Future Farmer Mar/Apr 2023

Page 40

FOR AgTech Week!
WE'RE FARMERS SERVING FARMERS. Hawley - Evan Purrington 218.280.6099 400 Elevator St PO Box 863, Hawley, MN 56549 Thief River Falls - Nikki Toft & Jeremy Lian 218.683.6930 16980 120th Ave NE, Thief River Falls, MN 56701 Plummer 218.465.4275 360 US Route 59, Plummer, MN 56748 Aaron Yaggie President Our vision is to embrace change and adapt to the future, while never forgetting where we’ve come from or compromising on the traits of hard work, ethics and taking care of our customers like we would our own farm.”
Future Farmer is published 6 times a year and is direct mailed to farmers throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. Find us online at Futurefarmermag.com. Future Farmer is published by Spotlight LLC, Copyright 2023 Future Farmer. All rights reserved. No parts of this magazine may be reproduced or distributed without written permission of Future Farmer, and Spotlight LLC, is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims all liability for, damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to or reliance on such information. Spotlight LLC, accepts no liability for the accuracy of statements made by the advertisers. March/April 2023 Volume 4 Issue 2 Spotlight LLC 4609 33rd Ave S Suite #304 Fargo, ND 58104 Info@SpotlightMediaFargo.com ADVERTISING: 701-478-SPOT (7768) Publisher EDITORIAL Editorial Team Lead Editors Art Director Editorial Graphic Designers Creative Strategist Contract Content Specialist Contributors INTERACTIVE Business Development Manager Business Development Associate Videographers Director of Digital Advertising Results Graphic Designer Web Designer Social Media Specialist ADVERTISING VP of Business Development Sales Representatives Sales & Marketing Advisor Marketing Associate Client Relations Client Relations Manager Marketing Coordinator ADMINISTRATION Operations Assistant DISTRIBUTION Delivery Mike Dragosavich Brady Drake FargoInc@SpotlightMediaFargo.com Geneva Nodland, Grant Ayers, Sam Kise Kim Cowles Levi Dinh, Ty Betts Josiah Kopp Gary Ussery Emerging Prairie Nick Schommer Kellen Feeney Tommy Uhlir Jonathan Chicka Ben Buchanan Kellan Benson Ryne Bigelow Paul Hoefer Paul@SpotlightMediaFargo.com Al Anderson Al@SpotlightMediaFargo.com Devan Maki Devan@SpotlightMediaFargo.com Tori Helland Tori@SpotlightMediaFargo.com Hailey Bebler Hailey@SpotlightMediaFargo.com ClientRelations@SpotlightMediaFargo.com Jenny Johnson Jessica Mullen Miranda Knudson John Stuber Future Farmer

Meet The Team

Learn more about us at spotlightmediafargo.com




argo-Moorhead’s agtech leaders are coming together to put on AgTech Week—a week full of ag and agtech-based events that will bring together local producers and the organizations that help them thrive. Set to take place during the first week of June, the three primary events will include the FMWF Chamber’s Midwest Ag Summit, the Bushel Buddy Seat Conference, and Grand Farm’s Cultivate Conference. In the following pages, we have included a preview of each event. Read on for more info about these agtech events!


MidwestAgSummit PremierSponsor

(Hosted by the FMWF Chamber)

• Increased awareness and understanding of issues related to agriculture, such as food security, sustainable agriculture practices, policy, and rural development.

The development of new partnerships and collaboration among stakeholders of the agriculture industry, including agribusinesses, growers, adjacent business sectors, and government officials.

An understanding of key Midwest components of the 2023 Farm Bill regarding conservation programs, crop insurance, nutrition programs, and more.

Knowledge from industry and research leaders regarding impacts of the growing emphasis on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in the agricultural industry.

• To promote and raise awareness about the importance of the agriculture industry in the Midwest and its impact on a national and global level.

To provide a platform for key stakeholders and businesses in agriculture and adjacent industries to come together to openly discuss efficiencies, developments, innovations, policies, and more.

To foster collaboration and networking opportunities among industry leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders.

To highlight key discussion points within the agriculture sector including trends, economic outlook, 2023 farm bill policies, and ESG impacts.


The FMWF Chamber supports the growth and prosperity of the agriculture industry in the region through yearround agriculture-themed events, with the Midwest Ag Summit being the largest!


American Association of Port Authorities, presentations at major international industry conferences, and advises the U.S. Department of Commerce on supply chain competitiveness. Walter recently testified to the U.S. Senate Transportation and Commerce Subcommittee on issues affecting freight industry. He has also published research in scholarly journals.

Prior to joining JLL, Dr. Kemmsies was the Chief Economist for Moffat & Nichol, a leading global infrastructure advisement firm. Proceeding his experience working with Moffat & Nichol, Walter was the Head of European Strategy at JP Morgan in London, and, earlier, Head of Global Industry Strategy at UBS in Zurich and London.

Midwest Ag Summit
will also feature two panels of experts with the first being heavily focused on policies, regulation and the paramount Farm Bill of 2023, and the second uncovering and discussing leading efficiencies, development, innovation, sustainability,


Last year’s Midwest Ag Summit featured policymakers, national USDA officials, and local agriculture experts who convened in Fargo to discuss the current state of agriculture, the effects of foreign conflict, national security, efforts of elected officials in our region, and what to expect in the future. Speakers stressed the importance of the Farm Bill being a bipartisan effort, and teamwork across the aisles being critical for our nation’s thriving agricultural industry.

“We have such amazing agriculture and such amazing farmers and ranchers, but we can’t take it for granted,” U.S. Senator John Hoeven said. “We have got to continue to support what they’re out doing every day.”

The war in Ukraine was also a major topic at the event. Keynote speaker Robert Bonnie, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary, covered the effects that the war abroad has had on our farmers and ranchers here at home.

Last year’s speakers included:


JOEL KACZYNSKI BRIAN INGULSRUD NANCY JOHNSON TAYA SPELHAUG Precision Ag Solutions Manager, RDO Equipment Vice President, American Crystal Sugar Company Executive Director, ND Soybean Growers Association Board Director, Grand Farm



The conference will be held on Tuesday, June 6 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, 1805 Main Ave W, West Fargo.

Cost: $45 for in-person attendance; virtual attendance is free

The FMWF Chamber invites you to join them at the event in person by either registering individually or sponsoring the event. Sponsors receive recognition leading up to, during, and after the event, as well as reserved seats. Learn more about their various sponsorship opportunities, register, and tune in!



To start off, what is your role with the Buddy Seat Conference?

As the VP of Customer Experience here at Bushel, partnering closely with our Marketing team, I am involved in the planning, organization, and execution of the Bushel Buddy Seat conference. As this conference is primarily focused on bringing our customer base together for camaraderie and thought leadership, it is important that we are building content that will bring value to our customers.

Is there a theme/overarching topic for the conference?

In 2023, we officially branded our customer conference as the “Buddy Seat” conference. “Buddy Seat” is a reference to the seat alongside the driver's seat in a tractor or combine. We are leaning into the concept of our customers hopping on and riding along in the buddy seat as we look to collaborate with them to digitize and improve their business operations. The main themes of our Buddy Seat conference are camaraderie and thought leadership or shared learning as it relates to agriculture and how technology can help propel the industry forward. Bushel’s products play a big role in that endeavor.


Bushel CEO Jake Joraanstad presents to attendees of the 2022 Bushel Customer Conference. Now called the Bushel Buddy Seat Conference, 2023’s event is expected to bring more than 200 attendees to Fargo.

Do you partner with any of the other events during that week?

Yes, we closely partner with Grand Farm and their Cultivate Conference. Bushel Buddy Seat attendees are eligible for a discounted ticket for the Cultivate Conference and we are planning a joint “Shindig” in downtown Fargo on the evening of Wednesday, June 7, 2023 for both Buddy Seat and Cultivate attendees, speakers, and sponsors.

What can people look forward to experiencing when they come to the Buddy Seat Conference?

Our customers and partners can expect a fun-filled week of camaraderie, learning, and thought leadership as they come together with agriculture industry professionals from across the US and Canada. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for attendees not from the Fargo/Moorhead region to get a taste of our great culture and vibrant downtown community. Attendees last year were amazed at the warm and welcoming atmosphere that Fargo has to offer.

What kind of people usually come to the event? Producers, academics, other professionals in the industry?

Bushel’s customers are Agribusiness professionals with titles ranging from Grain Merchandiser or Originator to CEO, CFO, or CIO of grain

facilities across the country. In addition to Agribusiness professionals, Bushel also has a direct-to-farmer product called Bushel Farm. We will also see farmers from across the country show interest in attending the Buddy Seat Conference.

How much does it cost?

Tickets are $249 (plus fees and taxes) for the Buddy Seat Conference. Additionally, through our partnership with Emerging Prairie and Grand Farm, Bushel Buddy Seat attendees can also register for the Buddy Seat Conference and the Cultivate Conference for a total price of $299 (plus fees and taxes), which is a $50 discount on the Cultivate Conference registration. Interested parties can learn more and register by visiting buddyseat.com

How is the conference supporting agriculture in FM, the region in general, the nation, and beyond?

This conference is bringing Agribusiness professionals and farmers from across the region and country together for shared learning, specifically focused on technology and how technology can help improve the industry. Over the years, Bushel has built a robust network of agriculture industry leaders through the use and adoption of our technology products. Bushel is the common thread that is bringing these leaders together to continue to make progress in the digital transformation of agriculture.


Bushel, which has been around since 2011, develops software for the agricultural supply chain. More than 45% of grain origination in the U.S. moves through the Bushel platform. Each year, it brings its customers and partners in for a conference to talk about trends in technology in agriculture and create camaraderie for customers to learn from industry experts and each other.

Though speakers are still being confirmed, Bushel has provided the topics for their sessions for their conference in June. Each session will be led by ag experts from all over the country.

What The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Farmers Have in Common

Farmers might be living in the space age with some of the advancements brought on through agtech…but they’re living in the stone age for others. Why, in 2023, do farmers still need to get physical checks for grain? Why are they relying on unsecure, ACH transactions if they do want a digital payment?

Would You Like Fries With That? Supersized Tech Stacks in Agriculture That Focus on Organizing the “Messy Middle”

In six short years, Bushel saw agribusiness of all sizes go from, “We don’t need this technology,” to “Well, what else can Bushel provide us?” Join a panel of Bushel’s customers as they discuss what keeps them engaged with Bushel’s tools and what they are challenging us to think about next. This panel will also discuss what else they are using in their tech stack to power their operations.

Agtech Is So Hot Right Now: Agtech Trends That Look Promising for Farmers and Agribusinesses

Agtech is entering another new era. Perhaps more importantly, agtech is maturing to support business models that can grow to scale. Hear from the folks who are always scanning the agtech landscape for the next tech solution worth looking at.

