said, yes, and then on you went.
That fall in come all these samples pointing from Care River Soils and Care River Saskatchewan. There were soil defficient in Pontash, so they wouldn’t grow anything. So I was the field person. So I went and laid the strip test and you’ll see the picture in Matters handbooks. I often took the credit for that, but really, the credit came Ed Halston. And that brings a fundamental point and agriculture. You have to have the basic science and you have to have somebody that takes that to the farm gate. And mine was, was the latter, but I’ve always had great respect and communication with other people.
A lot of things I’ve been able to do just because there was somebody behind me that knew the basics better than I did
Terry: [00:07:02] I remember, Les you sharing some of, some of that information with me and it’s pretty, it’s pretty interesting to see how was 60 years ago. There’s still people that, that, you know, look at it.
Precision farming and variable rate is something that’s still fairly new, but it was kind of a little mind blowing for me to see that already back in the sixties, you guys were testing these different areas of the fields and seeing the variation in nutrients. And profit yield and potential back at that time.
So you already had the understanding of the variability within the soils, but maybe not the equipment or the technology that to manage it in field the way we do today.
That’s right. What happened at that time? One of my first jobs related to solve fertility was to look at, okay, we’re going to tell people how to grow sample or 40 acres or 80 acres.
You know a corner section was a big field at that time. Usually it was 40 acres or 80 acres. So how are you going to sample this 80 acres? Or how many samples are you going to take? How are you going to decide where to sample it? Well, if it’s flat as a board, it’s not that big of an issue, but much of the land is that.
So we went out and sampled the hilltops and that led slopes and the water slopes and see the differences were there and the differences were huge. And one of the first things I remember is when you go in to one of these white loose that isn’t salt, but it’s highly leeched that we could go and take a 80 or a hundred course.
We do grids and deleting or a hundred cores out of a field. And we’d have so many of these particular salt types that they leach, the sluice that are washed the water, goes in and wash it down and had the process. It washes a lot of nutrients and they’re a little bit acid and they’re very high. And what we measure in phosphorus.
We’ll just hang up and down. And she went off down the Hill, but it was pretty crude. There was no, there was no way to actually do it. And then when they, when they capability came along to do it or you going, and we didn’t always follow along with it. So there was a misfit between the, I think there was a lot of those things worked out,
Yeah I love that. I think that a lot of times people get stuck in the mindset that precision has to be something really elaborate and high resolution and fancy those kinds of things, but there’s a lot of different ways to apply those practices in a very practical way that make a lot of sense.
Les: [00:10:01] Yeah. You don’t always need 10 or 15 separations in the field. You have to find out what’s significant and take it from there. Yeah. The other major thing that came along, there’s, there’s kind of milestones along the way.
And some of them are things I was involved in. Some I wasn’t directly involved, but. Another milestone was, well, I guess adult milestone was 1970 and most of people listening to this realize some 1970 was a year when the federal government had a program called LIFT and that was lower inventories for tomorrow.
That’s where you got paid money to summer follow a piece of ground twice in a row, which at that time, Dr. Reddy, our boss really thought that it was a big misstep. And in 1973, when I was away in Africa, he got up at Fire Hole program before crop week. And the crop production show in Saskatoon, the university got a thing called Fire Hole Week like that everybody came to from all over the province.
And that was where if you have something major to say, that’s what he said. And Reddy stood up to the congregation hall university at 1973 and he said Summer Follow is the singuler, bigger, the single biggest. Mismanagement factor like we’ve had since we broke the ground. Well, ricochet is laugher around.
I heard it all the way to the slopes of government chair. There is quite a, quite a fluff and that raises the point. You don’t always have to agree with the crowd. And then he didn’t. And that was to the point where our professional organization called him on the carpet for that. And a lot of people took coverage.
But it wasn’t long before people realized, Hey, we really don’t need this. And people were even summer following in your country. That was probably, it wasn’t this, I wasn’t half an app. And it was probably RACI people and find them three in a row. So that was a major that was a major change. And that’s what led to attendance.
