Ryan Mackenthun - First Ever Listener

Mar 20, 2019

Ryan Mackenthun - First Ever Listener
Stefanie W:   Welcome to another episode of Planting Profits with Jesse Wiant. Today we have Ryan Mackenthun.

Jesse Wiant:  Well thanks Stef. Like Stef said, we've got Ryan Mackenthun here with us today. He's a grower in the Brownton area that UFC works with. Basically we wanted to bring him in, typically we have, whether it's UFC employees or industry partners that we have on this podcast, we wanted to switch things up a little bit and bring in a different perspective. So the growers that we work with, or the listeners of this podcast, just want to change things up and try to get a different perspective. So, Ryan, thanks for joining us today. Maybe just give a little background of where you farm, where you grew up, that kind of thing.

Ryan M:  I farm north of Brownton a few miles. I grew up there. I'm fifth generation farmer up there, established in 1887. I'm married with three kids, ages six, seven and nine, so we have a very busy household now.

Jesse Wiant:  I believe it.

Ryan M:  We run a corn and soybean farm there. We used to have livestock on the farm, don't anymore. I farm with my brother in law, he's farmed three to four years now full time. Before that I farmed with my uncle. He's kind of semi semiretired now and my father before that.

Jesse Wiant: Okay. Okay. So you said fifth generation, that's pretty unique.

Ryan M:  Yes, it is

Jesse Wiant: You don't hear that a lot. So that's neat that you can share the history of being here that long, right?

Ryan M:  Yes, it is.

Jesse Wiant: So, Ryan, you also farm with a couple other partners, you said your brother in law. How has that decision changed your guys' operation from maybe the use of, whether it's labor or equipment?

Ryan M:  I guess it goes back a while. I started thinking about it eight years ago and what I was going to do when my father and my uncle retired. Just looking around the neighborhood, there was four self-propelled sprayers within three miles of my house. I started coming up and thinking like if we could get along and share equipment, I think we'd be a lot more efficient. Labor would wouldn't be as big of an issue. So after my father passed away about five years ago, I started talking to my banker about it and had a couple of guys in mind. I talked to them about it and got their feelings on it and they kind of thought it was a great idea. And just this last winter we decided to give it a go and another farmer heard what we were going to do and he wanted to go into it with us. There's five of us between the three farms. My brother in law and I are the oldest actually. There must be 14 kids, that us five farmers have, so we're all in the same boat. We all have kids, we all have the family life at home. We all know what goes on with each other's family because we're all living the same life basically. We all have the same goals, to farm as good as we can. So together we're able to keep up with the technology, better, maximize equipment use with less labor, which today is getting harder and harder to find qualified labor that wants to work the hours that we do that we can trust running these expensive pieces of equipment.

Jesse Wiant: So from my perspective, once you guys have there is very unique Ryan. Like you said, trying to find the qualified help, the labor, UFC is in the same boat. I think almost every ag retailer in this this industry is in that boat where the we really only need the labor for a couple of weeks out of the year it seems like and to try to find that is really tough to do. So I think what you guys have working there is really unique that you saw the future, trying to set yourself up to be better positioned when people retire. So just talking on that, how do you manage that workload between the group? Does everybody kind of have a specific job or duty that they do or is it just kind of all in everybody does something?

Ryan M: I guess we kind of run it like a business. The five of us meet few times a year, basically have like a little board meeting. We talk about where we want things to go, where we think we should be, how we're going to get there. We all kind of have a specific tasks that we kind of manage, but we're all capable of every task on the farm basically, so it makes it really easy. Let's say somebody has got a kid that's sick and it has to go somewhere, it's really easy for one of us to jump in and take their job over, which is a huge benefit I think. So reliability is not an issue because we're all invested in our farms so we don't have to worry about hired help leaving us or something like that. So I guess it's really easy. The workload comes really easy when everybody knows what they're doing.

Jesse Wiant:  Would you say that, you said you and your brother in law or are the oldest, would you say that everybody kind of looks to you to help make some of the maybe tougher decisions on whether it's equipment use or even plans?

Ryan M:  I don't know. I don't think so. I think it depends a lot on our skill sets are, I mean, if it's mechanical, we go to Nathan, my brother in law. I mean he helps a lot of farmers out and he has welding shop on his farm, so he's busy all winter doing that. Technical stuff, a couple of the guys have agronomy degrees and they're younger than I am, so they're more technical savvy than I am. So I call one of the guy's the tech guy in our group. I guess we all have different strengths.

Jesse Wiant:  And that's probably part of the reason why it's working so well for you too because you don't have three people that are really good at one thing. Right? I mean like you say, everybody's kind of got their own strengths or skills that they can excel at.

Ryan M: Right. Correct.

Jesse Wiant: So now that we understand a little bit better what your operation involves, maybe let's dive a little deeper in the technology piece. What kinds of technology are you guys using?

Ryan M: Well, I guess we've been mapping on our farm since about 2005. Like so many other people probably think that we've got these maps, what do we do with them? So I think maybe about five years ago we started using the variable rate planting prescriptions on a few fields, saw a lot of great things with that. So we're using the variable rate prescriptions. Last year we used variable rate nitrogen applications. The Climate app has been real huge help on our farm.