Bushel’s State of the Farm Report Highlights

Hear interesting insights we collected from the 1,700+ farmers who participated in our 2023 State of Farm.

Yeti Coolers and Sticky Notes. Let’s Talk About the Classic (and Innovative!) Ways to Boost Grower Adoption

You’ve hung the posters. You posted the Facebook ad. But you’re still not seeing the growers using the app like you’d wish. Listen to our Customer Success Team joining customers like you to talk about what’s worked for improving grower adoption.

Hello HAL 9000: Understanding Artificial Intelligence Through OpenAI

In December 2022, OpenAI released ChatGPT and the world of artificial intelligence changed overnight. Learn how you can apply AI within your organization and what to be on alert for.

Oh, Hack No: Keeping Your Agribusiness and Farmers Safe From Cybersecurity Threats

Cyber attacks are on the rise, especially in the food supply chain. Cyber criminals are seeking weaknesses for many types of attacks including denial of service, theft of sensitive data and ransomware attacks. What systems are most at risk? How can you strengthen your walls to make sure you keep hackers at bay and out of your tech stack.

FOMO: The Not-So-Secret Psychological Reason That Farmers Hate Marketing Their Grain

What keeps farmers from feeling good about their grain marketing plans? It’s never been easier to access information…but why does it feel like farmers never have enough information to feel good about the grain marketing decisions they are making? Is it Fear Of Missing Out (aka FOMO)? Or is it something else?

* Sessions are subject to change, dependent on speaker availability. Stay up-to-date on session changes and speaker announcements at buddyseat.com



* Information about Cultivate Conference provided by Grand Farm.

Cultivate Conference is an agriculture technology conference that convenes innovators to explore technology innovations they’ve created, are currently building, or are searching for in their industry. The conference seeks to energize the AgTech community by showcasing the latest innovation in AgTech and how it solves real world problems faced by the agriculture industry.

Cultivate Conference brings together a diverse community of experts, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and growers to share their knowledge and experiences, and explore the exciting possibilities of technology in agriculture.

Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about cuttingedge solutions to real-world problems, connect with others in AgTech, and discover new opportunities to grow their businesses and drive innovation in this dynamic field. The Cultivate Conference is the must-attend event for anyone interested in the future of agriculture technology.


• Highlight work being done in agriculture technology. Provide a space for growers to give AgTech feedback.

• Create connections between startups, growers, corporations, technologists, investors, educators and universities.

Spotlight public-private partnership opportunities.

Attendees from both Cultivate Conference and the Bushel Buddy Seat Conference celebrate successful events at their joint shindig!
Photo by Morgan Schleif of M.Schleif Photography
Photo by M.Schleif Photography

Kevin O'Leary and Wonder Fund North Dakota made its first investment in LandTrust, an online land-sharing marketplace based out of Bozeman, MT that connects landowners with outdoor enthusiasts.

"When you are doing a venture investment, particularly a series A investment, I ask myself, 'What moat does the business have around it? What protection does it have? If it's a great idea, what do they have in equity that others are going to have a hard time duplicating?' That's really important," O'Leary said. "What I found with LandTrust and their business plan was all of the previous work they'd done to arrange access to these hundreds of thousands of acres. What took me over the top was when I found out [that] the Wilks family out of Texas, who have millions of acres in Texas, were willing to put in hundreds of thousands of acres and become my partner in the deal. That sealed it for me because what really makes that model work—I don't care if you are a hunter, a fisher, or if you are hiking and just like the outdoors—we got it for you. We've got anything you could possibly want because we have such a diversity of land. So now the job of the company is to acquire customers and that's where I can help—obviously, we have a massive social media following. That deal checked the box on everything I like about new startups and they have a fantastic management team who really understand this business. One of the things I love about it is that it's part of the share economy. It's one of those deals where I looked at it and thought, 'Why didn't I think of this?' I love it. I think it's great."

If you asked LandTrust Founder and CEO Nic De Castro as a child what he wanted to be when he grew up, he says he would have told you that he wanted to be a professional hunter or fisherman because that's what he loved to do growing up in the Laguna Beach area. He hunted, fished, surfed, and spear-fished before heading out east to attend Boston University, where he barely graduated.

"I graduated with basically a 2.3 GPA," De Castro said. "I didn’t like school."

But, a degree is a degree and De Castro found himself on the path to LandTrust quickly after graduating, grooming himself by taking on sales and partnership roles with technology startups in New York City. However, he didn't know that those jobs were preparing him to one day found his own tech startup.

"I did a lot of traveling, I did a million miles by the time I was about 28," De Castro said. "I was just traveling around talking to big brands and working with

big brands, selling digital advertising and marketing technologies. Which provided a great background for learning how to acquire customers online. That was very foundational for me. I moved up to Montana from Colorado at the end of 2016."

De Castro eventually moved from the Big Apple to Colorado and then on to Montana, taking on the same kinds of technology startup roles all along the way. "Quickly after moving to Bozeman, I was

LandTrust Founder and CEO Nic De Castro
Photo provided by LandTrust

would've been to go knock on a stranger's door. Even as a sales guy, I didn't enjoy doing that and, after speaking with thousands of farmers and ranchers over the past 3 years, most of them don’t enjoy or have the time for it either"

De Castro didn't move on with the idea right away. Instead, he continued to toy with it and think it through.

"Thankfully, I didn't do it in 2017," De Castro said. "Timing is everything for startups and that wasn't the right time.

But in November of 2018, the time was right for De Castro and he began to build out his deck and started pitching to investors.

"The first investors came in June of 2019 and I quit a well-paying consulting job," De Castro said. "My wife and I had our first child about a month later on August 5. I didn't have health insurance, no

wasn't a big question of if there was a need for this because some version of this has been happening forever. People have always been knocking on doors and paying fees for access to private land to hunt. They've called them trespass fees, historically. It was more of a question of if people will do this online in this manner and if they will they do it with us."

“COVID shook up a lot of things and made a lot of things possible that were hard to imagine before. Because of COVID, we now are able to do Zoom calls with farmers and ranchers. That would have been pretty hard to imagine happening beforehand. Since that time, LandTrust has put over 1 million acres on the platform.

"The cool thing is that almost all of our one million acres are from multigeneration farm and ranch families. We love that we are able to connect them

just facts. We're really a rural economic development company. We bring new money to these rural landowners and we bring new money to their rural communities through tourism."


De Castro and LandTrust, which previously had no customers in the state of North Dakota, first became aware of the North Dakota Development Fund in 2022 through his first Fargobased investor, Erik Barner. Barner encouraged the young entrepreneur to explore some of the programs the state had in the works.

"I went out to Fargo about a year ago and met a lot of really great people. Hannah Lange at the Development Fund has been great to work with. Josh Teigen has been great to work with. The Fargo startup scene is really amazing. The people there like Jenny Sheets are pretty awesome. There's great stuff happening in Fargo from a startup perspective," De Castro said.

"The Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Development Fund came together to offer us a really great debt package to incentivize us to bring business to North Dakota and we decided to do that."

"North Dakota has phenomenal waterfowl habitat that I think is a really good opportunity not for just for hunting, but for bird watching. There's a lot of people that love looking at birds, not over the barrel of a gun," De Castro said.

De Castro received more support from the state after and introduction to Paul Palandijan, the CEO of O'Leary Ventures. De Castro made a pitch to Palandijan, O'Leary, and the rest of the team, securing a $1.25 million investment in the process, contingent on establishing a base in Fargo which will be happening soon.

Check out our sister magazines Fargo INC! and Bis-Man INC! to learn more about what Kevin O'Leary is doing in the state of North Dakota. FInd LandTrust at: landtrust.com /landtrusthunt @landtrust_hunt @Landtrust FUTUREFARMERMAG.COM 31
Some highlights and features from the LandTrust website

barbara belvisi


Photos provided by Interstelllar Lab

Interstellar Lab’s primary innovation is the BioPod, a fully autonomous, enclosed mobile greenhouse. It doesn’t require a prelaid foundation, has a fully self-contained water system that doesn’t require a connecting water line, and simply needs a power supply to operate. With an internal growing area of around 194-590 square feet and only needing 500 liters of water which can last three to six months, Interstellar Lab has high hopes for the BioPod, both here on earth and eventually in the reaches of space that humans strive for.

However, the BioPod, which Belvisi refers to as a “he," is more than the hardware. Interstellar Lab designed the software for BioPod.

“We designed the BioPod to be a standalone device, like a computer or car. The BioPod can, by itself, know what to activate. It’s really creating a greenhouse that is almost a living animal. Its intelligence doesn’t need human intervention to play the climate. Inside the BioPod, you have multiple microcontrollers and sensors, so he knows when the temperature is too high. He has learning algorithms so he is self-learning as well,” Belvisi said.

That’s not to say things are perfect, yet, as there have been some breakouts that even Belvisi and her staff didn’t predict while using the BioPod.

“Plants have primary metabolites and secondary metabolites. The secondary metabolites are all the molecules used in the cosmetic

industry and in medicinal plants. The plants increase or decrease the production of these metabolites based on light, temperature, humidity, CO2 level, and ozone as well. We’ve been playing with the BioPod on those plants and they each develop specific metabolites identity, completely unique because they live in the BioPod. Because it’s producing more of this one molecule that smells like citrus, it is completely unique. So the smell, we’re discussing with a perfume company,” Belvisi said.

So, it turns out, Belvisi and her team have invented a new smell!

Interstellar Lab is gearing up to bring the BioPod to market and is currently building the first of a series of five BioPods that will be progressively installed over the coming year with their clients and partner. Additionally, they are setting up their first BioPod factory to accelerate production in 2023.

“Right now, we're working on what we call the BioPid factory, which [includes 3D printers that print] part of the structure and the membrane. [From there], we can manufacture three robots. We’re designing the factory and working with the French government to install one hopefully before the end of the year. With that, we can decrease the price of the BioPod,” Belvisi said.


Right now, farms around the world consume roughly 70% of all water that is consumed annually. 40% of that water is lost to the environment due to evaporation, irrigation, and overall poor water management. Because of fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals, agriculture is the number one leading source of pollution in many countries. Interstellar Lab seeks a more sustainable agriculture where humans and plants can better coexist.

“We don’t pollute the soil because we don’t touch the ground, no polluted water comes out of our systems. We actually take CO2 out of the atmosphere. We have a scrubbing device in the BioPod to accelerate plant growth. So, by enriching BioPod with CO2, we can accelerate plant growth and compared to other greenhouses. We’re taking CO2 from the atmosphere and are net negative for CO2,” Belvisi said.

This level of efficiency can be utilized for more than simple food production. The more functions systems have in a weight limited setting, such as space travel, the better. With the possibility of oxygen production and water filtration, BioPod will also have a positive psychological impact.