And when it came to changing from the old ways of summer follow into the new ways and particularly. Introducing the zero til concept credit has to go primarily to the farmers themselves. We added things in terms of the soil fertility. It might aid in the variety. People bring along the new varieties, but the people that were sick of summer follow, the ones that were sick of the dust in the air in May and different people Doyle Lee, I remember talking about getting off a Cedar on, on a windy day in may and going in the house said there’s got to be a better way. And so what was farmers that drove it, it wasn’t John Deere and the big countries. It’s the basic basics of where the. Rubber hits the road. Whereas the steel hits the ground. It was the farmers that figured out, Hey, we gotta be able to do something where we can pull that in and see where it needs to be without having to stir it all up
Terry: [00:12:59] Thanks for sharing. That shows how much things can change over time. I mean, at one point in time, like you just mentioned about the summer fall, that was kind of a bit, the Bible of the way things were done. And I remember when I was a kid, there was still some summer fall around, but by the time. I was a teenager, a bit older and getting into farming.
That was kind of the way of the past already. Like, I’m pretty sure Holden, do you know what summer follow is?
Holden: [00:13:27] No I was reading Les’ article. And it said something about that. And I was like, I have no idea what that is.
Terry: [00:13:42] So, you know, that’s, it’s just interesting to see how, when, when Les was your age, summer follow was just what everybody did. And it was so summer fall farmers would plow the land or till the land for summer, they wouldn’t crop it in order to conserve moisture and control the weeds because they didn’t have as good a weed control methods back then.
They quickly begin to realize that it was very poor for the soil health infrastructure, you know, wind would blow this top soil away and then zero till was invented and continuous cropping. So now, yeah, the younger generations don’t even know what summer follow is and it wasn’t that long ago. People thought you were crazy if you were going to try to go to zero til and eliminate summer follow.
Les: [00:14:27] The first, the first people that were doing that were everybody looked at them and how they’re going to fail it. And it’s some of the first. Air seeders, which was often used. Weren’t that great of drills too. So there weren’t, there were some problems, but this was the farmers that brought the equipment that made it happen.
Well, there was a, as you go through history sake, exchange Nelson Solberg is a colleague from Alberta. That’s found in a lot of fame also. And he gave a talk one time and he talked about something and he said, learn and unlearn and relearn. And that’s a phrase I’ve come to use, use a lot, you know, you have, you have norms and then, and then you have to forget about those.
Terry: [00:15:07] I’ve always admired about you. Les is you’re, you’re very direct. And to the point you’re very passionate, but also you, you have that mindset. Sometimes when people have spent a long time in their career, they become very confident and passionate, but also very instilled or entrenched in their beliefs.
But, and I believe you have very strong beliefs at times, but I also see that you’re open to, to changes and what’s new and you have an open mind as well. So what, what do you think it takes to, to have that type of mindset and still be relevant and learning and, and open minded to all the changes that you’ve experienced in your career?
Les: [00:15:50] Why do you have to have a, a scientific kind of thinking. Your conclusions are based on evidence. So you look at the evidence and the evidence, it’s just what you can find in the literature and what, what you, what you gain yourself. So you have to get to the new information and reject the old and take the new, but it has to be based on information.
And that was, it was said we came into the computers that were in the information age, and nothing is truer now. And in today’s world. Well, when I did my master’s degree to do a literature review, you went to the library and you gathered up dozens of volumes and out of each volume you only needed three or four pages that paper that eventually that Xerox’s and you could Xerox the three pages.
No, I can sit here at this computer. And, you know, as an example yesterday, I got a communication about Manatoba. What’d you do this international thing, and here’s a, here’s a person that’s involved in it. Within a half an hour, I’d read the abstracts of this person from all places all over the world. So the information age, the accessibility, and through the university, I subscribed to all the American journals and all the American information pay a little money every year.
