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Ben Pederson runs a 100% strip-till operation in Lake Mills, Iowa. He takes a holistic approach to strip-till and encourages out-of-the-box thinking to keep his operations on a pathway to profitability.

One such example is he’s started using ion technology and the physics of thunderstorms to increase his yield potential and ROI without increasing inputs.

Ahead of his presentation at the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference on that very topic, I wanted to introduce you to Ben and his practices by bringing you a replay of a 2019 episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast.

In this episode, brought to you by SOURCE by Sound Agriculture, Ben talks with former Strip-Till Farmer editor Jack Zemlicka about the challenges of getting started in strip-till, positioning the value of strip-till and much more.

Related Content:

Fuel, Fertilizer Savings Drive Evolving Strip-Till System

Seeding Strip-Till Sustainability Through Efficiency, Precision

Strip-Tilling: Not Taking the Easy Way

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The Strip-Till Farmer podcast is brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.

Wake up your soil and unlock more per acre with SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture. SOURCE is a biochemistry that activates microbes in the soil to provide more nitrogen and phosphorus to corn and soybean crops. It’s simple to use with a low use rate, tank mix compatibility, and flexible application window. Use the Performance Optimizer tool to determine where SOURCE will work best to increase yield or reduce nitrogen - either way you win. Visit Sound.Ag to learn more.

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Full Transcript

Michaela Paukner:
Welcome to this episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast series. I'm Michaela Faulkner, technology editor at Strip-Till Farmer. Thanks to Source by Sond Agriculture for supporting this Strip-Till podcast series. Wake up your soil and unlock more per acre with Source by Sond Agriculture. Source is a biochemistry that activates microbes in the soil to provide more nitrogen and phosphorus to corn and soybean crops. It's simple to use with a low use rate, tank makes compatibility, and flexible application window. Use the performance optimizer tool to determine where Source will work best to increase yield or reduce nitrogen, either way you win. Visit Sond.Ag to learn more. That's S-O-N-D.A-G.

Michaela Paukner:
I'm recording today from a hotel in Minnesota, it's because tomorrow I'm going to interview the 2022 Strip-Till Innovator award winner. And to prepare, I've been reading about Strip-Till Farmers past Innovator award winners. One of whom is Ben Pederson. Ben runs a 100% strip-till operation in Lake Mills, Iowa. He takes a holistic approach to strip-till and encourages out of the box thinking to keep his operations on a pathway to profitability. One such example is he started using ion technology and the physics of thunderstorms to increase his yield potential and ROI without increasing inputs. Ahead of his presentation at the National Strip-Tillage Conference in Iowa this July, on that very topic, I wanted to introduce you to Ben and his practices by bringing you a replay of the 2019 episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast. In this episode, Ben talks with former Strip-Till Farmer editor, Jack Zemlicka about the challenges of getting started in strip-till, positioning the value of strip-till, and much more.

Jack Zemlicka:
Ben, appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today, understand you're out in the field, taking care of some application needs. And obviously coming off of planting here, making sure that the crop is progressing as you'd like to see. How are things looking out in your area?

Ben Pederson:
I guess funny year, all the way around. I don't certainly need to use that word to incite anybody from the Eastern corn belt, because I've certainly heard and seen about some of the much bigger challenges that are being had out there. But overall we might even getting a little bit on the dry side right now. Some chances of rain here the next couple days, but fair looking crop, I guess, as far as my experience goes so far around here.

Jack Zemlicka:
So in terms of how things went on your farm this spring, obviously I had a chance to get around the early part of April into May as well in some different areas, and it was kind of varied. I mean, some folks were having a better time of it than others, but from what you saw, I guess, in terms of your strip-till fields, what were conditions like out there once you were able to get out and plant?

Ben Pederson:
Well, we had to start in conditions that were definitely suboptimal. We were pushed into May, we usually like to get started mid April. Wet weather pushed us into May, we chose not to plant ahead of a snow event late April. I think it's yet to be seen whether that was a wise decision or not. That corn is tasseling as we speak, that was planted before that snow. Again, we'll see.

Ben Pederson:
I think, how I've geared our strip-till system, we're able to deal with some adverse conditions fairly well. Doing things that allow us to plant and not pay the sin tax that occurs when sometimes we're out there a little bit too early. I guess I'm happy with the results. There's definitely things I want to tweak going forward because we, and something I'll get into at my talk out at Strip-Till Conference, but we massively changed things from last year to this year on the strip-till machine and planner front. And we knew we'd have some growing pains. Didn't know we'd be quite under fire like we were to get those things adjusted. I mean, 48 hour stretches with four to six hours of sleep. And given the situation, I don't think it could have gone much better.