Jesse Wiant:  Maybe touch on that. How's Climate changing for you guys?

Ryan M:  Well, seeing as how our new group, I have been on fields that I've never been on before. We sat down in March probably and we all put pins in all our intakes, all our problems spot, shallow tiles. We highlighted with Climate on our Climate apps, we all log into the same account so we can all see all the fields that we're in, any issues that we may have in them fields. When I'm spraying fields in the summer, last year somebody's tree stand, or deer stand, fell into the field. I know I wasn't going to be combining corn, so I take a picture of it, pin it on Climate, everybody can see it. It's there, trees are down, rocks are in field, I pin them Climate they're there, were aware of it. It helps hopefully save costs on equipment by not hitting it stuff like that, just makes it easier. big rocks and we rock pick with gator side by sides, kind of stuff like that. So pin big rocks that we can't lift. One guy comes around with a skidster, takes care of it. I don't have to call them. I pin it and say texted him, here's a pen, go handle it. Just saving the time stuff.

Jesse Wiant: Sure. And you don't have to try to describe where it's at in the field.

Ryan M:  Exactly. Exactly.

Jesse Wiant:  As an efficiency standpoint, I mean, that makes a lot of sense too. Other thing...

Ryan M: And, there's times too I send you pins, saying 'Yeah, go check this out.'

Jesse Wiant:  It's nice for that to where I can get right to that spot where you were at, whether it was spraying or planting or whatever, and try to figure out what's going on. Do you ever feel like the technology, whether you're using it or something that's new, do you ever feel overwhelmed by it?

Ryan M:  Um occasionally I do . I guess a lot of times you get used to using one thing. You're comfortable with it, new technology comes out, they want you to learn this. So that kind of gets overwhelming. But if you stay current and on top of it, I guess it's not as big of an issue.

Jesse Wiant:  So you touched on a couple of things like variable rating, Climate, yield maps that you guys are doing. Is there anything more specific that technology is allowing you to do?

Ryan M:  Yeah there's so many things in technology that we use. I use Google docs and stuff for my finance advisor. He loves my record keeping. I know my field by field break evens. I have a 13 year history on Google docs, so I have trend lines of cost per acre in every aspect of farming. So I have five year averages, eight year averages for him, stuff like that. other than that, there are things we tried, like variable rate N last year it just makes sense. I mean, we saw great returns in that.

Jesse Wiant:   How about, you run the sprayer. what about the technology that's available in the sprayer? Even if it's something as simple as your auto steer, I mean, what is that allowing you to do? Besides drink more mountain dew?

Ryan M:  Watch a movie.

Jesse Wiant: Yeah, there you go.

Ryan M: Well the auto steering is nice, you don't overlap. I mean, when I started using auto steering, I worried about leaving gaps and stuff. So I would overlap a foot and a half. That was back of the days we just sprayed roundup. Well then, I'd see that bronze stripe down the road from where I overlapped, so every year I'd get a little bit more comfortable with it. It's just maximizing your efficiency with auto steering. Your fatigue isn't as bad, so it's a really great tool to have.

Jesse Wiant: Is there any other technology on that sprayer? Auto steer I would say is probably the biggest one, like you said to maximize your chemical costs by not over applying. Is there anything else that that can help you from the sprayer tech side?

Ryan M:  Well we have auto boom height control on the sprayer. On Windy days, you can really get that thing close to the ground. You're busy watching rows in front of you so it's one less thing you have to worry about is hitting your booms into the ground. I see a lot of sprayers going around with their boom five feet up in the air and you're getting a lot of drift out there. You're losing a lot of your chemical. You might be only getting 50% of your application onto that weed or whatever so it's not really getting to give you a good weed control that way. So, that is another huge benefit of technology,

Jesse Wiant:   I would say here at UFC, we've hired some younger applicator's here within the last three years that have little experience or minimal experience, I guess you could say, and one of the things that we've noticed is the between the auto steer, the auto height and we run red sprayers so we've got the AIM command system. It's amazing how much quicker these guys, that have limited experience can learn, right? Because like you say you can focus on what you're doing instead of having to adjust the booms on the go the whole way through the field, especially if it's a uneven or hilly field, something like that. So I think that the auto boom is something that's probably a little bit overlooked, but you combine that with auto steer, if it's a situation where you can, I mean, it's a no brainer.

Ryan M: And let's not forget the direct injection system, because it's kind of on my wish lists. I don't have that yet, but writing prescriptions with everything else pretty soon we'll have our chemical prescriptions and I think that'll have a huge benefit as well.

Jesse Wiant:  Sure, sure. So last year was your first year in UFC's United Insight precision platform. Obviously there was a few challenges, whether it was from limitations from weather or from workload. One of the key things I saw was the relationship with field forecasting tool in nitrogen modeling and then comparing that with the final yields we harvested. How can a tool like field forecasting tool help you become more efficient with your nitrogen applications?