And so I can get access to most journals just sitting here right at my computer. So there’s no reason for people not to be informed and you have to. I have to constantly be looking ahead and constantly learning new stuff and relearning all the stuff. Sometimes I go back and find the old stuff that I did myself, that I forget about any how.
And the other thing, there was another, another milestone. The 1970s was a period of wet years, and that brings us on what we’ve got now. It’s a thing called Soil solidity. And it was according to the sub, it was increasing at 10% a year and we some years down the road we were’nt on having land to farm and we’re basing it on a model that came from Alberta, a conceptual model that I’m talking about now that came from Alberta and Montana, where they had a shallow depths of glacial deposits and they had underlying saline shales underneath and my job was to go out in the country and farm meetings and deliver what we had to the farmers, but more importantly, to bring back from the farmers, what, what the needs were. And I’ll tell you about one in soil solidity. We had a very good extension agent in Moosjaw Johnny Hanson was his name.
I’ll add, He said Les, this Henny, it’s a serious problem. We have to put on. And he came to me because I was extension agent. We have to put on a day’s program, Moshe. I said, Johnny, we don’t know enough about it for me. No, we got to do it todays program. So I was there two provincial specialists there and another two people from the university.
So we were in a, in a downtown hotel and a patient, and I could take exactly that route. And a young farmer got up and I could place him right there where he was. And he stood up after, you know, after three o’clock from having a general question session. And he said, you know, you said, you told us what we already knew.
And language we couldn’t understand and took all day to do it. And he was right. I said to Randy, you know what, we got to do things different. So I spent 18 months negotiating with the provincial bureaucrats and other funders and said, you know what? We got to do a different approach. We gotta be out on farms and got to know why its saline in the fist place and I don’t want any committee, you know, give me the money and get out of my hair. And so after 18 months they did. So we started out, we had the money to buy the right equipment. He didn’t know what to do with it. So we hired a hydrogeologist and geologist. That’s private consultants.
And I got called on the carpet for that too. Are you hiring these guys? Well, we’ve got good ones elsewhere. I said, because when I asked bill Harold, the question, I get an answer. But to make a long story short, we broke the thing wide open, and that was my greatest thrills. So there’s been a lot of fun along the way
Terry: [00:20:11] So throughout your career, Les, I mean, you’ve, you’ve done a lot of, a lot of things and helped, helped open up some of these, some of these things for learning, I’m sure at times, especially with a bit of bureaucracy and levels of politics within university and government extension, there was probably.
A few times you got into some interesting debates or discussions over how to move the needle forward.
Les: [00:20:37] Yes. Except at times are different than that. And I retired early. I was six days short of my 56th birthday and that’s because the bureaucracy was starting to starting to row and an RD. We didn’t have any serious bureaucracy that Reddy couldn’t deal with.
He’d pick up the phone and deal with it. So, and you know, there was provincial and federal government, but you’ll work with the individuals and let them deal with it with their own bureaucracy but it was having the freedom. Reddy was my major mentor and I remember in his declining years. You asked him what’s your single biggest positive feeling about the university of Saskatchewan and you didn’t hesitate a belly second.
And he said, freedom. That’s what it was all about was freedom. And we had freedom and we just went and did it, you know, the bureaucracy was so bad. It was, but I doesn’t seem to be that way anymore. Anyhow, we were, we were very lucky, but not another project. There’s a lot of discussion about irrigation in the last couple of days.
And when the irrigation first opened up from like Dave Baker, 1968. I’ve seen the first water was filled on two Latin, their outlook, and they still two days for dried on farmers growth. And then of course they do away with summer fall and they plant stumbled. And so they use 40 pounds of phosphate on the summer follow, uh, 20 pounds of 40 pounds, nitrogen, maybe 40 pounds of phosphate on stubble and a part on all the water.
And they still got the same meal. They used to get pretty narrated and all of a sudden they wonder what this is all about. So we, we did a soil fertility work. And again, the first one they called was ed Halston in the soil testing lab. He went out that fall and took the simple six foot Cominco spreader hung on the back of a half ton truck and run by a tire drive and spread nitrogen down on the fields and showed them that’s what they needed.