Jack Zemlicka:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And Ben, I know you've gotten into the practice about 2012 getting into strip-till, and I know you've always kind of taken a very thoughtful approach in terms of the decisions you're making within your strip-till system, and obviously kind of putting some purpose behind those changes that you make. And you had alluded to the fact that some of those can be pretty dramatic, but obviously with the intention of changing your system for the better. Some of those early years, are there things you kind of learned and adapted to as you were incorporating and adopting a strip-till system into your corn and soybean operation?

Ben Pederson:
Absolutely. You never get it exactly right out of the shoot. And to be honest with you, Jack, I don't feel like we're where I want to be yet. Some things are, nitrogen form and timing, was something I definitely tweaked. I went away from dry fertilizer urea right away, just because I liked handling ability and I liked a more accurate placement the liquid provided. Again, I went back to a little tri fertilizer this year, doing both liquid and dry this time though, because there were some other values I wanted to try and capture. Again, jury's still out whether we did that or not. And planner wise, we've made some adjustments as well. But I'll say this and I certainly don't mean to toot my own horn or brag, but when I was going in the strip-till, much like many other guys of my generation, I had a dad who was very entrenched in the old ways of doing things, had a lot of success with doing it the way he's done it.

Ben Pederson:
And when I knew I was going to take the jump, buy this strip-till machine on credit I could barely get at the time, I knew I had to knock it out of the park. I knew there couldn't be a fatal flaw or else that would be my last year at strip-tilling. And so I really researched hard. I talked to a lot of folks with experience with the system and really made sure guidance was in place, really made sure that the machine wasn't going to be an issue. And I couldn't recommend that more strongly to anybody that's looking to make the same jump that I did.

Jack Zemlicka:
Yeah. And that's interesting, you bring up kind of a dynamic that I think is certainly present. And we've seen that at the strip hill conference with kind of the multi-generational attendee. And we've seen the uncle and dad coming with their son or offspring, and it's obviously evident visiting farms where you will see some of that shift in the approach to a system and obviously incorporating some different practices. And that's a challenge. I mean, that can be difficult, I think. But in your case, obviously you took that leap, kind of made that commitment a number of years ago and have been able to obviously kind of build off of some of those early returns that you saw.

Ben Pederson:
Yeah, absolutely. I remember I posted it, it was a Facebook post, took a picture of my machine as I was about ready to head out to the field for the first time in the fall of 2011. And I just simply captioned it, it's either the best or the worst thing I will ever do professionally, and I was right. And fortunately it was the best. There's just been so many unintended, unexpected positives that have come from making that change. I really got into strip-till, because I was in love with the idea of, hey, let's get more efficient with nutrient placement. Let's make a spot for each plant to grow and thrive where it doesn't have a wheel track to fight, where it's got an equal shot of fertilizer everywhere.

Ben Pederson:
But in the course of implementing things, I realize, hey, my soil's changing for the better, I'm getting more biology. My marginal soils are getting more and more productive. So it definitely was something for me where I got in expecting a certain amount of benefits. And they multiplied as time went on, which was more than I could hope for at the time.

Michaela Paukner:
I'd like to thank our sponsor Source by Sond Agriculture, for supporting the Strip-Till Farmer podcast series. Wake up your soil and unlock more per acre with Source by Soud Agriculture. Source is a biochemistry that activates microbes in the soil to provide more nitrogen and phosphorous to corn and soybean crops. It's simple to use with a low use rate, tank mix compatibility, and flexible application window. Use the performance optimizer tool to determine where Source will work best to increase yield, or reduce nitrogen. Either way you win. Visit Sond.Ag to learn more. That's S-O-N-D.A-G. Now let's get back to the conversation.

Jack Zemlicka:
Ben, I know you've mentioned too, there's a lot of public influences now kind of shaping the conservation tillage landscape, a lot of external and also some internal factors, that are obviously kind of weighing on the mind of a lot of farmers. And particularly, when you have folks that are in the no-till or strip-till practice, how well positioned do you see those segments being, in terms of either being ahead of the curve or at least keeping up with the curve in terms of some of those practices that we see a lot more of, maybe in the headlines of kind of just your average consumer publication?