Ryan M:  Well, I guess before we made our summer application, Jesse, you called me and we sat down and we looked at the field forecasting tool and kind of looked at fields and past history and decided what fields we wanted to be more aggressive with the nitrogen application on and what fields we wanted to stay lesser with basically because of the situation we were in with the weather around here. So we took a lot of those things and we were able to tweak our nitrogen plan and I think it really paid off. I mean we had great yields on the field we were aggressive on. So that was one great help, another grade thing I'm looking forward to is maybe forecasting fungicide applications and what kind of ROI can see on them or benefit I can see them.

Jesse Wiant: So again this year was kind of a learning experience for us. Utilizing field forecasting tool was something that we had piloted two summers ago and last year it was kind of out of the pilot stage, but still in the infancy stages I guess. One of the things I think is really unique with it is it gives us that predicted yield. So I know you're a big marketing guy, you like marketing grain trying to obviously maximize your return there as well.

Ryan M:  It's not fun.

Jesse Wiant: No, I agree, It's not, but something, like this too it helps you maximize your nitrogen input, but yet you can also maybe gauge what your potential yield is out there, which in turn could help with the marketing side of things too. So I think that's the kind of technology that is still new to us. We're still trying to learn it and understand it, but if we can tie it...

Ryan M:  And trust it.

Jesse Wiant:  Yeah, if we can tie something that takes your inputs and gives you a potential output in basically you'd make this whole thing go full circle. I think that's the kind of tech that's really going to speed up this ag industry.

Ryan M:  Yep. I agree.

Jesse Wiant: So Ryan, how is ag tech bringing more value to your operation in general? I know we've touched on a few things, is there anything else that you really see the value in?

Ryan M:  Well, at the end of every year I have land, I rent some land from some people, and if they want to see my maps or if I want to bring my maps to them, I'll bring my maps to them. I'll show them what I'm doing with the prescriptions and everything. Trying to maximize their acres that I run. And I have one landlord that is going to put some tile in this year. year after year we've have a couple spots that keep drowning out and everything and I show him this on the maps, I say your lands not producing in these areas, I can pay you more rent if I can get these spots to produce, so he's putting tile in. So that's a benefit for me, working together with your landlords like that, it was a huge, is a huge help.

Jesse Wiant:  Yeah, and like you say, being able to have it right at your fingertips, whether it's on an iPad or something where, it's more interactive than the sheet of paper too, so that tends to help quite a bit with those conversations.

Ryan M: Yup. Exactly.

Jesse Wiant: So UFC, actually a week ago here, we had our United Insight kickoff meeting. We had a guest speaker, Chad Colby from Colby ag tech. One of his reoccurring themes throughout the whole message was how fast that technology is changing. If there was a tool that was available today to help you hit your operational goals as well as your yield goals, what would that tool look like?

Ryan M:  Probably a man-less tractor. It's really eye-opening to see, not just in the agricultural field, all technology everywhere how far and fast it's come. You see it in other agricultural fields, robotic milkers on cows and carousel milking parlors. I mean it's eye-opening to see how fast that came to all of us. And so I guess just trying to keep up with it, growing with it, trying not to fall behind because if you fall behind on it, it's going to be harder to get caught back up and then learn that stuff.

Jesse Wiant: That was one of the other things Chad had said. He showed the demo of two different iPads, one was brand new and the other one was maybe a year old or something like that and just how fast that newer one was versus the last one and then we don't really think about it, siting and listening to a presentation, well what's another couple seconds save you, I mean, maybe it's not that big a deal, but in the long run, if you can start doing things faster all day, well maybe that's another 30 acres that you can get over on that day. So to me that's where this technology is going to drive us to the point where your two week, maybe three week, time-frame of getting things in is going to be shortened even more than that.

Ryan M:  Yeah. And that's one thing I see with the United Insight thing is you maximize your productivity in your really good areas of the field. I don't want to say minimize your losses, but you can maximize any potential the battery has and maybe minimize those losses too. Keeping up with that has really paid off.

Jesse Wiant: So we've talked a lot about ag tech and how you're currently using it and how your potentially going to use ag tech here in the future to reach those goals. So I want to end on something that's maybe a little less related to ag tech or your operation. So if you could travel anywhere in the world free of charge, where would you travel and why?

Ryan M:  That's probably the toughest question you've asked me. Is it just me or the family?

Jesse Wiant: That's your call!

Ryan M:  If it was my family we would probably like to go to Australia just to see the complete opposite side of the world. See what life is like over there. If it was just me, I'd probably be sitting down at us bank stadium in April watching the final four. I'm a huge basketball fan. I guess that's my stress reliever. People have fishing, people have snowmobiling, mine is basketball.

Jesse Wiant: It's just at the wrong time of the year that's the problem.

Ryan M: I guess that was where I would be.

Stefanie W: Well that's not very far.

Ryan M:  No it's not!

Jesse Wiant: Well, thanks again, Ryan for joining us today. It was nice to have your perspective on things and the outside looking in, we tend to be one sided here at UFC just from always talking to industry partners. So, to actually have a grower on here and a listener has been a real pleasure.

Ryan M:  I appreciate you for having me, thank you.

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