Practices

Products, in the Context of a System

Midwestern BioAg is known for a system of farming. One of our founders, Gary Zimmer, developed a new approach to farming more than three decades ago — an approach now known as “biological farming.” Long before many understood the role of soil microbes, this new approach sought to balance multiple soil values: chemistry (where the bulk of the farm sector’s financial and intellectual investments had been made), biology (from soil microbes to earthworms to plants) and soil structure. By supporting the soil’s biology, the applied and existing soil nutrients become more plant available. In addition, the soil structure improves. Gary’s approach, which is our approach, leads to significant gains in yield and in the quality of the food and forage grown. This is the process that led us to focus on supporting soil life.

Many of the producers we work with started by embracing the full biological farming system. But a larger number have started by using just one of our blended fertilizers or soil amendments. Over time — and often quite quickly — they expanded their use of our products and practices, and the number of acres on which they are applied.

We’re comfortable with either starting point — full system or individual product. Both have obvious benefits — in the first year of application and in the long run.

Know the Soil

When we work directly with growers, we tend to spend a lot of time on their farms. Our sales consultants take the time to get to know the grower, the soil, and the farm’s history and goals for the upcoming season.

We prefer to start with soil samples, because each farm is unique. The difference in soils between farms and fields means different inputs are needed for optimum performance. A fertilizer blend that works for one field may not be right for a neighboring field. What we put on the soil should be determined by what’s already in the soil — that’s why the most thoughtful, informed input decisions start with a soil test.

At Midwestern BioAg, we go beyond the standard PK and pH soil tests. We conduct comprehensive secondary and trace mineral analyses to identify yield-limiting factors in the fields. These are the soil conditions that stop a plant from producing yields that match its genetic potential. A deficiency in just one trace mineral can have this effect. We use unique models, based on more than 30 years’ of data and experience, to set recommended nutrient levels.

Many growers have already done soil tests or feel comfortable with their own assessment of their lands. In those cases, we have regional blends designed for specific crops, and we can skip the testing stage.

Balanced, Quality Fertilizers

In many cases, we formulate fertilizer blends to fit specific fields and crops. More typically, we have local blends suited for regional crops and soil types.

Our high-quality fertilizers are:

  • Balanced. We balance and blend the right nutrients for your soil and crops to help optimize yields and quality. We address yield-limiting factors by complementing NPK with calcium, sulfur and trace minerals. Many of our fertilizers are linked to carbon, turning them into a food source for soil life and increasing nutrient availability.
  • Healthier for the soil. Our fertilizers contain high-quality materials that stimulate and support both soil microbes and plant roots.
  • Available season-long. Many fertilizers give plants a quick charge for a short period; our fertilizers deliver nutrients throughout the growing season. We mix soluble nutrients with others that are available season-long, enhancing nutrient uptake and performance through the full plant growth cycle.

We offer both dry and liquid fertilizers, including starters and pop-ups to boost early season growth.

Our fertilizer blends feed soil life as they feed the plants. Supporting soil microbes initiates a food chain involving other life forms in the soil — leading to a diversity that provides a hedge against invasive pests.

Cover Crops

Midwestern BioAg has long encouraged the use of cover crops and carries a full line of cover crop seeds for all seasons and regions. Cover crops scavenge and cycle soil nutrients, reduce compaction and improve water infiltration. As they decay, they add valuable organic matter to the soil and help improve seedling establishment the following season. They also help reduce soil erosion. Our sales consultants help customers select the right cover crop for their region and cropping system, and teach them how to manage it. We can pair cover crop seeds with a field’s specific needs or the expected demands of the following season’s crop.

Tillage Practices

When working with producers, we rely on practices that support soil life. Too much tillage can do real damage to soil structure. No tillage, in some cases, can lead to compaction. As a result, we tend to favor prescriptive tillage to match individual field needs.

Rotations

We look at individual growing seasons in the context of a long-term plan to build both annual farm profitability and long-term soil health. With this in mind, we often work with growers to introduce diverse rotations into their planting schedules. In some cases, we work with them to find buyers for their crops.

Seeds

We sell a range of seed varieties, including cash crop, forage and cover crop seeds. We do this, in part, because we spend so much time on our customers’ farms that many of them asked if we could also deliver their seeds. Our consultants can match seeds with soil and farm needs, on a field-by-field basis.

One of our seed lines, WinterKing™ III alfalfa, was bred specifically for soils enhanced by Midwestern BioAg’s fertility program. Most seeds are bred to succeed on average soils — but many of the soils we work with are well above average. WinterKing III produces well on all soils, but on our high-fertility soils, it performs exceptionally well.

Animal Nutrition

We’re conscious of top-line production and bottom-line costs. As a result, we consider animal nutrition from the ground up. We take a systems-approach to herd management to help producers grow better quality, higher-yielding forages that reduce dependency on supplemental feeds and minerals. These more digestible nutrients maximize a ruminant animal’s health and support its immune system.

But even with high-quality forages, livestock still need supplemental nutrition. Our nutrition specialists work with producers to ensure that feeding programs are balanced and complete. We offer a full line of livestock mineral and nutrition products to help meet a herd’s needs. Healthy livestock are productive livestock. Working with our nutrition specialists, we help maximize return on feed inputs and increase production across the operation.

Organic Farming

Roughly 30% of our customers are organic. We have a full suite of fertility products, soil amendments and seeds to help them deploy our full biological farming system. We don’t believe in the “organic by neglect” approach, which suggests that stopping the use of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic nutrients is enough. We help our organic growers identify yield-limiting factors and generate plans to overcome them. Using our system, we’ve seen organic farms attain yields comparable to their conventional counterparts.

Organic Transition

We regularly help conventional farmers make the shift to organic production. Our fertility products can help them stimulate soil biology, a key resiliency aid in the initial no-spray years. We help them build a reservoir of nutrients in their soil with a build-up of soil organic matter, to prime the fields for better production. We’ve partnered with Mercaris (a market data service and online trading platform for organic, non-GMO and certified agricultural commodities) to help our customers get the best market prices for their organic and transitioning crops — focusing on this even before the transition begins. This tool can be especially helpful during the transitioning process, when crops cannot be sold as organic-certified but are still non-GMO or “pesticide free.”

Contract Growing & Large Food Companies

A number of large food companies have an urgent need to expand their supply of organic food and forage — several have called on us for help. This leads us to reach out to a larger circle of growers interested in transitioning to organic, or in making their current organic operations more productive. Some of these large food companies are also interested in tracking — and reducing — the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of their foods. We expect these relationships to play a larger role in our work, as our ability to increase farm efficiencies in nitrogen use means we can help these companies achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions.

Financial Institutions & Land Funds

We work with financial institutions who have farm clients struggling to stay above water. The banks know we can help farmers generate yield and profits in the short term; they also know we can build the farm’s value over the long term. Land funds see that the short-term yield gains can ensure stable rent payments, and the improvements in soil health can increase the value of the underlying asset. Those purchasing land portfolios with the intent of converting them to organic understand we can make the transition period more profitable with greater crop resiliency, and better soil and crop health.