“Plants and humans work very well together. Humans expel CO2 and plants need CO2 and produce oxygen. It makes a lot of sense to grow plants in a station or on the Moon to provide oxygen. When it comes to water, right now we are using membranes to purify the water but the truth is we can also use plants to purify water. There is also the psychological aspect of having plants. In the Space Station every astronaut can tell you that they are the happiest when there are plants around them. There is a smell, there is life, they don’t feel lonely, and it reminds them of the Earth. And that’s only on the space station, can you imagine on the Moon and then the future on Mars?” Belvisi said.

William Cowper tells us, “Variety’s the very spice

of life, that gives it all its flavor,” and Interstellar Lab agrees. Currently they are growing 12 different species of plants, from pineapples to vanilla and even a few different fungi. They believe in the importance of bringing variety not only to future space travelers, but to those of us who will always call Earth home. Interstellar Lab intends to use what our ancestors have taught us about food and bring it into the future.

“I think it is going to be bridging everything we can learn from our ancestors and creating more diversity. Right now, around the world, it is mostly 11 species that are feeding 70% of the population which is ridiculous compared to the biodiversity that we have,” Belvisi said.

Belvisi and her team at Interstellar Lab have out-of-this-world dreams with the experience and science to back them up. You can learn more about Interstellar Lab and the BioPod that some of the team have lovingly nicknamed EVE, inspired by WALL-E, at interstellarlab.com


about new age Farming


illing your fields every year is inevitable, but did you know that digging, stirring, and overturning your soil actually kills many of the good fungi and bacteria you need to maintain soil health? Luckily, there are ways to improve soil health and help your crops thrive again, including fungi called mycorrhizae. Expert in the field and New Age Farming founder Brady Krchnavy sat down to talk with me about mycorrhizal fungi and how it can help farmers get better yields from their crops, as well as how it can improve soil health in your fields.

Past farmer and current soil adviser Brady Krchnavy wants to improve your soil health with mycorrhizal fungi.
"New Age Farming LLC is a company based in North Dakota that specializes in Mycorrhizal Fungi. We have been working with farmers and universities on the research and development of Mycorrhizal Fungi for many years. We are the experts and lead the 'field' in helping farmers to healthier soil and a more sustainable future."
- New Age Farming's Website, farmfungi.com

Origins of New Age Farming

After years of unintentionally ruining your soil and having to invest thousands of dollars in fertilizer, you may wonder—where does it end? Often, the fertilizer and seed needed to ensure a viable crop is so expensive that you hardly make a profit on your yield. While Brady Krchnavy was managing a farm radio station, he found the simple solution: mycorrhizal fungi. Since then, he and his company, New Age Farming, have researched and developed a mix of eight species of fungi that will work with your crops’ root systems to help them grow further and uptake more nutrients and water.

Krchnavy grew up farming with his family in Lisbon, ND, about 90 miles southwest of Fargo. He always had a passion for farming and has always looked for ways to improve farmers’ lives and ROI. Soil health, because it is so important to farmers, was one of the main things he had been looking to improve.

“We've been beating up our soils for more than a century,” he said. Soil health continues to decline because of our farming practices, including deep tillage, anhydrous use, fumigation, harmful fungicides, repeated harmful herbicide use, and compaction, to name a few.


Research suggests that a type of mycorrhizal fungi might have been a key factor enabling plant terrestrialization, or the movement of aquatic plants to land.

These fields' yields have grown exponentially after using mycorrhizal fungi!
Photos Courtesy of New Age Farming LLC


What is Mycorrhizal Fungi?

Mycorrhizal fungi, or mycorrhizae, are naturally occurring soil fungi that are essential to plant life.

“It's beneficial fungi that, through all of the years of tillage, we've basically killed in all of our soil because the UV light kills it," Krchnavy said. "Every time we dig, we're tipping up the soil, and it's killing the fungi. We've been doing that for over 100 years. Anhydrous ammonia and other synthetic fertilizer use also kills it with chemicals.”

Through Krchnavy’s research, he’s found that mycorrhizal fungi can not only improve soil health but increase crop yield and decrease input costs over time.

“When farmers put these spores next to or on the seed (with seed treating equipment or in-furrow) and that seed germinates, they go

into the root, colonize, and basically widen and deepen the root system. They'll grow off of that root system and bring back nutrients and water to the plant, and in return, the crops are bigger, stronger, and healthier. In this symbiotic relationship, the plant— through photosynthesis—sends down starches and sugars to keep the fungi growing and keep them going out looking for more nutrients and water to bring back to the plant’s roots. So it's a relationship between the plant and the fungi,” he said.

After the fungi have colonized in the root, not only do your crops grow more vigorously, the weeds will be less prominent, too. Krchnavy explains that because the fungi are bringing nutrients to your crops, they will starve non-mycorrhizal weeds of nutrients and water, making weeds less vigorous in your fields.

A crop’s root system will expand greatly with mycorrhizal fungi, like the roots pictures here, according to Krchnavy.
“Mycorrhiza” is a term used to describe many different kinds of fungi, all of which form symbiotic relationships with plants.

Mycorrhizal Fungi and Regenerating Soil Health

Though his company sells to many farms who continue to till their lands, Krchnavy said that applying mycorrhizal fungi spores to your crops is adjacent to—and will assist with— regenerative farming methods.

“I've got some farmers that have been with me six or seven years, and they don't use my product anymore, because they've switched their farm practices to keep the fungi in their soil. They don't till as deeply anymore, or strip-till. They just leave the lower root zone alone and plant right into it. At that point, you are regenerating your soil. You're getting your soil back in good health, and you're building your fungi levels the way they should be,” he said.

This soil regeneration is vital for the world’s food supply, as many fields

nowadays cannot produce as healthy and as nutritious crops due to poor soil health.

“They've wrecked some fields with the salt-based starter fertilizers they put down. You can see those white spots in the spring. Those really white fields won't even grow weeds. That's how badly our practices have wrecked them. There's nothing left biologically, and that's not sustainable,” Krchnavy said. “New Age Farming is currently trial-running a product that breaks down these complex salts so rain can naturally filter them through our soils and out of our top soils.”

Luckily, Krchnavy says that using mycorrhizal fungi can help revitalize the fields that seem irreparable and void of soil health structure. “It takes time but it can be done.”

Here is an example of the salty fields Krchnavy is trying to revitalize.


NDSU’s Soil Testing Lab will test your soil health and chemical content for you! More information on testing is available at:


Know Your Crops’ Needs

Most things that are meant to help your crops grow are also harmful to your soil long-term. However, mycorrhizal fungi are not harmful to your soil or any crops. It’s 100% organic, so there are no chemicals in it that could damage crops. At worst, the fungi will be neutral for your crops.

“There are plants that will not use it—non-mycorrhizal plants. Most of them are in the brassica family. So when you think about nonmycorrhizal crops, you would think of sugar beet, mustard, kale, radish, turnip, or canola. Anything that's got that bulb underground with the big leaves on top is probably non-mycorrhizal,” Krchnavy explained. “They do not use fungi to grow. They use bacteria, so it does not help them but it doesn't hurt them. The spores will just stay there in the ground and wait for your wheat, corn, beans, or whatever mycorrhizal crop you’re putting in next.”

However, Krchnavy does warn against putting mycorrhizal fungi in the ground before you plant your non-mycorrhizal crops because the harvest-season tilling could kill the new fungi you just applied. Instead, he suggests you put the fungi in the ground right after you harvest your non-mycorrhizal crops.


“When you [grow] sugar beets, you till the field to get fertilizer and lime down, and [then you] plant the sugar beets. Sometimes you go out and cultivate in between the rows to keep the weeds out. You then come with the lifter and tear up the ground lifting the beets out, and [finally] you come in one or two more times to level everything back out,” Krchnavy said. “So you're tilling that field probably four to six times throughout the year. That is obliterating any fungi you may have had. Sugar beets are really, really hard on soil. That's why it's really important to get the fungi in the ground right after the sugar beets are harvested—get the fungi in the ground and get it working for you on your next two or three crops in your rotation.”

This may seem counterproductive because of winter’s chilly temperatures and the freezing ground, but New Age Farming’s mycorrhizal fungi can stay alive in temperatures from -50 to 140 degrees. This means you can start regenerating your soil after the growing season ends with cover crops and have healthier soil for the next growing season.

If your crop fields need a boost or you are just worried about your field’s soil health, mycorrhizal fungi may be your solution. Check out New Age Farming’s websites for more information on these beneficial crop fungi.

Learn More About

Mycorrhizal Fungi and New Age Farming A CLOSE-UP VIEW OF MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI. 4112 154th Ave SE Durbin, ND 58059 (701) 261-1651 Farmfungi.com Gardenfungi.com /newagefarmingllc @newagefarm @newagefarmingllc3766 @MycoMaxxAg FUTUREFARMERMAG.COM 43


As one of the founders as well as the President of the North Dakota Grape & Wine Association (NDGWA), Rodney Hogen has become a trendsetter in bringing the grape growing and winemaking industry to the plains. His own vineyard, Red Trail, located near Buffalo, ND first took root in 2003 and is named after one of the first established trails across the state in the early 1900s that helped pave the way for the automobile as transportation in the state.

Today, Rodney continues to be a key player in the grape and wine industry. He helps organize grape and wine tours and other events for vineyards and wineries in the region to come together and form a community through shared knowledge, wines, grape growing and winemaking hacks, competitions, awards, and more. The NDGWA's mission is, "To carry out education, promotion, and extension of the art and science of viticulture and enology in North Dakota and surrounding areas including any and all agricultural, horticultural and related purposes connected therewith.”

Photos by Josiah Kopp


There's a reason why grapes do so well on hillsides; when planting a vineyard, pick the right site away from trees—grape plants need sunshine and space.

For planting grapes, choose high ground with a south-facing slope—grapes don't like wet feet!

Pick the right soil type—light or sandy soil works best.

Plant the vines in rows that are positioned north and south for maximum sunlight.

For the North Dakota climate, chose an early-maturing grape variety. Although a cold and hardy grape is hard to find, most of the varieties we grow at Red Trail do extremely well in this climate. My top five grape variety recommendations are Valiant, King of the North, Prairie Star, Frontenac, and Frontenac Gris.

Every place you stop on your travels to try the wines, you'll find something for everyone. Many of the smaller 'mom and pop' wineries produce the best wines. I think our winemakers in North Dakota are doing a great job of making good wines. The tourists that stop and have a taste of North Dakota wine are surprised by how good they taste. It's not only the good wine but it is also the people that pour and tell you their stories of what they do and why. It's time to sit back and enjoy!"



