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Agriculture Technology Podcast: Pheasants Forever and Precision Ag

Agriculture Technology Podcast: Pheasants Forever And Precision Ag

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Pheasants Forever and agriculture might not be the first combination you think of, but their similarities are far greater than one might expect.

Tanner Bruce, Ag and Conservation Programs Manager at Pheasants Forever, joins podcast host Tony Kramer to talk conservation, precision farming, and the new partnership with Pheasants Forever and John Deere.

Tune in to Episode #89 below:

Or, read through the transcript:

Tony: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 89. Today we're going to be talking about Pheasants Forever and precision agriculture.

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Now with that let's get back to the show. I'm really excited to welcome Tanner Bruce, who is the Ag and conservation programs manager with Pheasants Forever.Thanks for joining us on the show today Tanner.

To get started I'd really like to hear a little bit more about you and your background and how you got involved in this industry.

Tanner: Thanks for having us on Tony. To start off I guess I'm from Southwest Minnesota. I actually grew up about a half mile from the Iowa border and really gained an appreciation for both agriculture, and conservation and wildlife through just where I lived in rural Minnesota as well as not being raised in town.

There in Wellington Minnesota, it also started with my grandpa. He actually owned Southwest Minnesota livestock which would be the sale barn in Wellington Minnesota. Through that, he obviously spent a lot of time chasing cows and pigs, and as a sale barn also peacocks and all kinds of other things. He pretty much sold anything that came through the door.

Also, with that, would be the remembrance, I guess, of eating a delicious beef commercial with a nice aroma surrounding me of manure. I really enjoyed that growing up.

One of my fondest memories would be going with my grandpa to South St. Paul livestock, which is no longer in business, but going on the boardwalks above and looking at all the different livestock down below, and watching grandpa go and bid on a herd of cows. Definitely grew in appreciation there.

My first job was picking rack, as any Southwest Minnesota boys should be able to claim that title. Then after high school, I then went to Mankato South Central College. Had a lot have fun while I was there. I don't know what I necessarily accomplished.

Moved back with my parents and actually worked for a title drainage company for about three and a half years. Just working with farmers. I loved it. Loved every day of it. Decided to go back to school for biology, got into wildlife, got into conservation, and got married, have a couple kids. I was lucky enough to get in with the fabulous organization and Pheasants forever and quail forever.

Tony: Wonderful. It's always fun to hear everyone's background stories, where they come from and how they get to where they are.

With this podcast, I get a lot of people that we'll, I shouldn't say a lot, but some come from a farming background and grow up farming, and others they come from all different spectrums and different routes and paths through life. It's really fun to hear that. Pheasants Forever, the organization you're with. I know some people may have heard of it, other people may have not. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what Pheasants Forever is and how it came about?

Tanner: Well Tony Pheasants Forever started in 1982 with a group of people that were just passionate about Pheasants and Pheasant hunting and, and conservation of wildlife.

Started in a basement, continued on, had the first banquet, which a lot of folks are familiar with Pheasants Forever banquets, and enjoy going to and eating the food and enjoying a few cocktails and hopefully going home with a few guns that they won.

The first banquet was in Minneapolis, St. Paul. Through that, we've continued to to grow and gain support. We are now sitting at about 150,000 members. With that, just within Minnesota specifically, just say 25,000 members in Minnesota.

We've got currently, just say a 750 chapters, located throughout the United States. We're in not all states, but almost every state has Pheasants Forever, quail forever representation.

We currently have a diversified staff, or home bases in White Bear Lake Minnesota. We have roughly about 150 wildlife biologists that assist land owners and farmers in enrolling in voluntary conservation programs.

They really help them through the paperwork process and give them the technical assistance in collaboration with other great partners like the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other state agencies.

Tony: When we talk about Pheasants Forever, you talked about how it started with a group of people that were just passionate about pheasants and the conservation in the habitat of pheasants. How does that tie into agriculture? How does Pheasants Forever and agriculture relate?

Tanner: Well, our structure is really grassroots. What I mean by that as a nonprofit organization, local chapter, all the money that's raised locally at a banquet, the money stays local.

Our chapters started with tractors, started with agriculture started with, assisting in food plots, tree plantings. Many of our members, our member base are farmers, many of them are in the agriculture industry, whether that be an agronomist or consultant or whatever it may be, they also enjoy, I guess, pulling the trigger.

Private lands conservation as a whole is a base for wildlife populations. Farmers are out there putting habitat on the ground, conservation on the ground. Really, without that, without the great stewards, the work that they're already doing, the wildlife populations would not be where they are today.

