PATCH GROVE - Receiving the International Crop Certifier of the Year award should be the only clue anyone needs that Adam Kramer, who runs Black Sand Granary, doesn’t just sit around and let the clover (and sunflowers, and oats, and radishes, and wheat, and rye, and hemp) grow under his feet. Kramer has harnessed his vision-in-the-stars, hands-in-the-dirt enthusiasm for soil health, water quality, and farm profitability into a new venture – Grower’s United.
“Growers United is a partnership between a group of farmers with a focus on soil health,” Kramer said. “Fundamental to our approach is the recognition that farm profitability is key to fostering regenerative farming systems.”
The group has a Facebook page, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/growersunitedllc/. On that page, the group’s focus is described as follows:
“We are dedicated to helping farmers and landowners grow their operations while being environmentally responsible. Our main areas of focus are Precision Technology, Custom Seeding, and Hemp Sales and Production.
“Our goal is to increase production, return on investment, and sustainability through an integrated production plan for our customers. We do this through the following areas: seed stock sales and service (from turf grass to hybridized corn); soil sampling and fertilizer prescriptions; GPS data management, mapping services, and custom seed cleaning.”
Kramer said “if we believe that healthy soils will sustain us, then they will also sustain our farms and our communities.” He described the group’s effort as a forward-thinking process with a real life application. The methods employed by the group are on-farm, boots-in-the-soil trials.
“The system of production our group is working to develop and refine has a focus on ways to increase soil organic matter (SOM),” Kramer said. “When we increase SOM, we increase porosity, water infiltration, and fertilizer efficiency, we decrease runoff, and we generally create a more resilient system.”
Soil health is key
Kramer said that a key goal for his group is diversification of on-farm rotations with small grains and other cover crops, and refining strategies for ‘planting green’ into a living cover. The new buzz word for evolving technology to support farmers in this endeavor is ‘variable rate technology.’
Variable rate fertilizer application allows crop producers to apply different rates of fertilizer at each location across fields. The technology needed to accomplish variable rate fertilization includes an in-cab computer and software with a field zone application map, fertilizer equipment capable of changing rates during operation and the Global Positioning System (GPS).
Kramer says that the biggest shortfall farmers have in refining their management systems for maximum profitability and environmental protection is in failing to accumulate good data about the practices employed in their fields.
Kramer is working with new technology developed by Ag Leader in Ames, Iowa. The technology is a device, attached to a tractor, which has an auto sensor to capture crucial data points from each ‘field instance,’ or each time a farmer enters their fields. The data tells the farmer exactly what the machine they are operating is doing, where, and when.
“This technology allows for a standardized data set,” Kramer explained. “It allows a farmer to look back and correlate their activities to outcomes, and to isolate variables that may have contributed to their successes or challenges.”
Kramer says that in recent years, his biggest interest has gone in the direction of plant exudates from different plant species, and the role that mycorrhizal fungi play in fostering soil health.
“My goal in my work is to marry the chemistry and technical science to farming practices,” Kramer explained. “That will involve trials to better calibrate the technical tools, learn how to plant green, soil testing and data processing.”
Kramer says that there is a real gap that exists in understanding the ultimate realistic diversity of cropping systems. He said that one thing he knows for sure, though, is that the answers to most farmers production problems likely won’t come from a jug.
“The only thing, for the most part, that we can change or affect on our farms is ourselves,” Kramer said. “So, that’s where Growers United is trying to place our focus – we need a mindset shift in farming.”
Kramer says that farmers are eventually going to have to address the severe problems that monoculture cropping systems have created. Key among those is pesticide and herbicide resistance.
“You can throw the bugs for a loop just by planting something that they’re not familiar with and don’t eat,” Kramer said. “The reality is that sooner or later, the weeds and the bugs will figure out how to defeat the technology.”
One of the diversified rotations that Growers United is working with is industrial hemp. They are experimenting among themselves to develop best practices for hemp production in both conventional and organic cropping systems.
“We can help people with the transition to organic production of hemp, as well as conventional production,” Kramer said, “The other four partners of Growers United and I are farm-minded first, so others can learn from our mistakes, and hopefully some folks will try some stuff with us and we can all learn together by sharing ideas and infrastructure.”
Kramer says that sometime in the near future, as the developing situation with COVID-19 permits, the group hopes to hold an open-house and field day at the facility in rural Patch Grove.
Black Sand Granary and Growers United can be contacted as follows:
• by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
• by phone: 608-412-5669• if you are located in the geographical area, you are invited to stop by and visit them in person. They are located at 12265 Hwy 35/133 in Patch Grove, WI 53817.