Northern wines are a little different than the traditional grape wines that you find in the liquor stores in this area. The grape varieties that are grown in this region are hybrid varieties which are cold and hardy for our climate. In North Dakota, we have about 40 acres of grapes growing now and that will keep expanding in the future. If you take a tour of the tasting rooms in the state, you will find many that have fruit wines or grape wines that are from out-of-state produce or juice. Rodney's places of choice are:

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 FUTUREFARMERMAG.COM 47


Choose healthy bare-root plants—do not try and propagate your own vines

Planting bare-root vines is a more straightforward process; you dig a foot-long hole that is wide enough to spread the roots out at the base, backfilling it in and leaving four to six inches of vine above the surface. Propagating your own vines is more tedious and involves more risk, as you are taking pencil-thin chutes from existing vines and trying to start a whole new plant. If you are new to growing grapes, avoid this method.

Do not buy cheap posts for your trellis

Not all posts are created equally—some posts are flat and untreated and thus are weaker and will rot more easily. Be sure to choose a treated or cedar post, which is made to withstand time and the elements.

Do not space your plants too close

Like most midwesterners, grape plants also like some space from each other—the main reasons being they need a lot of sunlight, and if plants are spaced too closely together, they can overcrowd one another, creating more shade and raising the risk of disease. A good place to start is spacing plants seven feet apart in the row, and spacing rows about ten feet apart to allow small machinery to drive in between rows for netting, mowing, etc.

Do not plant under trees

Trees are moisture magnets; they draw in water at the roots and grape vines don't like wet feet. Another caveat of planting under trees is the golden rule with planting grape vines—they need as much sun as possible.

1 2 3 4 6 5

Don't let the weeds overtake your vineyard

This one may seem self-explanatory, but it needs to be emphasized. Any other plant near your grape vines is competing for life. Your grape vines are just like a garden— keep the weeds out and your garden will thrive.

Don't let the birds eat all your grapes

Again, this one may seem obvious—but you're not the only one looking forward to delicious clusters of grapes. The moment your grapes start ripening, birds will be trying to rob them, especially from underneath. This is where netting comes in. Netting will help keep your grapes protected as they continue to ripen for harvest. Netting is the preferred method for most vineyards, as other methods like a canon (a device that makes a 'boom' sound on a timer to scare away birds) or spraying with pesticides are more invasive.

7Do not give up! Grape varieties take at least three years to produce a crop

Like most plants, grapes are made to reproduce, so they will grow rapidly. But trimming them down during the first few years helps develop a strong trunk system. Grapes have to be trimmed and trained up the wire for the first three years. The third year is when your grape plant will begin producing a noticeable crop, but it still needs to be pruned and trained along the wire. It’s a slow and patient process.

Valiant grapes nearly ready for harvest at Red Trail—one of the best varieties to grow in North Dakota.

What is being a grape grower about to you?

For me, grape growing is all about being immersed in nature. My favorite time of the year is in the spring when we begin to prune the grape vines and get ready for another year. Just being outside after a long winter is invigorating; it's time to get back in touch with nature, smelling the fresh air and listening to the sounds of the migrating birds.

How has your passion or appreciation for grape growing evolved over the years, and how has GPWA and the community played a role in that?

The passion never goes away because it is something I look forward to every day; once you experience it, you'll understand it. The support from my friends and community has played a large part in starting this new venture, especially in growing grapes.

This year I have hired more help to train some of our vines on a VSP-type trellis and install more catch wires—these help the vines to grow upward, which will give the grape clusters more sunlight—the ultimate ingredient to a healthy crop.


What is something new you have been doing or trying in regard to grape growing or winemaking? ndgwa.org /SpireCustomHomes


As the snow finally begins to thaw, there are a lot of exciting things going on at the Grand Farm. In each issue of Future Farmer, Emerging Prairie offers up insight into what's new and notable at the cross-section of start-ups and agriculture. This month, we learn more about some of Grand Farm's amazingly innovative partners and get a look at a recent podcast episode!

52 Building the Hurd with Industrial Hemp 54 Doing Business With Brazil 53 Growing the Flock with a Farm-toNeedle Education 55 56 Homes Built Better Discover the GRAND FARMER Podcast Interviews! CONTENTS 54 55 53 52 FUTUREFARMERMAG.COM 51

Building the Hurd with Industrial Hemp


Q: Tell us about your company and mission.

A: Our business purchases big bales of hemp stalks from farmers, and we process that material, separating the fiber from the hurd. We then further process that hurd, removing dust and particles and sorting it by size. We can then sell that product into the market. Hemp hurd is strong, lightweight, and absorbent, making it useful for a wide variety of purposes, but our target and focus is on building grade hurd for the hempcrete market. We believe this market holds a lot of potential, and it is our mission to help build it.

Q: What are some wins you are celebrating?

A: At this stage in our startup, we haven’t had too many opportunities for big wins yet, but are still reveling in the small ones. Just this week, we had all of our major pieces of equipment delivered to the facility, and we were also successfully able to round up a small group of farmers excited to grow hemp for us this coming growing season. The plan is coming together!

Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?

A: The most important lesson I’ve learned, and am still learning, is the power of delegation. I know how tempting it can be to try to do everything yourself, especially in the early stages, but it isn’t sustainable. By delegating tasks, lifting people up, and working as a team, you can get a lot more done in a lot shorter period of time.

Q: Dakota Hurd Company is officially a part of the Fargo-Moorhead founder family. How can our community support you in your next stage of growth?

A: The most important factor in the success and growth of Dakota Hurd Company comes down to our relationships with our farmers. We would love to continue to grow our farmer network, so if you know someone within 150 miles of Wahpeton that might be interested in adding industrial hemp into their rotation, let them know we exist. Also, if people really want to make an impact, consider building with hempcrete. Or even just do some of your own research. I believe it is a very exciting innovation that holds a lot of promise, which can create a healthier, safer, more sustainable, and better home.

Q: What are you grateful for today?

A: There are so many things to be grateful for, it is difficult to know where to start and where to stop. It’s a great blessing to be living in the Upper Midwest, where the people are so genuinely kind. We have a great team at Dakota Hurd, for which I am excited and grateful to be working with. I’m also grateful for the hemp plant itself, with all of its exceptional properties. I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to be a part of this exciting emerging market.

About Aaron

Aaron Templin is the co-founder of Dakota Hurd Company. After six years in food & beverage management at the SCHEELS Arena, Aaron co-founded Front Street Taproom and The Cellar Comedy Club, which continues to operate in Downtown Fargo. An active curiosity and fascination with the hemp plant, its history, and its potential coupled with a strange twist of fate brought Justin Berg and Aaron Templin together to build Dakota Hurd Company.

“I loved the vibe of the community as well as its many great opportunities, and it has been a wonderful place to call home.“

About Dakota Hurd Company

Dakota Hurd Company is an industrial hemp company that works to build grade hemp hurd for the hempcrete market. Hempcrete is a sustainable alternative building material that can create a healthier, safer, fireproof, soundproof dwelling, while also sequestering carbon, and supporting local farmers.

Photo provided by Emerging Prairie
with Aaron Templin

Growing the Flock with a Farm-toNeedle Education


Q: Tell us about your mission.

A: My mission is to provide the best materials and knowledge so that my customers can enjoy needle felting as a stress-relieving creative escape. We are the only needle felting company that grows its own wool, processes it, and assembles its products all in the USA. Most wool sold in needle felting kits or sold for needle felting is imported merino wool. Merino wool is soft, but it does not needle-felt well. Our wool is fully traceable back to our farm, where our sheep are ethically and sustainably raised, which is 18 miles from where it is processed and sold and it is the very best for needle felting. I want someone just getting started in needle felting to have access to the best materials so that they will enjoy it and continue needle felting.

Q: What are some wins you are celebrating?

A: From 2018 to 2021 we were renovating a 100-year-old building for Bear Creek Felting, doing as much of the work that we could do ourselves. Since then, we have been learning the ins and outs of how to run a boutique hotel and event center. We have hired employees and have worked to organize a business we had zero experience with. We founded a nonprofit and gathered a board of directors. All this time, Bear Creek Felting was going strong in the background thanks to years and years of work to make sure it could run seamlessly without my constant attention 12 hours a day.

This past November, we received the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award which recognizes and celebrates the “best of the best” in preservation projects across the country—projects that highlight cutting-edge preservation approaches or technologies—for our work with Nome Schoolhouse. This is the highest national recognition bestowed upon a preservation project by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?

A: The riches are in the niches. Because my business is so unique and there are very few of us designing and selling needle felting kits, supplies, and information in the world, that is what has made me successful.

Q: Nome Schoolhouse is officially a part of the Fargo-Moorhead founder family. How can our community support you in your next stage of growth?

A: Help us spread the word about what we are doing at the Nome Schoolhouse through our 501(c)(3) Eweniversity which focuses on farm-to-needle education. We are providing educational opportunities to learn about raising fiber animals, processing their wool, and products that can be made from their wool through tours, classes, and retreats.

Q: What are you grateful for today?

A: I am thankful for an amazing team of employees! It took a while to get everything organized running the Nome Schoolhouse and Shepherd industries. We are finally to the point where I can spend more time in my area of expertise again, needle felting and designing kits and courses. I’m grateful to have a talented business partner who excels in all the areas that I do not, which makes us the perfect team.

Check out Nome School House!

Readers can learn more about Teresa and Nome Schoolhouse online at: nomeschoolhouse.com




Teresa Perleberg developed a niche market using her flock of sheep’s wool by designing needle felting kits with instructions and materials to complete the project. She began selling her kits online in 2008 and in 2017 added an online subscription membership teaching needle felting through video courses. In 2018, she along with Chris Armbrust of Dakota Fiber Mill purchased the Nome Schoolhouse and began renovations to house their businesses and a fiber arts retreat center.

“My business is now based out of Nome, ND because I fell in love with a 100-year-old school building that needed to be saved from falling further into disrepair.“

About Bear Creek Felting + Nome Schoolhouse

What started as a hobby transformed into a creation and teaching business surrounding needle felting. In 2017, Teresa opened the Bear Creek Felting Academy where she created felting courses and kits for a niche market. In 2018, she partnered with Chris Armbrust to purchase and renovate the Nome Schoolhouse in Nome, ND. The Nome Schoolhouse is a boutique hotel and event center that houses Bear Creek Felting, Dakota Fiber Mill, and their 501(c)(3) the Nome Eweniversity which focuses on providing education on the entire fiber process from Farm to Needle.

Photo provided by Emerging Prairie
with Teresa Perleberg

Doing Business With Brazil



Q: Tell us about Startup Connection USA and your mission.

A: Startup Connection helps large Ag companies, investors and startups get together, figure out how they can make innovation work, and how we can make it faster and cheaper. Our mission is to show everyone that Innovation is more about action than generating ideas and that we are the ones responsible for leading the future of agriculture. We want to develop the New Silicon Valley in Fargo, ND.