Ben Pederson:
Yeah. I mean, I think if a farmer has taken steps to reduce tillage and taken steps to be more efficient with nutrient applications, they're in an excellent position going forward. I think the value statement for doing it is something that's been understated because I recently rebranded our farm Vital Grains and it's something I'll get into in my presentation. Why I did that, and what does it mean? What was I driving at? And really to give just a brief overview, it's the fact that I started to realize in talking to like Rattan Lal, Ohio State University, who actually returned my phone call and we had a great talk about carbon sequestration and researching how much soil is actually moved or lost when we're talking broad area tillage with only average rainfall events.

Ben Pederson:
And I don't need to remind everybody that we've had well above average rainfall events over the past few years. So the amount of soil that's displaced is massive, all the way down to [inaudible 00:11:49] and the Gulf of Mexico, water quality discussions. The Des Moines Register just talked about really, it wasn't really hit piece, but it was not favorable in discussing new nitrates in water and what our role is. So as we go forward, as we have a political pendulum that is wildly swinging left to right, where do we want to be? Because I don't think it's too long before somebody that is well intentioned thinks they're going to get in the business of us, "poor down farmers" and tell us how to do things, that is not necessarily going to make dollars and cents.

Ben Pederson:
So I think we have a tremendous opportunity right now to sell what is commonly becoming called regenerative agriculture, and the quantifiable benefits that come along with that really dwarf other labels that have gained a lot of value, organic, non GMO. You dig into those things, the value statement is somewhat dubious, but what does it give? It gives people a sense of, hey, we're doing the right thing and that hunger for, hey, we're doing the right thing. We're being socially responsible with the products we purchase. It's huge. And it's growing with this younger generation of consumers.

Jack Zemlicka:
Absolutely. Well, and it does seem that perception is playing a bigger role now, particularly in agriculture and obviously with what farmers are kind of facing and obviously some of the challenges and also being able to stay profitable and obviously be conscious of passing that farmland onto their next generation. I mean, there's a lot of factors that are kind of coming into play now, perhaps more than ever. But a lot of it is also getting more publicized and I think becoming more visible as a whole. So obviously, as you mentioned, kind of taking ownership, having that responsibility, are elements that are certainly going to figure into the longevity and sustainability of farm operations as we move forward.

Ben Pederson:
Absolutely. Us farmers, especially ones that, it's a pretty arbitrary term, but that do a good job that you can tell take a lot of pride in their work, that it's more than a profession. That land that they hold is just is more than an asset. And I definitely fall in that category, me and my family. We kind of want to stick to our own business. We have such a massive investment in time and money in what we do.It's very easy for us to kind of naval gaze and think only of where our operation sits today and how to defend it for the future.

Ben Pederson:
I think we need to take a little more of an outward look because not only are there threats out there, there's opportunities that I think, again, farmers banding together kind of coming together under one banner under one flag, people have dreamed about that forever. And it's tough because we're independent minded kind of free thinking people, but there are some opportunities. And I think they could be big, especially under this regenerative label. Doing things like implementing cover crops, reducing tillage, reducing nutrient applications, chemical applications. That could mean real value and real power to operations that are doing those type of things for the future.

Jack Zemlicka:
Yeah, absolutely. And those are all critically important topics that I think are certainly worth bringing top of mind. And looking forward to having you out at the conference in a couple of weeks here, I know there's going to be a lot of food for thought. I'm sure you're going to challenge some folks in the audience who think progressively, think a little bit outside the box, and maybe even get out of their comfort zone. But very much looking forward to having you kick off the event in Peoria on August 1st and appreciate that you'll be there to join us.

Ben Pederson:
Thanks, Jack. I mean, it's going to be a big honor for me to talk to a great number of peers who I have a lot of respect for. If I can cause people to think differently about one or two things in their operation and more so where we fit into the food chain going forward with regard to the things we've discussed here, then that's all I hope to do. And aside from that, I really hope to learn from some of the other presenters.

Michaela Paukner:
Thanks to Ben Pederson for today's conversation. He's lecturing during a classroom session at the National Strip-Tillage Conference in Iowa on July 29th, go to StripTillConference.com to register for two days of learning from dozens of cutting edge strip-tillers like Ben and our 2022 Strip-Till Innovator who will be revealed at the conference. If you're looking for more podcasts about strip-till in the meantime, visit StripTillFarmer.Com/podcasts or check out our episode library wherever you get your podcasts. Finally, many thanks to Source by Sond Agriculture for helping to make this Strip-Till podcast series possible. From all of us here at Strip-Till Farmer, I'm Michaela Faulkner. Thanks for listening.