So we had a long series of experiments sharing seventies. Some of this is in the scientific literature, as well as the popular literature and we started out with that was what was really needed to grow on an irrigated crop. So during those days, I’d have two or three extension meetings at Outlook .each year.
And after we got it all put together where we got a pretty coherent message for people.
Holden: [00:22:56] So Les, I have a question for you. You you’ve probably had some like crazy stuff happen to you in your career. What is like the craziest thing that’s happened to like you in the field?
Les: [00:23:11] Well, I remember being out at, I don’t know how crazy, but it’s the things you remember.
I was out in the irrigation area and outlook, and we were out in the field in the spring of year, was an old international panel trucks. And that was a nice Sandy soil. So we’re driving across the field and all of a sudden the thing just collapsed and went down and we’re in, a mud hole. And I didn’t see anyone.
I thought I was smart enough to know how to keep on a mud hole. So back when we went to Kristin Best had a nice new ball were trapped and he came up, I know where you are. He said, you come out and pull this out. So that was one thing I remember. I was very, very embarrassed about not being smart enough to know, not to drive it into a wet spot and get stuck.
And there’s been, you know, a lot of, a lot of travel related stuff. And the extension program extension program was a few field days in the summer, mostly research in the summer. But many miles of pavement in the winter and in the winter, this was back then in the 1970s, the roads were pretty good. By that time, there were no cell phones.
There were no weather forecasts that were worth anything. So you had a radio in your car. That’s all. So I remember taking off one day headed to the town of eyebrow, which is about two hours drive South to Saskatoon, and you go straight down to 19, highway. I had a fairly new 77 plan. What’s a big, big car for the day.
And I was headed South south of town. And then you had to go the snow was blowing and you had n weather forecasts at the other end, there’d be a room full of farmers. You had to go. So the snowbanks came, so I just hit this all banks at 60 miles an hour, and then the windshield all fogged up and you let that cleared and you kept going.
And I eventually got there by the time I got there, I’d driven through the storm. And so there were wearing the town of eyebrow shirt officer whom was full of people. And it was the old movie theater. So the old movie theater said it had a stage and they had in front of that stage was about four feet off, off the floor.
And there was a big register there. And that register was hooked into the coal-fired furnace from the basement. And so the farmers were in there with certain mits on in the morning because it was so cold the farmers at the back of the room. And the janitor was down there shoveling coal into this furnace and a log towards noon.
You could hear him scraping a shovel on the, on the floor, on the cement floor. And I was standing up there giving my lectures right behind this, right in front of this blasting out heat. So I said, what, somebody please go down and break that old guy’s arm, I’m melting. So there was lots of things, lots of travel related things, and lots of times, and driving home partway in the ditch cause the road was too icy. Take an old government car and let the air half out of the tires, keep on driving. Lots of travel related things that I remember. Yeah. And lots of, lots of mistakes we made along the way to.
Terry: [00:26:15] It’s funny nowadays, with the amount of technology and your phones and Google maps. People, you wonder how people survived before and just driving wherever they have to go or plan ahead. And it’s kind of things communicate with people,
but so what are you. Les, what do you see now today? Obviously you’re retired, but you’re, you’re very involved in, in the industry yet and still very active in writing articles and learning and sharing your knowledge. What do you see today? Is. As the things that are opportunities for growers out there and at the same hand, what, what are, what are most of us still missing that you look at and maybe shake your head and, and things like, man, they, you know, we’re still dealing with this and we should be well beyond that by now.
Les: [00:27:06] Well, the big thing, I think, you know, the one thing I’d say cool, always here on in the future, people talk about the family farming and I think the family farm won’t be. It would be different. It already is, you know, the family farm was section of Regina. Heavy clay and a half section of pasture? That was, that was fairly clubbing, you know, and that’s, that’s morphed into what it is today.