Q: What are your entrepreneurial highs and lows?

A: The highest is getting known by what I do and not for my job title. My lowest points have come from the fact that entrepreneurship is full of ups and downs. I figured out that some colleagues at my old job just wanted to stay close to me because I was in a leadership/key position. It scared me a lot!

Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?

A: Before trying to sell a PowerPoint presentation, build your MVP, find your market fit, and improve your business.

Q: Startup Connection USA is officially a part of the Fargo-Moorhead founder family. How can our community support you in your next stage of growth?

A: As you know, our company is based on meaningful connections. We would love to build a strong network to improve Fargo’s Agtech ecosystem. Our goal is to bring five Latin Startups to town. If you could join our meetings requests and be opened to learn a bit more about what Brazilian startups are doing, that’d be a great start!

Check out Startup Connection USA!

Readers can learn more about Bruno and Startup Connection USA online at: startupconnectionusa.com/en search "Startup Connection USA"

Bruno Dupin is the Founder and CEO of Startup Connection USA. He is an Agricultural Engineer with more than 10 years of experience in multinational companies and an international reference in Technology and Innovation, mainly in Agribusiness. Bruno is a technology enthusiast that helps companies and employees think differently and in an innovative/disruptive way.

“I grew up at this small city in Brazil, where Embrapa Maize & Sorghum, the Brazilian version of the USDA, is based. I worked with Felipe Gonzalez at Plug and Play in Silicon Valley, and I learned about Fargo when he moved here.”

About Startup Connection USA

Startup Connection USA was founded in 2018 by Bruno Dupin with the purpose of connecting great solutions with several problems! Through an internally developed methodology, they help companies to develop a culture of innovation within organizations, mainly: Creating innovative ideas based on customers demand and co-creating events, workshops, leadership programs, CVC structuring, and innovation training for the entire team.

Photo provided by Emerging Prairie

Homes Built Better


About MATT


us about Homeland Hempcrete and your mission.

A: The reason our business came to be is for the simple fact that we know homes can be built better. Not just better in quality and performance, but better for the homeowner’s well-being, better for the local economy, and better for the generations to come. We believe this is accomplished by utilizing locally sourced, high-performance, natural building materials. In short, homegrown homes!

Q: What are some wins you are celebrating?

A: Wins for the industry, we helped write the IRC Build Appendix for Hempcrete which was officially accepted by the ICC at the end of 2022. This basically means that hempcrete is now accepted as a building material in the US and can be adopted in any region! For ourselves, we are proud to have built the first hempcrete structure in North Dakota back in 2019, and we now serve as the regional leader for the United States Hemp Building Association to help others learn and adopt hempcrete building practices in their own regions.

Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?

A: That collaboration and cooperation are critical to success. No one person or company can do it all. Especially in an emerging market like the one we are part of. It takes everyone working together towards a common goal to

make progress. We are fortunate to be in an industry that relies on and also values supporting each other for the common good.

Q: Homeland Hempcrete is officially a part of the Fargo-Moorhead founder family. How can our community support you in your next stage of growth?

A: Buy local! Our local businesses need our support, and our state economy benefits so much more when we invest in our own communities. And next time you’re in the market for building a home, reach out to us for the most locally sourced home you can buy.

Q: What are you grateful for today?

A: I am so grateful for groups/tribes just like this one. Bringing like-minded individuals together from all types of backgrounds and industries is truly special, and presents the opportunity for unique collaboration and growth within our region, and growth for our region is what we are all about, so thank you!

Check out Homeland Hempcrete!

Readers can learn more about Matt and Homeland Hempcrete online at: homelandhempcrete.com /hhcrete


Matt Marino is the President and founder at Homeland Hempcrete. He has a background in operations and has focused most of his career on supply chain efficiencies, but has also spent years renovating and managing rental properties. Early on when exploring the hemp industry, he realized that building with hemp not only aligned with his interests but also provided the opportunity to make a significant impact. His goal now is to make hempcrete more accessible, more scalable, and accelerate the adoption of healthy and sustainable building materials in the United States.

“By the time college came around, I swore I would move away and never come back. After nine years away, we decided to move back to start this business. It has been a great decision for our business and our family, and the thing people complain about the most here (winter) has become one of my favorite aspects about North Dakota!“

About Homeland Hempcrete

Founded the same year the US Farm Bill legalized the production of industrial hemp, Homeland Hempcrete entered the market, utilizing the traditional cast-in-place build method. After years of trial and error, they decided there must be a more effective solution that will decrease installation time and get more hempcrete to more customers.

The solution that they have embraced is pre-made, pre-cured, high-quality hemp wall panel assemblies. Homeland Hempcrete’s panel system allows for consistent quality, customized design, a variety of finishes, and quick and easy installation, and finishes can be applied immediately after installation.

Photo provided by Emerging Prairie Tell
with Matt MArino

Discover the GRAND FARMER Podcast Interviews!

Grand Farmer is an agricultural podcast produced by Grand Farm that brings together growers and AgTech professionals to help accelerate conversations around emerging technologies in the agriculture industry. Grand Farmer is released wherever podcasts are found including on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. And now, Grand Farm is making the episode interviews available to Future Farmer readers.

This interview features Adam Spelhaug and Austin Benes discussing Data Management Platforms in AgTech. Adam is a regional account manager at GDM Seeds which provides cutting-edge technology to research, develop, and commercialize maximum-yield soybean varieties as well as other extensive crops. Adam also has had 15 years of experience being an agronomist at Peterson Farm Seeds. Austin is a senior key account executive at RealmFive which is accelerating the agriculture industry’s transition to efficient digital supply and labor via automation.

Austin Benes: If you want to give me a little background on yourself and kind of where you're from and what your perspective is, that'd be great.

Adam Spelhaug: I grew up on a small farm that included corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflower, alfalfa, and cattle which was located southwest of Fargo about 30 miles. So, Kindred is the town that I still live in today and am farming in. We're kind of on the edge of the Red River Valley with some ground in the valley, but mostly it's kind of lighter sandier soils, kind of more in that cattle area outside the valley. I always enjoyed helping my dad and farming and doing all that, I kind of thought that I’d for sure want to be either a farmer or do something in agriculture. Not having the biggest farm, you sometimes look at some of those

economics, right?

I figured I'd probably need to get a real job but maybe stay involved in ag. So, I went to NDSU, like a lot of guys my age coming out of farms in North Dakota. I got an ag economics degree there. I went into retail for about four or five years just outside of Fargo. And then when we got married, I was out by Bismarck. My wife had a good government job out there, so I worked out in that area for a while, which was a great experience because I got to see a whole different kind of farming—with the dryer land, there's a lot more no-till out there. There were different crops and good producers I got to work with.

My passion started with my dad, who was a Northrup King Seed dealer when I was growing up. So, I was

*This interview has been edited for grammar and conciseness.

always around the seed side and I always liked the seed side and I kind of figured I'd like to get into the seed industry. Eventually, I started working for Pulse USA out of Bismarck. And then, after we were married for a couple of years, we found out we were pregnant with twins. My wife is from Minnesota and thought it'd probably be good to get closer to family. So, we moved back to my home area and I started working for a seed company just outside of Fargo—I was with them for 15 years as a product management agronomist.

I started slowly farming on the side since I was living close to home or close to the farm. I started kind of transitioning that farm from my dad to myself. I was working a full-time job and farming on the side. And then, as of two years ago, I took a different role. Now I'm working in the seed genetics industry, working with soybean genetics and licensing. I'm working with all the seed companies really. I cover from Nebraska, Iowa, north. And then, at that time, my dad was starting to slow down, retire, and wanted to get out of it. So then I ended up taking over the farm. We had transitioned some land. We had a neighbor who started farming some land again after the prices were good in 2013 and 2014, that his grandpa had—we had rented land from them and he started farming again.

So we're not farming a lot of acres, about 700, 800 acres on the side. But that's enough, having a full-time job. And you know, the nice thing is I don't need family living out of the farm. So my break-even is a little bit lower. Five, six, seven years ago, when prices were the way they were, people were still making somewhat of a profit off the farm, which is good. The last couple of years, we've been doing really well and having some good crops but I've always picked up a lot of different

things I've wanted to do on the farm from guys in North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota over the last 20 years.

I'm doing more no-till now, which also helps with having another job. I don't have to sit in a tractor doing tillage for 15 hours a day. So that's pretty good. I've also tried, even with the scale of our farm, to do more with precision planning and implementing GPS. Like most farms, we're a little later to that because my dad said, "well, I can still drive a straight row, I don't need GPS." But I've been trying to implement some of those efficiencies into the farm just so I don't have to spend as much time out there. That's kind of the quick story. I still have four kids who are a couple of little juniors in high school now, the oldest of twins, a boy and a girl, and then another son that's a junior and, and then a daughter in eighth grade. So chasing them around and sports and all those activities keep us busy.

Austin Benes: Your background is a heck of a lot more interesting than mine maybe. I, not having children, look at my friends who farm and who are in the ag industry and who are doing things and if you're in support roles like your full-time job it's a 13-month-a-year kind of a thing, right? There's a lot of overlap in there and you just kind of keep going. Sometimes it comes with reducing tasks and sometimes it comes from multitasking, and oftentimes it comes from kind of offloading that into some other spaces. I grew up in a diversified cropping scenario as well down here in southeast Nebraska. My family still farms about half an hour north of Lincoln. We kind of grew up in sort of a transitional space. We had access to both irrigated acres and dryland acres, growing corn and soybeans and forage production. And then a cowcalf operation. Eventually, costs and dynamics around things changed. My

family operation chose to go away from irrigation and actually towards the dry land management scenario.

And our cropping system, which was, I want to say, unique for our area. It's probably unique for the state of Nebraska at large. People try to get more irrigation as opposed to less. But just the increase in costs and where we were in relation to the aquifer. Some dynamics had changed there and created some unique efficiency needs. But yeah, I attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. My background is actually in animal science and ag education. But when I got out of school there, my first job was in the agronomic space. It was the mid-2000s, 2005 or so, and there was not a lot of money to be made on the livestock side of things, but there was some money to be made and some opportunity in the cropping systems.

And so I had taken a position in ag retail with a large co-op in central and in southeast Nebraska at a location there. I kind of learned the ins and outs. I went to work for a couple of seed companies over the years and supported both ag retail and then some direct farmer sales as well. And I would say honed my craft as a sales agronomist. Ultimately, I actually moved away from Nebraska, and I lived in the southeast US for a number of years. I was a regional manager for a large liquid fertilizer company so I've managed about 15 states. I had everything kind of south of the Mason-Dixon from about central Texas, effectively east to the Atlantic seaboard. That experience that I gained down there outside of the Great Plains, outside of the Midwest working with different people, different cultures, different technologies, and different cropping systems that lends itself to sort of some creative thinking and thinking outside of the box was really informative



for me. While I was there, I transitioned to an ag technology company specific to an ERP system for a sort of enterprise resource management system. And they also had an agronomic platform that I worked very closely with and that agronomic platform tied directly to farmer use, but it was primarily retail and distribution facing.

