Embracing SMART Farming Enables This Minnesota Farmer to Focus on Animal and Soil Health - Food Dialogues

Embracing SMART Farming Enables This Minnesota Farmer to Focus on Animal and Soil Health

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Farming isn’t about a horse and plow anymore.

Though red barns occasionally dot the landscape, today’s agriculture takes on technology in ways most tech geeks fail to understand. Gone are the days of paper ledgers and hand filling troughs of food. Farmers and ranchers are masters of doing more with less. They have unique challenges, like decreased availability of land, increased environmental concerns and at the root of it all, sustainability and continuous improvement. At the heart of any sustainability movement is the farmer him or herself. Farmers like Randy Spronk, of Spronk Brothers, a pig farm in Edgerton, Minn., are part of the modern wave of sustainable agriculture.

“The amount of resources that we use to make a pound of pork are much less than what it took my father or my grandfather,” says Sponk, a third-generation pig farmer. “I don’t want to minimize their efforts — they did everything they could with what they had — but with technology today, we do more with less.”

In addition to his farm responsibilities, he used to serve on Pork Board’s Environmental Committee. While in that position, Spronk could trace pork’s water, carbon and land footprint, and the advancements within the industry. Compared to 50 years ago, pork producers use 78 percent less land, 41 percent less water and have shrunk their carbon footprint by 35 percent.

Improved Animal Diets
Modern advancements in farm technology are what allow the Spronk Brothers, and other animal farmers, to practice increased sustainability and superior animal care. One of the technologies he credits for aiding with input management is computerized rationed formulation and mixing (also known as a computerized feeding system). As Spronk describes the system, “The computer will automatically mix a ration, keep track of the inventory, and we can tell how much of every ingredient went to each pig.”

Programs such as this one lets his farm monitor the individual health and growth of every pig. “This allows us to have the accuracy to make sure each pig is receiving not just the six bushels of corn,” he explains, “but also the micronutrients essential to the pig’s amino acids. It’s important from the nutritional standpoint to keep that pig healthy and growing.”

Using Natural Resources for Soil Health
Modern technologies also allow the farm to focus on the main pillars of sustainability: habitat, air, water and soil. Along with their pig operations, they also participate in crop production. Spronk and his brothers use waste from their pigs for optimal soil health. “The manure is very valuable, it’s one of our core ingredients,” he says.

The farm hires a third-party consultant to test the soil and manure to ensure they are spreading the exact amount of manure for specific soil health. “When it comes time for application, we use Real Time Kinematic [precision] technology, which we program into a rate controller, so we can learn how much manure needs to be applied. We can then generate a map to see where the manure was placed to confirm we’ve utilized every pound as efficiently as possible to grow next year’s crop,” he explains.

Protecting Rivers and Streams
In addition to soil health, Spronk uses precision technology to protect Minnesota’s rivers and streams. The farm uses GPS mapping to identify and protect natural waterways and utilizes specific tools to add manure directly into to the ground. Applying these nutrients into the ground enhances crop and soil health.

Spronk began his journey into advanced technology in the early 1990s and continues to do so today. “As a farmer, I really want to use the resources that have been given to me as best I can. I truly believe that the way I manage my farm and care for my animals is the best possible way, and I’m proud of what we do.”