And the family farm will still be the focus of it. It’ll take various shapes, but I don’t see any situation of some kind of a corporate structure. Like there’s been many tries where you have a head office. 51st floor in downtown Toronto, and you send all the ground. So to do the work, then you have managers and all get the salary that that is going to never fit agriculture because the first, the first rule of farming is mother nature’s charge.
And the second rule is if you don’t like rule one don’t farm, you know? And so that’s what we always have to realize when we’re dealing with dealing with mother nature and. Mother nature goes in cycles and we have to be always cognizant of beware or the other side of the average. Now I don’t know whether the other side of average is coming now, but things do change. So I think so wins would be the ones that’d be flexible enough to see a change coming in and react to it. But the family farm will be, that will be the focus of it for sure, one thing, the other thing that I was lucky enough to do. Was when we were, and this was in the eighties and eighties, the biggest thing was rainfall.
And the lack of it in 1988, I drove from Brooks, Alberta to Saskatoon in mid August. And when I got to Saskatoon and I saw two old 90 massy caught by an all a week. That was worth combining it all out there, all that area. So the solid moisture was a big thing. So the first soil salt moisture map was made in 1978.
We were around doing fertilizer plots and I was probing in the field just with a handful. And I could see that I could go into a field and I could probe once this was the fall of the year. I prob 100 times I got the same answer. There’s almost nothing else in a field that will be the same, but because in the fall, Most of the rates are system rates, not, not thundershot rates for one side of the quarter is different than the other. I could dig a whole mill. I could drive 20 miles roads, I get the same answer. So I saw thought if I had a decent rain fall maps I could make a soil moisture map as a freeze up and then farmers will have that to use in their planning all through the winter. So. I went around government. At that time, there was a grasshopper for constant map.
It was on every elevator wall at that time. That was thousand a week for our renters column and the others all over the place. So I went and gathered that up as the base map to use and did it all, and all the calculations were done by hand. And I had to for ritual government rainfall records, which was very good.
One still is and calculate it out all at my head. And made up a legend of what it would be in for different soils. That was different. Cause different soils hold different amounts of water. So I made this map up by hand and I went into Reddy’s office about 10 o’clock one morning and said, Reddy, this is what I’ve got.
Well, he took a look at this and looked around. He said, if you can do that, put it on there, elevator wall we’ll find money to make it up. And I think that afternoon coffee they said the money’s in place. Go ahead. Thanks for noting those things. So ever since that’s been a pet peeve of mine, is that people aren’t using that in the planning enough.
And my idea was not that this has got to be right on every corner section of land, but it’s a framework. For the farmers and the agrologist and the agrologist that serve farmer thinking when they’re thinking about how they’re growing the next crop, what have you got for resources there as freeze up?
Cause once their freeze up, it’s still going to be there. It’s spring time, it’s going to be there. And how plant root takes about what else you got in agriculture? Have you got that can do that? And the ideas that people would be doing, they’re probably going to through the years of experience, I’ve written a great, huge different times.
So I take a canola crop, for example. And measure it and keep the complete track. Like I just went out to the farm a couple of days ago and we started off with a few inches, a couple of inches of available water down a little over a foot in the spring. And we have not had any excess sets, but we have had raids.
So I went to that. The soil is basically a field capacity except for a few inches down around two feet and we’re, and we’re good to go. And nobody. Seemed to gather onto that concept. And all that has been done. The salt moisture probes are being used, and a lot of people are putting soil moisture probes in and it’s doing well.
Where are these young agrologist can sit with their cell phone and tell the farmer exactly what moistures left and what’s going to happen to the crop. The one thing that is missing and still needs to be added to that. That’s this is a thing for the future. And I think it’s pretty close, but one thing that we’re in a dry climate, so we never really.
Thought much about where’s the water table and what does that, and this is a thing for the future. It’s just, it’s not done yet. And it needs to be done. That’s one of the things and to soil moisture facture, that needs to be done. We never thought of that there being a water table, it was what’s the factor because it was, you know, somewhere six feet or below.