All of that really kind of sling-shotted me into the position that I'm in today— working with Realm Five back here in Lincoln, creating and developing tools to fit into the platform environment. But with maybe some more specific focus. One of the things that I think about is how I got into ag technology or how did we get into this space, in general, working in support of ag retail and, you know, ag service providers for darn near 20 years now. I've always been around emerging technology. We should consider emerging technologies, right? I mean, going back to the early 2000s working with SMS oil sampling or some of the earlier grid sampling elements and bringing things into a cot space and things that were more advanced than just pulling stuff off of a yield monitor, actually doing something with the data. I guess I've always kind of been involved in that. But working full-time in that space has been a transition for me. And so looking at my production background as a family growing up, and then kind of where we've come now, it's shocking how fast we've gained in this space over a couple of decades, and it's kind of fun.

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah, it seems like there's been a lot of advancement, like I said, especially in the last five to ten years. And then I think a lot more implementation and a lot more thinking about how we can use stuff—it seems like there are so many options out there for a farmer, and a lot of 'em don't overlap. It'd be nice to just log into one platform and I can pull this into here and this into there. When drones were really starting to be the buzzword topic, when the first quadcopters were coming out,

you had to strap a GoPro to try to get that fisheye angled lens converted over to something you could utilize all that kind of stuff five, six, seven years ago, whenever it was. And then, to now what I do, or now I've got all this data, or I got all this, but at that time it was sending it off and getting a file back two weeks later. And now, as you're flying, you're getting the picture stitch and being able to look at stuff. It's pretty cool on that side.

Austin Benes: Some of the stuff that we talked about at Realm Five is the proprietary nature of some of these platforms, right? And not everybody has proprietary information and processes. But from the standpoint of being able to talk across platforms, this sort of interconnectivity between platforms and resources, how do you assess technology from your end as a farmer, how do you look at that and say, "Hey, this is a platform that can be utilized with other platforms, and this is one that I want to invest, not just money in, but every time you bring something new on from technology, you're investing time as a resource and you're investing you know, a number of other things beyond just the cash. What's your process for assessing that?"

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah, and that's hard, too. I think we all kind of know that there isn't just this holy grail of one platform that's going to handle everything. So, you try to find the ones that do multiple things across multiple. If I can have three of 'em that I'm working with, but that covers all my needs, that's a step. I kind of understand the industry, understand the game, probably working in the industry a lot and working for companies or working with companies that they've got to make money too. For the farmer, yes, we want everything. We want it cheap, we want it quick, and we want it easy. But, I have that understanding of the business side of agriculture too, and those providers have to make money too and can't be giving out all the trade secrets, right? So

there's some of that give and take and some of that dynamic. Some of it has just happened by acquisitions and things have happened and things have gotten lumped in together.

Austin Benes: You're exactly right from a technology provider's perspective— there's the price of a thing. So, whatever we're delivering, whatever that platform looks like today or the data looks like today, and then there's the price of continuing to maintain and future investments in that space and making sure that it's intuitive and that farmers like it, and that people are continuing to find value in it. So there is the cost of that production and the cost of that maintenance. And from our perspective, we generally look at that as kind of an investment in future technologies and things like that.

Adam Spelhaug: The whole data thing, I've never been one that's so scared about companies having access to my data either. I know that's always been a conflict that sometimes with some farmers. I just figure that the companies that I'm working with, there's a reason I'm working with them. I probably trust them and hopefully, I'm going to get a better result from them using my data. Yeah, there's stuff in the back that your data gets sold, but we all have an iPhone in our pocket that's listening to everything and all that stuff's going somewhere without us seeing a nickel out of it either. So you know, we kind of do with one hand and talk with the other one.

Austin Benes: Yeah, that's a good example. I talk with a lot of the folks that are, say, primary producers, but then folks in the industry as well that are kind of on the support side and maybe counterparts of mine and other organizations. And there's always the question about data ownership or who has what data or how is data flowing? There are a lot of questions about it and I get the feeling a lot of times, folks may ask the question because they're supposed


to ask the question. But you know, the reality is you're right. I mean, if you trust the company that you're working with, then you as a producer, or whatever your position is as a customer, retain ownership of that data. That's about as far as you can distrust or trust, whatever that process is.

A good example—we've got a great client in the upper Midwest, up in Michigan, who is a livestock producer and real crop producer—pretty large scale on both. I asked him for access. I said, "hey, can I use you as an example and utilize some of what we're doing there, the use cases that we have deployed with you? Can I show those around? Can I talk about those via social media or just in customer-facing conversations and what do I need to do to protect your data?" He said, "don't worry about it." He said, "there's really no single point of information that anybody can see of mine that's going to get me in trouble or compromise anything that I do because I take care of my backend processes."

Adam Spelhaug: And if it helps you guys do better and expand your business, that gives you more resources and things to work with, it should eventually roll back to him too, having more offerings and things like that. You would think. So I think a fair amount of forward-thinking farmers think that way, and then there are some that just don't.

Austin Benes: No, that's exactly right. I think it's a matter of sometimes we get moving so fast with the development of this tech space, whether it's IoT or even sometimes mechanical technologies and other things that evolve that we want to make sure that we're checking all the boxes. But, the reality is maybe we're sometimes worrying about things that we don't need to worry about today. I think engaging in a good conversation with the technology provider—whatever that means to the producer—is something I always encourage that if it's somebody that's pulling soil

samples for you, great. If it's somebody who's providing baseline genetics and genetic licensing for you, awesome. Ask questions and find out what you should be asking and what is really pertinent. And I think that sometimes there's so much information coming at farmers now from all ends, making sure that we're sort of focusing on the things that are most important and most pertinent to our bottom line. Finding good partners in the industry to help you find that focus is valuable.

Adam Spelhaug: Give us a good background in Realm Five and how it started and where you guys are working within the space. I think you guys had some work with Grand Farm up here a year or two ago with some sensors. I think I talked to one of you at the Cultivate Conference, but it’d be good to hear that background.

Austin Benes: Yeah, you bet. We are a sponsor of Grand Farm and Emerging Prairie up there. In fact, earlier this fall, I think it was right ahead of the announcement for the Casselton site and the groundbreaking there, we actually deployed some new sensors on-site there. And so we've got a weather station and some environmental sensors and things up there. So we're really excited to see the development of the Grand Farm at the new location at Casselton and what's going to come of all of that. That's really fun for us. But, background on our organization and our company. So we are an ag technology company and our interest is in providing automation to processes related to the supply chain and labor management.

That's really what we're focusing on at the top end. We were founded in 2015 by two gentlemen, both from private industries. Our CEO got together with our Chief Product Officer and they had a lot of ideas about what an ag technology company could be and solutions that could be provided and finding some synergies together. They're both

engineers by trade. Steve has a history of working with companies like AGCO and Caterpillar as a product manager, kind of on the machinery side of things.

Brant was head of a company called Digitec, which ended up becoming Lindsay FieldNET. His family also had a large swine genetics company, and they had sold that a few years prior. So he was looking to get back into the corporate world without having to go the corporate way. And Steve was kind of the same way. So they founded Realm Five here in Lincoln, Nebraska, as part of the innovation campus at the time. We may have been the first full-time resident on the innovation campus now that I think about it—which is terrific. We really started out in the agronomy space with the objective of influencing multiple verticals across agriculture.

And where that's evolved to today is providing some good agronomic technologies. We've got some good large clients there. We do things in the soil moisture and environmental sensing and irrigation space across North America, and I believe four other countries outside of the US and Canada. So we've become kind of a global brand in that regard. We've also moved way more into understanding the inventory and the management of commodity inventories and transportation of commodities. We have some interesting solutions around. And so we can help manage some volumes there with crop input, commodity, or crop input volumes and liquid fertilizer.

We do a lot of work with the IT retail space. We also do a lot of work that's producer-facing as well, right? So you know, whether we're enabling platforms that are pushing technology through these operations and enterprises to bring value or just supplying some decisionmaking metrics. And then we're working with the processor and manufacturing space in the same areas, inventory and operational management. But just



providing maybe a different context around some of that data and information to be able to make some informed decisions. We kind of like to work in the places where there are problems to solve that maybe aren't gaining a lot of attention from other folks. So corn and soybeans, we do work there, but you know, everybody's kind of focused on corn and soybeans. One of our more interesting clients is a sugar beet production company up in the Pacific Northwest. Sugar beets are a challenging one to manage because it's a non-conforming commodity that has a lot of the same problems as everything else you have coming from the Red River Valley. You see a movement around there all the time. It's fast and furious.

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah. We've been around sugar beets. We've never raised them, but lots of neighbors and friends and family are so we are surrounded by it and hear about it all the time.

Austin Benes: So, providing solutions that are based on real-time metrics to be able to provide better decisions on when and how to manage that commodity. That's been a really fun project and we're continuing to advance.

Adam Spelhaug: No, that's good. I think there are definitely opportunities too. Like I said, everybody's focused on the big corn and soybean acre, but there are probably a lot of solutions there already too, because everybody is so focused. So finding some of these other things you can do. I know on the irrigation side, I looked into trying to do some because I've got really light sandy soils on some of our land. We just don't have the water unfortunately underneath, but there were a couple of fields that would've worked great to put some irrigation on. You know, when we think of North Dakota, there's a lot more ditching and tiling and that kind of activity, trying to get rid of the water. But I think a lot of those go hand in hand too. I know working with growers in Minnesota and some in Iowa, there are a lot of those irrigated fields that are tiled, too. So you can maximize that, get rid of that early water, all those kinds of things.

Austin Benes: Absolutely. I think one of the areas that we get a lot of traction and energy for us to participate in is sort of in that environment. I almost hesitate to call it environmental compliance, but that's really what we're talking about. Kind of the sustainability space, providing data that is relevant to whatever sort of environmental management we're partaking

"Sugar beets are a challenging one to manage because it's a non-conforming commodity that has a lot of the same problems as everything else you have coming from the Red River Valley. You see a movement around there all the time. It's fast and furious."

in. We have some large processors and manufacturers who are very interested. They need to understand not just their water usage but water movement across their footprint. What they are doing in that space and how is it relating to best management practices within a very large verticalized company or industry.

On the livestock side of things, we've gotten pulled into a lot of that around water usage. In fact, we're in the process of a hard launch, a sales launch on our first really consumer direct product. And it's specific to stock tank management, stock tank monitoring, and alerting for primarily beef and equine producers. But there are other use cases in there as well. We'll be launching that at the National Beef Association Convention. That came as a result of trying to understand water use, water management, and tie that to herd health and provide some of these sort of automated offset labor issues or offsetting labor issues for producers because it's about what we can automate to put more time back in a day for whether it's a producer or someone who's in support of farmers.