Tony: That's one of the things I always think is really neat is how how well ingrained Pheasants Forever is with the agriculture industry and the agriculture community. A lot of people they might view land conservation and agriculture as different but really, it's doing the same thing. It's accomplishing the same things just from a different perspective.

Tanner: One funny story I'd like to add to that is my kid is, he's four years old, and he's absolutely obsessed with green equipment. Absolutely obsessed. I don't traditionally have a farm. A lot of my friends are farmers and my family are farmers. He gets to ride in tractors and that's like the best day of his life.

This year, I actually purchased, I think it's a 1982 John Deere 214 lawn tractor with a cab on it and a snow blower. Let me tell you what, that thing blows snow.

But it was funny, because when I brought it home, my kid in a four year olds eyes, he goes, "Dad, we have a tractor. Dad, you got a tractor", and he just couldn't get the grin off his face.

When we're driving down the road, he'll actually look over into a field. He'll see a, I guess, what I would consider a real tractor. He'll say, "Hey, dad, look, they got a tractor like ours".

It just puts a smile on my face and I shake my head and I'm thinking, "Kinda. But we have a tractor sort of like theirs". But he's so proud of that fact.

I had the opportunity to go to develop with Deere conference this year. With that I got a stocking cap. When I got home, I knew immediately what I was doing that stocking cap. I gave it to my four year old and to be honest with you, he hasn't taken it off his head since except for to go to bed.

His two first words, at about two and a half, were Pheasants Forever and John Deere, he could identify the John Deere logo.

Tony: That's a really awesome story and it's a neat thing to see and show how agriculture and land conservation, it all goes hand in hand together. You bring up the John Deere name and we'll get to that just a little bit later in the show but Pheasants Forever just, they got a partnership with John Deere and everything and we'll touch on that in a little bit.

When it comes to the agriculture, so we talked about Pheasants Forever, how the organization started what they do, we talked about how it relates to agriculture.

Now you yourself Tanner, you focus on a very unique project or you have a focus on a very unique project and that's the precision Ag end of things with Pheasants Forever.

Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about what services you guys provide and what that whole precision Ag program is about investments forever?

Tanner: Absolutely. About I would say, three to four years ago, we started getting into the precision Ag initiative, precision Ag business planning. A lot of that started with what was then called Ag solver, now is EFC systems and a platform called profit zone manager.

Through that, just being able to dive in and look at somebody operation, look at somebody field acre by acre and analyzing it for profitability, so return on investment. We just saw a great opportunity there to collaborate with farmers, obviously with their goals and it's all voluntary. Whatever their goals for their operation is is what we're going to follow.

Just being able to dive in look at things acre by acre, identify those revenue negative acres and find out alternatives. Whether that may be a federal program, a state program, or just something that the producer or the farmer themselves is interested in as far as providing that voluntary conservation opportunity.

Tony: I know you got a little catch phrase that I'd very much enjoy, but you talk about turning red acres green. You're taking these areas of fields that are generally poorly producing and you're finding ways to make them produce revenue, correct?

Tanner: Absolutely. That's the main focus out of the whole thing and the secondary benefit would be the conservation of the habitat that it also provides and get the red out of your field and let's make it green.

We don't want to focus solely on the red acres although that's where our expertise can come into play with providing the different opportunities to increase your return on investment, but we also want to work hand in hand with the agronomists, the equipment dealership, the IS specialists, whoever it may be, another trusted adviser with the farmer to also see what can we do in the green acres. Let's really turns those green acres. Instead lime green, let's make them John Deere green.

Tony: I like that. You said it exactly that where the partnership also comes in and where the correlation is with Pheasants Forever and agriculture, and what you guys are doing with this program is one, it's making those parts of the land, it's making it more profitable. They're seeing a little more return, but it's also giving habitat for pheasants and wildlife.

It really helps on both ends, the conservation of the land, but it's also helping that farmer maybe reduce some cost or have opportunity to generate a little more revenue. When it comes down to all of this, what type of data is Pheasants Forever using in order to analyze what to do and how to do it?

Tanner: Currently, we have five Precision Ag in conservation specialists which is the title of the individual that the farmer would work directly with, that the partner, the consultant, agronomist would work directly with.

We've got two in North Dakota, one in Minnesota, one in Iowa, and we recently hired a precision Ag in conservation specialist in Georgia in collaboration with COTTONINK. I'm really excited about that, but the basis is is working directly with trusted advisers and the farmer themselves and we would really need the yield data as planted, as applied. Obviously, the more years, the better. To go back in time and really get a good judgment on the potential of those acres and what's green, what's red and year after year no matter what the uncontrollable variables such as weather provide, we can really track it and go back in time and make sure we're making the best decisions possible.

