The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Soybeans and Corn

Soybeans and Corn

From the Farmer's Tractor

November 29, 2009

Bob Metz is the former president of the American Soybean Association and a fifth generation farmer. He and his family farm about 5,500 tillable acres of hard red spring wheat, corn and soybeans in West Browns Valley, South Dakota.

How did you get into farming?
    
After going away to school I just really wanted to be a part of agriculture. Not only because it’s important but because it’s a fantastic way of life and very much a business. I’ve been farming all my life. We have been raising corn and soybeans for the past 33 years, and we’re looking forward to our 44th season. 

Have your business practices changed over the last 10 years?

There have been huge changes in the way we’ve done business and the changes have been very good for agriculture, especially in terms of new seeds and more accurate placement of fertilizer. We used to broadcast fertilizer, and now we very accurately put it in narrow bands right where the plants are growing, right where we need it. Less fertilizer also means less chance for it to erode into the water system. We also embrace technology. Larger equipment means you have fewer passes up and down the field and less use of fossil fuels – which is good for our environment. In addition, the sprayers of corn planters are turned off and on by satellite, wasting no seed and wasting no spray, using a very exact amount. As we incorporate modern day technology, and bio technology, I think it is very important that people understand we use far less fuel and are leaving a smaller carbon footprint. 

How will your business change in the next 5 years?

Certainly, sustainability is a buzz word, but it’s really something that we’ve thought about for quite some time on our farm. Being a 5th generation farmer and looking forward to my sons and hopefully my grandsons farming, sustainability is always at the top of our list and very important to us. As we move forward, we’re also realizing that fuel is another very important part of the mix. We’re really harvesting the sun’s energy to make liquid fuels, both ethanol and bio diesel. And we need to get the message out that even though we use part of our crop for fuel, the majority of it is still a feed product. 

What specific steps are you taking toward conservation?

When I was a young man growing up, living up North where you have snow in the fields, you would see dirt in the snow all winter long because you had done so much tillage in the fall to make it ready for spring. That doesn’t happen today. Today we leave the refuge from the past crop on top of the soil. We don’t have the wind erosion; we won’t have the water erosion in the spring. We plant right into the refuge and that allows a very good crop, and we’re raising almost 100% more crop then we did under the old practices. Because we have embraced technology, we have far more accurate placement of seeds and chemicals, we are reducing our fuel use and we have doubled our production.

What are your greatest challenges as a corn and soybean farmer?

I think getting the message out to the consumer is probably the biggest problem we will have in agriculture over the next 5 to 10 years. People are more removed from agriculture every day, but I think most people like to relate back to their roots in agriculture. We really need to get the message out to the American public, as well as to the public around the world, about what agriculture really is – that we want to be sustainable, that we want to have less of a carbon footprint, that we want to use fewer fossil fuels and safer chemicals, and that we want to make sure that at the end of the day, the American consumer has a safe product at a price that is reasonably affordable.  

Is some of the food you produce used for bio fuel?

Yes. Our corn goes to ethanol plants to make fuel as well as feed. The other portion of our corn crop goes to local farmers to feed their livestock, or is exported to other parts of the world. 

Our farm is evenly split between corn and soybeans. Some of the soybeans that we raise actually become seed production and are sold back again to farmers for seeds for the next year’s production. The other soybeans will be sold to a crushing plant about 100 miles away where they separate the oil and the meal, and the oil is used for things like cooking oil, marjoram, and salad dressings, while the meal is used to feed poultry and swine. 

How can we best educate the consumer?

Consumers should visit with farmers, visit with their local grocers, have that discussion about sustainability and then come to their own conclusions about American agriculture. We also need to help educate Congress. We need safe food, we need affordable food and we do not want to over regulate the industry.

 

Bob Metz will be just one of the many farmers featured in our upcoming Public Television special, Phil Lempert’s Food Sense, now in production. This interview is an excerpt from his story that is scheduled to air Spring 2010.