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah, I think that's good because with my size farm, we can get a lot of stuff done with the labor we have and having my retired dad living there at the farm and that's still his hobby—helping me farm. So he's around and I have one of my sons that's interested in farming. The other three kids, it's hard to get 'em out to the farm. But, you know, there's getting to be less and less farms out there. There are going to be less and less farm kids coming out of farms and there are going to be less of a pre-trained labor force out there too. If you want to call it that. Every generation has said the same thing. Every generation probably gets cut in half or more too. So yeah, automation is getting to be a bigger thing and the more we can do there and just have more efficiency on the farm, and like you said with compliance too, we'd probably have to be joking ourselves if we're thinking there's not more compliance or more hoops we're going have to jump through whether it's from the government or other programs to achieve certain dollars or things like that in the future.

Austin Benes: Yeah, we never want to position technology as something that's meeting a governmental demand or a regulatory demand. It can do that. And sometimes that's the focus of it. But as we're talking to our producers and folks who are using platforms within our space or prospective customers, in order for us to gain adoption and gain trust in the market we do need to provide solutions that are forwardlooking and that meet these sort of minimum requirements of whatever group it is, but they have to have a practical use today as well. And so just because we're gathering information, not a lot of folks are really interested in saying, "well, I'm just going to gather a lot of data and see how I can use it in 10 years." That might be interesting for some producers or farmers, we think. But by and large, I'm not going to pay a lot of money for that. It needs to have a practical application to make their lives easier or their lives more efficient or their enterprises more profitable in the near term. But we're really focused on doing some of that stuff too.

Adam Spelhaug: How do you kind of gauge what the market needs or is going to need?

Austin Benes: We're fortunate. We're a decent-sized company. We're a small company. We've got a good number of folks in-house here. We've got a lot of years of experience behind the folks too. So just because we're a relatively young company, being seven or eight years old, we have many times that experience in-house. And so I'm probably one of the younger individuals here, right? And so we've got a lot of folks who have been around. They understand the history of the evolution of the IoT space in agriculture and the automation space in agriculture. They kind of have their thumb on where things are going. So that's the first part of it is sort of an institutional knowledge transfer internally for us.

Secondly, we stay very close to the market as much as we can. Those of us who were in visible or sort of decision-making positions inhouse here, we're in touch with the customers from the C-suite down. We're production ag folks from the beginning, right? So kind of

everyone who's on the sales and the business development side of many of our engineers were born into production agriculture. Some of us still maintain connections and ties there. And so those casual conversations go a long way. When I'm talking to personal friends and folks that I know who are heavily invested in the ag space from a production end of things, they're giving me some really good insight as far as what want to see in the industry and where they want to go on the business side as well.

And then the third thing that we do is when we want to bring something forward, if we have a solution, if we have a new feature set or something like that within our platform, we do a lot of due diligence on the product management side. I don't work on the product management side, personally. I'm on the business development side of things. But our product management team does a great job whether it's customer interviews, understanding what is available in the market currently and how is it working, where the gaps in the industry are, collecting data and information from various resources we have around the industry to say, 'what are folks asking for? And what do they not know to ask for? And I think for me, that's been the most interesting piece of bringing new technology forward is just like the Henry Ford comment. If he would've asked people what they want, they would've said a faster horse. People only know to ask for what they know to ask for. And not everybody has time to sit back and sort of imagine where we are going to be. That's kind of our job, to help paint that vision and ask the right questions to lead them into a value-based conversation around technology. Because the worst thing we can do is bring something to market that nobody wants. The worst thing we can do for our customers is also bring something to market that nobody wants because it's not providing value to them.

We generally do a fair bit of due diligence internally first and then slowly take that forward to say, 'okay not only what do you want, but how do you want this to handle, because I know you’ve been around about as long as me, right?' Probably actually longer. It sounds like we saw some, without giving


any specific examples, maybe some clumsy entrances to the market by folks early on. And they had a great idea and they didn't necessarily know how to implement it or how to sanction adoption among a target customer base or maybe even what a target customer group was going to be. They just kind of knew they had a good idea. I'm curious, you as a farmer and you as a service and a products provider to farmers, what's your opinion of technology adoption, and how we can say, enhance and increase adoption rates of new technologies across the space?

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah, and that's always a hard one. I think it always goes back to that classification of farmers. There are the guys that will definitely just try stuff and work with it. And then there's kind of the, you know, I don't wanna call 'em the old guard, but that's just the standoffish types, prove it to me types that, you know, want to see something in the market for 5 to 10 years. And you still see that too. I know the average age of the farmer is growing, but I'd say the average age of the decision-makers in a lot of these farms is still in their twenties and thirties. There are a lot of guys who maybe own farms, but their sons are doing a lot, or they've got a crop consultant that's younger doing a lot of the decisionmaking on some of that stuff.

So it's not an old guys club anymore or something. It seems like a lot of the clients I was working with when I was doing more direct with farmers, there was a fair amount of guys in their twenties and thirties that are pretty open, I would say, to technology. But it seems like the over-promising, underdelivering model has been out there a lot in ag tech, you know, so that scares people away a little bit. So it makes people a little shyer to play with some of this stuff. And, some of it, you know, it's not cheap either. So one mistake here or there can be costly or just maybe it's a waste of money type thing. So I think it's hard for farmers to get a good test on if something will work and how it's going to work, you know? Definitely have to take a bit of trust and put it out there and try some things.

Austin Benes: You make a good point that it's a thing that I've noticed over the last

probably 10 or 12 years. As I look at the industry and I look at my little corner of the space that I live in, both geographically and professionally, looking at it across North America in particular, this has to be the most educated group of farmers the world has ever seen, right? From a formal education perspective. And if you'd have told me back in the nineties when I was in high school, if you'd have said you're going to have a bunch of farmers whose primary living is going to be made on the farm and they're going to have PhDs, that would've been a crazy statement to make.

We have a lot of folks who are not only educated but they're well versed in critical thinking and applying creativity to business. I think that's interesting. Do you see that come into play in your part of the world where folks are maybe not taking more risks, but they're becoming more creative in how they're attacking the business?

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah, I think so too. And that's a good point you made. There's a lot of, like my dad's generation there that had maybe a two-year course or a short course or a type of degree or no degree. You know, maybe they worked a little bit elsewhere off the farm and started taking over the farm. But I would say my generation that graduated high school in the late nineties, early two-thousands, there was a fair amount of those going to school, or maybe it's just a two-year tech school or a four-year school. And so yeah I definitely agree that the level of education, and not saying anything against guys that just started farming too, because some of the best farmers I know are guys my age that just started farming right away.

But I think over the years they have taken training classes, they've things to improve their education. Maybe it wasn't formal schooling, but classwork or just other training. And, you know, there are those yearly things you have to do to keep sharp and keep up on it. And I think some of them see it as just a check the box.

But yeah, it's hard to dial in on that. Kind of to that point too, the other day I saw a friend of mine and he kind of had a poll out there on Twitter asking farmers if knowing what

you know now, what would he have done maybe in college, what degree or what focus maybe would he have gone for more? And it was pretty interesting, a lot more finance and business versus maybe agronomy that kind of thing, or diesel tech or some of those things. I think a lot more guys wish they would've looked at the business side.

Austin Benes: I always think that too. But if I went back in time and tried to tell my 18 or 19-year-old self to take more finance, I would've just laughed at myself.

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah. And that was a pretty similar track. I was maybe one 400-level class away from an animal science minor. So it was kind of the same thing. Or marketing, you know, just marketing classes, grain marketing, all that. I mean, I wish I would've taken more there. I feel I can do a pretty good job on the agronomics that I've learned in my career, but the marketing side of it I see that with a lot of farmers I've worked with, really good producers can raise a heck of a crop. And then it comes to marketing and that's where a lot of the struggles are.

Austin Benes: Well, you know, no one's ever accused me of being an academic in any regard, so I don't really have to worry about that. My wife has a PhD. in animal science, so that's as smart as I get from an academic perspective. But, I think, this is a good thing when I think about people who, whether they've gone to a four-year institution, a two-year college, no college whatsoever, but they've been involved in their trade organizations or commodity boards and even working with their land grant extension groups. It's about the experience and it's about gaining experience through the institutional transfer of knowledge. And so it's networking, right? It's developing a group of folks who we can pull some information from.

I think it's one of the things and, a plug for Grand Farm, I suppose. But I mean, I think that's one of the things that is so wonderful about Grand Farm is it's operating on multiple levels of that networking. That's why we like it, that's why we're big supporters of it. There are other groups, I'm sure around the country who do


similar things. I know we work with some here in Nebraska on the technology and innovation side of things. But whether you are straight out of high school and went back home to farm, if you went and got a Ph.D. from a land grant university or something similar, or anything in between, having a network of folks that you can kind of lean on, ask their opinion, gain some industry influence or gain some industry perspective outside of the box that you exist in, I think that's a really important piece of moving technology forward in the ag space.

Adam Spelhaug: No, I agree. And my sister's on the Grand Farm board and I've been involved with Emerging Prairie and Greg there. And you know, his dad was a customer of mine when he was farming and he was in a similar situation. He worked in ag lending and ag and farmed and being involved with those guys and over the years I kept telling my sister and I tell Greg, 'you need more farmers involved on this.' I mean, you guys are coming up with a lot of great ideas, a lot of great things. But I would hate to get to the point, and you kind of mentioned earlier where you come forward with a product or a solution or offering and you bring it out to the farmer and he's going to be really blunt and he's going to let you know what he thinks about that. And it might just be, 'we don't want that.' But three years ago in the development of this product, you would talk to five farmers, get some good feedback, get some good input, let them break it, let ‘em test it, let ‘em try it out. He'd be way ahead on that kind of thing.

Austin Benes: Not being not an engineer myself, but working in a building full of engineers and from various disciplines, I will say that I still believe that the best engineer out there is a farmer. And maybe second to a farmer is a rancher only because they're limited in the number of implements that a rancher can break versus a farmer. But man, if you have something that you want an opinion on, take it to a farmer, let them pick it apart, let them curse at it a little bit or whatever they do, and then let 'em bring back suggestions on how to improve it. I guarantee it's gonna make it a better product, whether it's a physical piece of steel or a cloud-based application.

Adam Spelhaug: Right. How do you guys

do your proof of concept network when you're getting close to the launch of some new product?

