Mitchell Hora farms near Washington, Iowa. He’s also a businessman with an objective: helping other farmers realize the value of improving and monetizing soil health.
Hora founded Continuum Ag in 2015. Today, the company has 13 employees, with several dedicated to helping farmers collect and manage data through TopSoil software. Others recognize Hora as someone on the cutting edge of understanding how important achieving soil health and quantifying it can be.
Here’s an exclusive Farm Progress interview.
How did you reach this point? I am a seventh-generation farmer who believes in improving soil health and using it as a tool to increase profits. It requires a mindset change. You learn to look at things differently. The soil is alive with biology. My goal, and hopefully your goal, is to work with Mother Nature. You can still use fertilizer and GMOs. You just need to be smart in how you use these tools and understand you’re working in a living system.
How can you measure soil health? Quantifying soil health is at the core of what we do. We collect all data other programs collect with TopSoil, including planting and spraying data. We just go to the next level and collect information that relates directly to soil health. We test soil health using the Haney Soil Health Test developed by a researcher at USDA-ARS. Brookside Labs, based in Ohio, offers the test, and other labs do, too. You don’t have to use these tests to develop valuable data in TopSoil, but we believe they provide insight into what you’re achieving.
How can you help growers who want to verify how they’re improving soil health? We help them determine which data they need to collect and how to collect it. Some may be motivated by carbon markets. We can show them what data carbon marketers will want to see, while helping them protect their data at the same time.
What are your thoughts about carbon markets? We’re in the “Wild West” stage where several potential players are appearing. It’s still not clear what role the government will play. You may consider waiting until the situation settles out. Most contracts require 10-year commitments. You’re paid based on the practices you change, not necessarily on carbon you sequester annually. Expect these credits to be verified through a third party. However, you can begin documenting what you’re doing now by collecting data.
Even without carbon credits, is there value in documenting soil health data? Yes. Carbon credits are just the cherry on top. If you collect and utilize data, you can finally get paid for improved soil health. Payment comes through making better management decisions. It comes back to the change in mindset. Take better control of decisions about when and what you do in your cropping program.
Why are you collaborating with Farm Flight? Farm Flight is a company using drones to provide images to track crop progress. Working with them gives our growers another option for obtaining imagery. Growers can also obtain imagery elsewhere and input that data into our software.
Can a farmer work with you directly? Absolutely! Some do so. Others work through a trained TopSoil consultant who helps monitor data collection and interpret results. Get started by visiting continuum.ag. Ask for information about TopSoil.