"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein
Nebraska farmer Brandon Hunnicutt is a lifelong learner who has a curious bent, especially when it comes to pursuing sustainable farming practices. He agrees with Albert Einstein that an inquiring mind can drive positive change, but he has no desire to end up like the infamous cat of curiosity fame.
“Our farm tries to stay up on the cutting edge of technology. But we do it after a lot of investigation and talking with others and then doing an evaluation on our farm on a smaller scale,” said Hunnicutt, a fifth-generation farmer, who currently farms with his dad (Daryl) and his brother (Zach). This evolutionary approach has led to incorporating many of the latest technologies while integrating conservation tillage practices and cover crops, on a nearly 100 percent irrigated farm.
Moving to water sensors is a great example of how technology can address both sustainability and profitability goals, Hunnicutt said. The sensors allow better management of a critical resource while saving from $8 to $50 an acre depending on the growing season.
Hunnicutt’s exploration into being a better farmer has led him to many leadership roles including Vice Chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board, a board member of the National Corn Growers Association, and most recently as the first farmer to be selected as chairman of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.
“We have kept within what we know on our conventional acres using the latest, proven technology. But we have expanded what we do to include white corn, popcorn, seed corn, other specialty markets to get a premium,” he said. “At the same time, we want to use the best, most productive practices on our organic corn, peas and oats production. We are gradually blending conventional and organic strategies, and as time goes on, both are moving toward a more sustainable middle.”
Conducting careful, well-researched, trials on smaller acreage is a key to minimizing risk. What those trials look like is formed in large part from aggressive networking from individual farmers to larger, more structured, and proven entities like the Soil Health Partnership and Field to Market. Hunnicutt recommends growers investigate SHP and Field to Market because they are supported by farmer’s investment in their state corn checkoff, are science-based, and place an emphasis on grower’s economic success.
Asking questions of the right people is critical to success and managing change, according to Hunnicutt. Cooperative Extension experts, his local Coop, and input providers can all add something to a useful pool of knowledge. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to beat a farmer who is succeeding at ground zero.
“There are actually a couple of guys on Twitter, like Gaston, Indiana farmer Jason Mauck who are willing to try just about anything and talk about it,” Hunnicutt said. “We have approached the sustainability side reading books too by guys like Gabe Brown and others who have taken a deep dive into some of these practices.”
However, working with groups like SHP and Field to Market provides scale and measurement capabilities that are hard to beat. For instance, Field to Market’s Fieldprint® Platform shines a bright light on each farm’s sustainability story, “and farmers have a significant voice in Field to Market, which is an important part of why it works.”
The Fieldprint Platform is a key resource for farmers to measure the environmental impacts of your operation and identify opportunities for continuous improvement. The Platform can help analyze a farmer’s performance across eight sustainability indicators such as energy use or biodiversity, which can help improve environmental outcomes and an operation’s bottom line.
(Farmers can access the free and confidential Fieldprint Platform tool through Field to Market's online Fieldprint® Calculator or through associated farm-management software that integrates the Platform’s metrics and algorithms.)
The sophisticated program has been ten years in the making and allows farmers to assess and explore the relationship between management practices and sustainability outcomes. Field to Markets metrics now integrate into leading precision agriculture decision support and farm management software solutions including Agrible, Bunge Centerfield, Syngenta Land.db®, MyFarms Software Platform, Precision Conservation Management and Land O'Lakes TruterraTM Insights Engine.”
“The science and technology driving Field to Market is designed to measure environmental outcomes from individual farm fields. These metrics are science-based tools that have been developed or adopted by Field to Market through the multi-stakeholder governance process,” he said. “I think the stakeholder diversity behind Field to Market is one of its core strengths.”
Field to Market’s Metrics Committee, consisting of four elected members from each of the Alliance’s five membership sectors, review each metric at least once every three years.
Grower organizations, agribusinesses, food, beverage, restaurant, and retail companies, conservation groups, universities and public sector partners focus on defining, measuring, and advancing the sustainability of food, fiber, and fuel production. Field to Market is comprised of more than 140 member organizations representing all facets of the U.S. agricultural supply chain, with members employing more than 5 million people and representing combined revenues totaling over $1.5 trillion.
“Consumers are increasingly asking questions about where and how their food is produced, and Field to Market offers a broad, credible partnership across the food and value chain to answer these questions and deliver sustainable outcomes,” he said. “I have been able to help encourage others, especially in agriculture, to use social media to help tell the story of agriculture and the exciting things we are doing to help protect the environment while increasing food, feed, fiber and fuel production for Nebraska and the world.”
You can explore active continuous improvement projects currently underway in your home state.
NCGA is taking a series of actions to do our part to help contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the economic fallout it is creating for corn farmers and our customers. Short term, this means instituting policies to protect the health and safety of our stakeholders and the broader communities we serve. Long term, we’re focused on creating solutions to help corn farmers and our customers recover from the financial impacts of this crisis.
CommonGround is a group of farmers connecting with consumers through conversations about science and research and personal stories about food and misinformation surrounding farming. Supported by the NCGA and state corn organizations.
The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is a farmer-led initiative that fosters transformation in agriculture through improved soil health. Administered by NCGA the partnership has more than 220 working farms enrolled in 16 states. SHP’s mission is to utilize science and data to partner with farmers who are adopting conservation agricultural practices that improve the economic and environmental sustainability of the farm.