Austin Benes: As I mentioned before, many of our engineers and our managers here are production ag-based. They either were born into it or they grew up in it, or they still work in that space somewhere. There's a lot of farmer engineering that goes on behind the scenes at a company like ours because we are a hardware-enabled solution. So we have hardware that's pulling sensor information out of a field or a barn or a space and then we bring it into a cloud-based platform, and then that's kind of where we can do the data management and things. So there are all kinds of variables that go into it that from an environmental perspective. And especially when you bring livestock into the mix, now you're talking about a whole different complicating set of factors.

We try to plan for as many of those as we can. We like to break a lot of things that are physical, and then we like to break a lot of things that are not physical, that are cloud-based before we go to market with it, before a customer sees it. And so that way you know, we do go to a pilot program with customers. They generally are having a good experience from the getgo, but maybe there's some refinement that needs to occur. So we'll take assessments from them and suggestions back if we need to refine processes or refine the way that something is visualized or the interaction with the platform itself. We can make those adjustments, but the bulk of it's done before we get to that point.

Adam Spelhaug: So how do you know, and maybe just give an example of a farmer using your technology, how is what they're gaining mostly is efficiencies or they're being smarter with their management or especially, like you said, treating manure as a commodity now. I think manure just used to be kind of treated as more of a byproduct, something you had to do, but I wish there was more livestock around me to utilize some manure and get some of that in North Dakota. Probably one thing it lacks is livestock markets as I see in other states and other farmers being able to benefit from

the usage of manure. So maybe just step me through a quick example of some of your key products and how farmers benefit from them.

Austin Benes: Yeah, manure’s one great example I think of, finding some efficiencies and maybe changing a perspective on a particular commodity or particular product. I want to move manure from a liability column to an asset column whenever possible. In order to do that, we need to have a volume of it, right? If you can't measure something, if you don't know how much you have, then the value of it is not quite there. You don't understand what the full value of it is. And then you have to make sure that you're able to utilize it in an efficient manner. Whether that's selling it out the door or if it's applying it somewhere on your own acres.

We have some manure-specific ones. So we have a complicated system here in the Midwest with a swine producer that has several hundred thousand head of animals over several locations and sites, deep pits and lagoon storage kind of pumps everything by a subterranean piping system to a centralized satellite lagoon, a several million-gallon lagoon. They fill that up kind of throughout the off-season during cropping season. They move that out, they pump it through another series of underground pipes to set, I think, 15 or 16 center pivots. And then they distribute that over crop ground. Previously that kind of had all been done by sight and touch, right? So they've got a crew of employees who they've got to understand which pipes are pressurized when they need to understand when they kind of keep track of it on paper and by a text message who's doing what, where it's this kind of coordinated event.

Sometimes accidents can happen. Sometimes you don't intend for something to go on a field that does. It just becomes an inefficient labor-suck of a process. We're able to visualize the volume of manure in their deep pits and their elevated structures. We're able to visualize and measure the amount of product that they have or affluent that they have in their satellite lagoon. And then we're also able to bring into the cloud space the pressurized segments of that pipeline. What's pressurized, what's not,


what's the PSI at that level, and who needs to turn what on and where. And then the last element was, we're able to let some legacy center pivot systems that don't have full controls on them.

We have some technology in-house where we're able to sort of manage that so they know which pivots are running, which pipes are feeding that, where it's coming from, and what the volume is that's being fed into it. At the end of all of that, they're saving a significant amount of labor annually. They're moving this manure in a safer way, an environmentally safer way. They're at a much, much reduced risk of pipe breakage or just accidental discharge, things like that. And really what they're able to accomplish is a more efficient system end to end, and knowing what's moving from where to where. And when it comes time for that compliance reporting, it's all in a digital file, right? And so you can export that information into a CSV-based file that can be applied as needed into a reporting context. So really it checks a lot of boxes—that particular scenario for automation to save labor and gain efficiency in a system while also providing some residual benefits down the line.

Adam Spelhaug: Oh, I'm sure. Just having the ease of that information, the access to easy information is a big benefit. You know, it's maybe not a cost savings, it's one of those savings that is mental income. I remember one of my econ professors saying there are different kinds of income and one of them was mental income and just feeling better about your decision. You're more confident in it, you know, you gained some income that way just personally by having that. So I'm sure there's a lot that just makes it easier.

Austin Benes: Oh, absolutely. I mentioned our stock tank monitoring solution and that's one where it's focused very keenly on that sort of mental income. Now, especially in a drought year, you understand, having livestock, that water is a precious commodity and resource for livestock producers. And you can't always be there with them all summer long when they're out on the grass. You can't always be there when they're out on stocks

in the wintertime or wherever they happen to be. And for those who depend on wells, whether they're windmill or solar or something else, missing a stock check one time can be incredibly costly. And so you end up spending a lot of time, a lot of fuel, a lot of energy but then a lot of worry when you're away.

Because where cows are, people generally aren't for at least part of the year. And so we provide some longer-term savings and return on investment, but also some short-term practicality. And, there are very large ranchers who we're talking to who want this product as soon as it comes on board, right? They want dozens of them. You've got 30 windmills. Get these out of there, think that's great. That's not to discount the folks who have a single water tank, right? And maybe they look a little bit more like me. Maybe they're suburban and they've got some cows out in the country or some horses. Maybe they want to take their kids to a basketball game and they don't want to have to worry about trying to find qualified labor that they can trust to help manage these things. They want to keep an eye on it from afar. And if you have to tackle an emergency, you can tackle an emergency. But getting a good night's sleep, understanding that everything is taken care of, that's a big win.

Adam Spelhaug: Tthat's a great idea. For how dry we've been the last couple of years out here, we actually sold the cows a couple of years ago, but leased that pasture out to some neighbors and we had to re-dig out the stock pond just to get that water there. It's a small situation, like you said, a single pasture in a single stock pond. But when I was going to school, I worked for a big ranch just south of us and worked on four or five windmills out there, doing rotational grazing and that kind of thing. And it's remote. That tank is out in the middle of the section. So you have to get on a four-wheeler to even access it easily enough. Where if I could look at my phone or look at the computer screen and go, 'yeah, it's two-thirds full, its pump is running,' you know, all that stuff, that'd be great.

Austin Benes: You mentioned something earlier in our conversation about how we're not making more farm kids. And that's very true.

I can speak personally, my dad comes from a family of eight kids. His cousins come from a family of like 10 or 11 I think. You know, and that wasn't uncommon. Now, most folks have two or four or five kids and that's kind of where it's at. And they're not spending near as much time in the production space, maybe as they used to. Just generally speaking. We're just not making as many farmers as we used to, and we're going to have to do something to help, I think to bring some intuition. Maybe you don't have cows today, but if you walked out there, you could generally know how to manage cows.

Adam Spelhaug: No, that's great. I think that's probably that next big niche that needs to be replaced, like you said, is that just old knowledge that has been passed down and just those things you've learned. Even my kids now, we actually live in town five miles away from the farm. There are a lot of things they're not learning like I did living on the farm just being immersed in it every day. I try to get 'em out there when I can, but I know that experience isn't the same as I had, and things are a lot easier today too. I mean look at what my grandpa farmed with versus what my dad did, where I'm at, and what my son could be at. Those guys that are in their eighties and nineties now, that was hard living, that was hard farming. I'd say now it's maybe more hard financially. There's more than hardness, it's more risk. My same size farm that dad was growing up with, it's four times the amount of money we're dealing with today versus what he was dealing with. So there's a lot more of that kind of stuff that starts getting involved.

Austin Benes: Absolutely. And for us, automation is not at all about replacing jobs. It's about filling in for the jobs that are just not there, right? So how do we utilize automation, whether that's in a data space or a mechanized space or a combination of the two? Because our gap in farm labor right now, whether you're in the retailer processing and distribution side, or if you're even on-farm or on-ranch, the labor gap is significant across the country. And we're not making more people that can just come in and plug into a situation and want to do that work. And so we're working with stakeholders here and folks that we use as a


kind of an advisory group. And you know, they bounce ideas off of us to sort of find some of the solutions there, right? What do you need as a farmer? What do you need as a rancher? What are jobs that you need to find automated solutions around?

Adam Spelhaug: No, I think that's good. I don't think companies realize that they don't want to replace farmers. You know, some of these automated tractors and some of that. I don't think it's trying to replace the farmer, because there are a lot of farmers and I do too, like driving the tractor. I like planting, I like combining. I don't want that fully automated where I'm not doing that anymore, to a point. There's going to be efficiency, automated grain carts and some of those kinds of things make a lot of sense because it's just kind of that one additional thing. I have friends out in western North Dakota. It's hard to find people and they've got large farms. They got one guy who's turning down land because he can't get a hired man. His dad's in his late seventies. And he said after those guys go, I don't know who else I'm going to hire. So do I want to take on more risk if I don't have the labor force?

Austin Benes: Maybe that's a good point to end on. I have a good friend, a very close friend of mine who farms a few thousand acres here in Nebraska and when I kinda stepped into the

ag technology space in the automation space, that was literally what he told me. He said, 'I love farming, don't replace me. Just make my job a little bit easier.'

Adam Spelhaug: Yes, exactly. Yep. I think that that is getting around to service providers, technology providers, because there's a lot of things that I realize when I'm out in that field that I can do for next year, taking notes on it. And some of that is getting me more automated notes or marking points and all that kind of stuff that can help me do a better job, or just when I'm looking at data, I'm looking at yield maps, I'm looking at fertility maps, I'm looking at a field. I remember when I was driving across there going, 'okay yield is really low there, but the corn was flattened because my neighbor's cows got out. It wasn't because I had rootworm or some insect issue or fertility issue. It was some other type of thing.' Where I think an automated combine would just say it's a low spot, it's a low-yielding area and that's it.

Austin Benes: Right. Well what you're describing is a bionic farmer. I love the idea of that.

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah, for sure.

Austin Benes: You can be an extension of your machine. Right. That's terrific. Yep. And

vice versa. I appreciate your time Adam, and I appreciate Emerging Prairie and Grand Farm and everything that those guys are doing up there. Being able to have conversations like this is why we're excited to work with folks like that and you know, kind of around the industry and be able to not just talk about who we are, but learn a little bit about whether it's a producer or someone else in the ag space or service providers. You know, learn what folks want, what they need, what they expect of ag technology companies. And I think just continuing to develop engagement around the space to us—that's very important. And to me personally, I really appreciate your time and the folks at Grand Farm and Emerging Prairie.

Adam Spelhaug: Yeah, no, I think it was a good, good discussion. And that's one of the reasons that I kind of want to get involved with Grand Farm too is, like you were saying earlier, there's a lot of networking. We've got a board of advisors, but there's going to be so many more companies like yourself that are going to start working with Grand Farm and looking for real case scenarios and want to trial things. And I think Grand Farm makes a good kind of area for those kinds of people to get together and offer up their service, offer up their farm, offer up their company to collaborate, work together. We're all trying to do better here, right? So no, it's a good network altogether.


Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.