Farming in an exciting time, but caution may be warranted
Crop farmers in Minnesota had the best of both worlds in 2012, with good crop yields and good grain prices, driven by widespread drought conditions, but one west central Minnesota farmer is cautiously optimistic, knowing that the good times may or may not last.
“What we benefitted from was good yields and the prices were doing very well. We had the perfect storm,” said Willmar-area farmer Larry Konsterlie. “But this year, we could have another perfect storm” of neither good yield nor decent price.
Even so, the wider view of agriculture’s future looks prosperous, Konsterlie said, thanks in part to advances in technology and knowledge that help producers be ever more efficient with land, water and resources.
“It’s an exciting time, but also a cautious time,” he said, as U.S. farmers are increasingly exporting their grain and livestock to feed the hungry world. That doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t sleepless nights or that there is any assurance that the sun will shine and the rains will fall.
The 36-year-old farmer has learned from farming with his 81-year-old father that a farmer can only do what he can and take care of the factors within his control in his uniquely risk-laden career and lifestyle.
“I don’t know if we have half of the control,” he said. “I do all I can, (and) let Mother Nature do the rest.”
Doing all you can to be successful in today’s production agriculture takes an ever-widening array of technologically advanced practices, access to satellite technology and a team of agronomy and marketing professionals. Konsterlie employs all of these tactics to gain vital decision-making information, but still maintains the autonomy of an independent businessman.
“Owning a business, and that’s what farming is, you have the final say,” he said. “I work with the advisers to get information to make the best decisions.”
The 1996 graduate of the Ridgewater College ag program always wanted to be a farmer. He started going to seed meetings with his dad as a youth. Years ago, the seed and fertilizer programs consisted of meeting with one seed salesman and reviewing a couple different varieties. Fertilizer programs were usually standardized practices.
Now, the seed and fertilizer decisions are multiple choice questions, the guidance systems on tractors, planters and combines give quantities of data that represents the opportunity to make the most of every resource. But it all takes time and effort.
Konsterlie estimates that about 40 percent of his time is spent in the office, reviewing information, doing the paperwork and making the decisions. Those decisions are what keeps him competitive and help him improve those practices.
The father and son purchased a new tillage tractor in the fall, and set up the satellite guidance system, the signals that guide the tractor over the field, preventing overlap of tillage passes and thereby saving fuel and wear on the machinery and operator.
“If everything is working right, I’m making the best use of that machine,” with the satellite technology, he explains.
Using the satellite guidance systems on his planter for the first time last spring helped Konsterlie be efficient enough in his planting that he was able to return a full bulk container, 45 units of seed, that wasn’t needed for his acreage.
Caring for land, resources
Konsterlie is president of the Kandiyohi County Corn Growers board and spent three years serving on the Minnesota Corn Growers Association board. He sees that farmers, through their growers’ association, can use technology — like planters that save seed by planting very precisely and tillage that saves fuel by not overlapping passes — as a way to show their city cousins and politicians that they are taking care of the land and resources.
He sees water quality monitoring projects, like the Discovery Farms work at the Gorans Bros. farm south of Willmar, as another way to show that agriculture is but one contributor to water quality challenges. The water from the city development also has an impact.
“It’s not just us (agriculture), everyone has to do their part,” he said.
When news headlines — especially in Minnesota where so many are so connected to the lakes — show agriculture’s impact on water quality, farmers and their organizations need to step up and explain what they are doing to conserve the land and improve the water quality, he said. After all, a farmer isn’t going to be successful at growing crops without good land and adequate water.
“All we are doing is to provide good quality of life for us and our families and to maintain the resources for the future,” he said. “That land that I’m farming has got to go to my kids, to that next generation.”