And it just wasn’t a factor. There was a very good, did, just did some experiments and he said, there’s upward movement. Over the winter, the water is moving off for winter and LTD a soil physicist and so I used and still use cars as the scientific source to sort these things out. I said, well, there must be a water table.
So when these wet years started on my farm, we had 20 inches of rain in 1910 and 2010, 20 inches of rain. 10 inches of that was too much. We’re getting stuck on slews that are up at the top of the Hill. And then as soon as you got stuck, there’s water on my truck, you know, that’s a water table. So about 2012, I take my farm and the neighbors we all do a soil tour and it’s heading to rained for weeks. Now, the crop was growing like a horse and I could still put the soil probe in the ground. They said, you know, there’s gotta be a water table here, close the water. Sure enough. It was a little over four feet. So at all, I know that that’s, that’s a big factor.
A lot of people are patting them on the back about 70 bucks, a blade, 80 bushels. And I had one guy tells me just two years at the crock show. So you had all we grew, 60 bushels a week on three inches of water. No, you didn’t. You grew it on three inches of rain. The other 10 inches came out of the soil and water. it’s like sub irrigation. So that one has yet to be done and soil moisture probes. Are there a water table wells are easy to put in the materials cost 10 bucks. Whereas the technology there, all the is play something you can put down there, bury it leave it there and then measure that water table. That’s the next thing for it, for technology.
Some of the farmers that I’ve read about in newspapers and elsewhere that are using these, they’re doing exactly that. There was a quote of somebody talking about water in the soil. It’s like money in the bank. I’ve been saying that for 35 years to hear a young farmer from Waveland, say that this wasn’t very gratifying day.
So that’s one of the things for it, for the future. Yeah. There’s a, you know, we could pretend to see the. The future when we get to it’s like this thrown an us that’s happening right now, it’s showing us that we really are not sure what the future’s going to hold, but I think what has to be constantly in places, the resilience to adapt with whatever mother nature tells you. My, my goal, my goal is that I dropped dead on a combine and with just enough to turn the thing off.
I got no time for sitting around. On the Chesterfield drink a beer and watching TV, you know, there’s gotta be, there’s gotta be another ox to slay somewhere. You know, that’s, that’s the whole idea and it’s, it’s great thrill to be involved with up and coming people like yourself and the next generation set beside you there that is going to make things happen in the future and a lot of fun.
Holden: [00:35:38] So Les, what are you excited to see in the future of agriculture?
Les: [00:35:44] What I want to see is, is the land be maintained in a condition so that you’re going to pick it up better than it was. And that is happening in your case and many others. And that the family farm remains, he made the focus of it, and that we continue to feed, to feed the hungry world.
And that young people will see the benefit anchor cost to the bad times, as well as the good, when I was ending my teacher teaching career in the early nineties, there weren’t many jobs for Agros and there was a bunch of money being made on farms. Interest rates were high and, and markets were poor. And my advice to young people at that time was go home and farm now where you can buy land cheap.
And so I just hope that the industry stays vibrant, that we can, I have no doubt that we can feed the hungry world. Somebody has talked about the fact that we’re never going to be able to feed the hungry world. And Allison sent that 200 years ago. I’m sure. I’m sure we will. I just hope that the industry of agriculture can carry on and be allowed to do what it can do.
There’s, there’s, there’s some bureaucratic blocks sometimes thrown in the road that shouldn’t be that industry be allowed to do what we know how to do
Terry: [00:37:14] Les, so I’ve always, I’ve always believed you should do what you love and love what you do in my mind. You’re a. You’re a perfect example of that to see the passion and energy that you have still around.
The things that you’re doing around agriculture is really inspiring. And I I’m curious, what advice would you give to young farmers? Young agronomists, the next generation.
Les: [00:37:39] Well a big part of it is there is a love of the land and that’s what, that’s what it’s all about. It’s all comes from the land to start with. And that’s, that’s what it is.
