From the Field…
by Sarah Day Levesque
Chris Soules is a third generation soy and corn farmer who co-owns 5,500 acres of land with his parents. The family farm also operates a wean-to-finish hog operation that turns approximately 20,000 hogs a year.
Although he was born and raised in Iowa, you may recognize Chris from his various appearances on reality televisions shows, including ABC’s hit show The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars.
Oilseed & Grain News had the opportunity to sit down with Chris to discuss his recent launch into fame, his work in farmland investing, and his upcoming participation at the Global AgInvesting conference in New York. We also took this chance to get Chris’s producer perspective on some key topics impacting agriculture today: agtech and low commodity prices.
Here is an excerpt from that conversation:
OGN: How has agricultural technology changed your farming operations?
Chris: The changes have been incredible and one of the largest changes has been on the genetic side. When I was first starting farming, 100 bushels per acre for commercial corn was a great yield goal. Now 250 is what we strive for and 200 is what we expect. So the genetic side of technology in agriculture has really helped increase yield and has lessoned the amount of fertilizer we need to use, pesticides we need to use, and insecticides we need to use. So that’s where I think I’ve seen the largest change.
Then there is global positioning technology that has allowed us to work and run more acres with less equipment. We can run our planter 24/7 and if the weather is good, we do. Because you don’t have as much stress when you’re in there [driving the machinery] and you’re able to focus on making sure that everything is working properly as opposed to staring out forward to keep your planter lines straight. This enables us to farm more, and more efficiently with less inputs. This can be a big deal when you start to farm 5,000 acres and you talk about overlapping with a certain herbicide or fertilizer. Eliminating that overlap has made us a lower cost provider of food. That comes back to making land a better investment by helping to drive cash rent up because everyone has become more efficient with their production costs.
The other thing coming down the pipe is data. We have all this data that we are able to glean as we are going through the field. It’s almost overwhelming right now, the technology that is coming out to help manage that data, which helps us hone in on how we can make things better. That’s where I really see the trends on our farming operation. People are going to be working really hard to improve the data management and learn how to make more bushels on an acre than they ever have before with less input.
OGN: How are your operating decisions impacted by the low commodity prices that we have seen lately?
Chris: With tighter margins, we are all working really hard to get the most out of every acre, lower our costs and negotiate input prices down -- whether it's on the land side or crop inputs, fertilizer, seed or chemical. We are going to pull back – we are not going to be spending as much money on machinery. We are being very selective until we see where this thing is going to settle down. The big question to me is: is this $3.50 corn going to be the limit to the downside or are we going further down? We are in a world of unknowns right now. Can we feel confident that we have seen the downside, seen the bottom, and we are going to trade in a range of $3.50-$4 corn? Or is there a further downside? That’s my biggest concern. There is a lot of uncertainty to where markets are heading and it is going to result in us spending less money on things than we have seen people spending money on in the past five years, like fancy equipment.
Chris will be on the speaking faculty at this year’s Global AgInvesting 2016, taking place in New York on April 25-28.