In six years of either writing or editing this column, I’ve never missed a month — until September.
On June 16, my wife and I were blessed with a little boy, Heston Timothy, who we named after the equipment company and my father-in-law, respectively. He made his appearance almost 12 weeks early, and when the deadline for September rolled around, we were just leaving the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I hated missing a month, but thanks for understanding my need for flexibility. Many of my readers are also friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so thanks for your constant prayers and frequent well-wishes. Your support during a difficult summer was truly humbling.
I’m back in the saddle now, and I can’t believe how good the crop looks. We had a run of bad luck on the Gulf Coast with severe sprouting issues, and many parts of the Central and Northern Plains are getting dry. However, we’re currently in good shape as an industry — and particularly when current conditions are compared to those from earlier this year. Speaking personally, my dad’s crop west of Lubbock hasn’t looked this good at this point in 10 years. As harvest begins, wraps up or rolls on, I know we’ll keep hearing stories of God’s faithfulness in the face of difficult circumstances!
In between NICU visits, doctor’s appointments and 3 a.m. feedings, I’ve spent most of my summer wrapping up harvest. By harvest, I’m not referring to crops; instead, I’ve been harvesting sustainability data for our collaboration with the Kansas Natural Resource Conservation Service. NRCS has been a phenomenal partner, and their support has allowed us to collect sustainability data and house it in a repository called KansCat. We started this collaboration almost exactly two years ago, and our timing couldn’t have been better. Sustainability has found its way into almost every conversation in U.S. agriculture, and instead of worrying about the risks such a situation poses, KansCat and the information it houses enable us to seek opportunity.
For example, the collaboration revealed that 89.6% of farmers in Kansas till minimally — if they till at all. Longtime practitioners of reduced tillage know the advantages well. Less erosion and better soil structure are just a couple of the agronomic advantages associated with the practice. However, from a sustainability perspective, the advantage of lower energy usage is just as important. In the California fuel market, less energy dedicated to tillage means a smaller carbon footprint for ethanol, and this fact translates into millions of dollars in additional value for ethanol producers and millions of dollars in additional grain-buying power.
Less nitrogen applied
The collaboration with NRCS also revealed that Kansas farmers apply 0.75 pounds of nitrogen per bushel, after accounting for carryover nitrogen. This fact is especially important as more than three-quarters of the emissions associated with farming are driven by nitrogen application. Accordingly, finding ways to lower fertilizer use, or employing methods that reduce nitrogen losses through leaching, volatilization and runoff are exceedingly important for farmers and their partners in the ethanol industry. Slow-release products or even simple split application of nitrogen are two ideas; and owing to the ingenuity of our farmers, I know there are many additional ways to achieve such reductions.
Opening markets with data
It seems very appropriate that we’re wrapping sustainability data harvest as the actual harvest begins to heat up. The bounty that data could bring in markets like the California fuel market is an important product for the sorghum industry, and it’s time to begin gathering it and turning it into real value for U.S. farmers.
Duff is executive vice president for National Sorghum Producers. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @sorghumduff.