The love of the land to be out there. Oh, the open air and the fresh air, fresh air and see mother nature and watch the deer jump to Creek. And, you know, it’s, it’s more than just a throwing 70 bushels of canola. You know, there’s lots of, there’s lots of other gifts that come from from farming. And that’s what keeps me going.
If I didnt have my piece of ground and half an hour drive away, it would be, it wouldn’t be a big trouble. I have a piece of ground there that’s not for sale for any price. And my downtown smarties in the financial world. That’s not true. It’s true. If Warren Buffet comes along with $150 million, what the hell am I going to do with $150 million?
It’s just not for sale and city slickers just do not understand that. They just do not understand it. Land is, Land is, Landnon. That’s what, that’s, what holds us all together. The land and the family are the two are the two big things.
Terry: [00:38:38] So when you look, when you look forward to what’s going to happen in the next 50 to a hundred years in agriculture, what do you think are going to be some of the biggest things that are going to change revolutionize the way we farm?
Les: [00:38:50] Well, there’s going to be some fundamental sake of some of the things that are going on in plant breeding and plant nutrition. There’ll be some breakthroughs. There about forever for every real breakthrough. There’s a, there’s a dozen, you know, like the whole issue of biologicals, replacing some of the things we do.
You know, some of those things have been pedal for many years and some of them work, but most of them don’t other than rhizobium bacteria with legumes, there hasn’t been that much. Some of them work very well in a, in a growth room setting or a lab setting and peter out when they hit the field. But some of those eventually will. Will come along. There’ll be a, you can’t really see the future. You can only think about it. You can’t really see what things, things evolve as it goes on. There just needs to be enough right minds to do it. What it needs to be maintained is the connection with the was the academic world and the actual, what goes on at the farm field.
There’s some places where that’s gotten a little, little weak, it has to be. The two has to be tied in together and has to be, it has to be able to work at the farm level, or it’s not, it’s not really going to do anybody any good, but the technology is great. The information is great. I just can’t believe what I can.
Like you giving a Northeast to 34 59, 29 or any location at an hour’s time. I can tell you a lot about those just sitting here in front of my computer and that, that will only get easier as time goes on theres more information, particularly the visuals, the air photos and satelite images that you can get to.
There’s all kinds of things. You can find out about a piece of ground with us. Nope before you ever go to see it
Terry: [00:40:38] I think as you mentioned all that, all the information is out there. The tools, the data, it takes people like yourself that that can help connect that and make sense and makes sense to a farmer that he can use, whether it’s a soil moisture map or whatever it may be.
And so I think. That’s where the disconnect is. A lot of times between technology or our new opportunity with agriculture is the opportunity is really powerful, but you need those, those people that have the ability to take that information and simplify it down into something usable and relevant to the farmer and to the industry.
Les: [00:41:20] Yeah, that’s what I did. Truth be told. I shouldn’t really say this, but I guess if I go in for one thing, it’s taking complicated concepts and flipping them into something that people can understand. And there was, what about wilting point that Donnie Clayton talked about here one of the publications some will remember. I won’t go over it now but truth, be known. I had to boil it down to something simple to understand it myself, some of the things I’ve gotten credit for, because some of these concepts, I have trouble dealing with myself and still like, for example, a water table thing. But when I came to that water table, the question was if a soils at field capacity of the water til and you have an inch of water, how much is the water table go to come up?
I didn’t know that. it Isn’t in Henry handbox. That’s, that’s a, that’s a. A rule of thumb that should be in Henry’s handbook because I didn’t know it at the time, didn’t know anything about a lot of things. I learned that all on my own farm by myself, but I didn’t really know how to correct that. So I, I consult LTD on, he was in touch with me by verse and he took his PhD at Miguel and he came when I was doing my grad school and he was my source of information on anything soil water all my years and still is to this day.
Terry: [00:42:31] for sure. Great example that I know you’ve been working with the crew at crop intelligence there too, but like you say, now nowadays they have a great program for the weather stations and the moisture probes. And really all they’re doing is taking information that was already there and available, but displaying it in a very simple way to help us grower make better decisions. And I think most times, even, even us as agronomists and farmers. Gets hot and it’s windy and it hasn’t rained for a while, but we forget about how much capacity is in the soil. And that there’s still a lot of you’ll yield ability there because, because of the soil stored moisture in the soil, and what’s there depending on the year, really that’s probably as big or in many cases of bigger factor on your yield potential, then what you do get during the season, depending on what type of season you have.
But again, it’s just a great example of. Taking the information and the concepts that are really been there for years, but creating a system to simplify that into data that you can make really great decisions with.
Les: [00:43:40] There’s another example that I should be given this. This is a future thing for sure. In today’s world, everybody’s treating CO2 like a villain, you know, burying this stuff. Why do we want CO2 for? Our biggest bio nutrients is carbon. When we talk about the plant nutrients, carbon, hydrogen oxygen come from air and water. So CO2 comes out of the air. We Pat ourselves on the back that we’ve got two varieties, new equipment, and we’re growing 70 bushels of canola, 80 bushels a week.
I’ve got 70 bushels of canola, probably 15 of it comes from the fact that we got 400 PPM CO2 instead of 300. So a big part of our significant maybe not big, but a significant part and there’s data to prove it. There was a work done in Australia with peas and it showed they have places you can do it.
Most greenhouses, juice up to the CO2 in the greenhouse to get better growth. That’s just, just part of the business, but there’s ways where you can do it in the field too. And that’s been worked out for years and there was work in Australia with peas. Then they followed that when you’re brought the CO2 to up to 500 or more, I forget the exact level.
There was a 20% increase in the elder peas, but gee, some varieties. Had a little bit lower protein. And so we should do a breeding to get these varieties sorted out. Nobody says anything about 20% increase in yield. That’s huge. That’s huge. And so someday people are going to realize that CO2 isn’t it isn’t available and CO2 is our biggest bionutrient we can pat ourselves on the back for all our goals, but a significant part of our high yields is because we’ve got 410 PPM of CO2 instead of 310 when I was teaching. So that something that eventually that eventually that will be, will be sorted out.
Terry: [00:45:34] Yeah. Well, and this is really about turning challenges into opportunities.
Right. And so with that lesson, just curious for you. I always like to ask this question, but a theme of a podcast is growing in the future. And so what is, what is growing the future mean to you?
Les: [00:45:52] Well, I know no next Wednesday is my 80th birthday. So I don’t know how much future I got for the last four generations of my line of Henry’s died somewhere between 80 and 82.
But for me, the futures, I don’t care how much future is as long as I live until I die. And for me, the future is continuing to keep in touch with what’s going on. To change things where I can, but it’s still like, I still like to go to graduate seminars all around the world, shot down understanding of those kinds of things, but go places.
And so for me, I just want to be able to live my life and enjoy my family, my land, and make a difference where I can continue to learn. When you figure you know it all, you might as well dig a hole and there’s no time to know, it all. Always, always, always new things to learn and new wrinkles on old things.
So I just look at to be involved and make a difference and get excited about something. When you can’t get excited about something and all this, not much fun. So that’s it for the thing. I don’t know how much future I’ve got, but what I hope to do is make the most of whatever future I do have.
That’s awesome Les. You’ve always
Terry: [00:47:03] been a big inspiration to me. I love, love the passion. I love the energy. That you have, and, and it’s just been a great inspiration. It’s been an honor, it’s been an honor and a pleasure to have you on the podcast with us. And my goal was totally capture some, some of that inspiration and experience that you’ve had over the years and, and inspire others as well as even inspired, inspired us here today.
So I really, really appreciate having the opportunity to spend some time with you on the podcast and appreciate you coming on.
Les: [00:47:39] Well, thank you very much for the opportunity. That’s been a great honor for me.