Tony: The precision Ag in conservation specialist role that you talked about, you said you have a number of them here in the upper Midwest, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, you had mentioned.

I know you have chapters all over the United States, as you mentioned in the intro. Is there opportunity or outlook to the future of growing this precision Ag program across the United States?

Tanner: Absolutely. We've got other states that are also interested. Wisconsin, South Dakota, just sticking to the Midwest, but there's other states that are definitely interested in. We've had partners requesting it.

Tony: Going back to the partnership with John Deere and what you guys were previously using AgSolver, tell us a little bit about that. How the John Deere Operations Center has partnered with everything and how you guys are utilizing John Deere as well as your platform to help these customers with these areas of their fields.

Tanner: Obviously within precision Ag, and you start talking about platforms, you can dive into the John Deere Operations Center and where do you guys at? 103 different platforms within the Operations Center. Not to mention the capabilities within the Operations Center itself and the ability to analyze data.

We're really open to working with any platform and, obviously, within the John Deere Operations Center as well to dive into the data and acre by acre analysis and return on investment is the gold standard, but there's so many great platforms out there including Operations Center that we can still dig in the data and we can identify different areas where another practice might be feasible.

Tony: When you identify these areas, they work with the precision Ag in conservation specialists in their area, how does that ending? How does it look when it wraps up? Are you guys making the recommendations or what is being done with those areas once you figure that out?

Tanner: As we dive into the data, start looking at things, the specialist in collaboration with other partners such as NRCS or some of the water districts, they'll come up with different programs that would be available to the farmer, along with the specialists diving in deeper and looking for other alternatives that an individual could do on their own will.

Some people might not want to get tied up into a 10, 15-year contract, so there's some other things that somebody could do, on their own will, and also get that return on investment.

Tony: You meet with the farmer, you sit down, you get their data, you get these recommendations and practices, how did those conversations go? What do they look like? Do you get a lot of people that say, "Yeah, you know, this really isn't for me", or do you get people that jump on board right away and say, "Hey, I really like what you guys are doing and I really want to move forward with this".

Tanner: We've had a lot of great success with working with farmers and in their appreciation of looking at a holistic approach and looking at it in their favor with recommendations that'll have added benefits.

You sit down with them. Phase one is, "What are your goals on your operation? What's around you? Is there opportunities for forage production? Do you have livestock? Does your neighbor have livestock?" Just going through the suite of options and seeing what the landscape looks like in the area. What's the potential?"Do you have the equipment to do small grains? Is that even an option?"

If they are interested in some of that stuff, we can dive deeper in it, but it's really up to them. We'll work with them, their consultant, their agronomists to make sure that everybody's on the same page.

We do make a change with the practice. Make sure it's going to work with all their precision data to make sure that they can, hopefully, farm it, if not the same, pretty close to the same as they always have. It's not going to be going out in the middle of a section and changing the flow of the whole field.

We would really take all that into consideration and we will go through the steps. If somebody's interested in something, we'll go there from A to Z, working with all the partners.

Anybody that the farmers have trusted relationship with and really help them get to Z which would be implementing the practice or enrolling in a practice.

We'll go with an individual if they want to go to a service center. NRCS, SWCD, FSA, we'll go with them and help them and explore these opportunities and help them with the enrollment process.

Tony: With all the farmers you've worked with in the past, I know we were talking before we got recording here. You're not in the specialist role, but you work very closely with these specialist.

Do you have any sort of a success story you'd like to share with us about something that's really gone well with Pheasants Forever and these conservation programs?

Tanner: A just a few success stories that I would throw out. One would be in North Dakota here. I started working with a farmer in Southeast, North Dakota. Our specialists there ran through the data, started looking at the numbers, taking in consideration yield and financial constraints.

This individual, it was an 'aha' moment once you started tying in a budget and the financial component and he pointed at a map and said, "I don't really like farming in this spot anyways. What could we do?"

It's lighting up red on the map. That individual actually looked and said, "Hey, this is next to one of my pastures. Let's extend my pasture out about 15 acres and let's run the numbers see what that does".

Through diving into those numbers, those details taken into consideration, weight gains, and everything else within the livestock industry, found out that indeed it would increase the return on investment on those acres.

That individual decided to move forward and get some cost share for some fencing, put the grass on the ground and the cows are happy. That would be one example in North Dakota.

In Minnesota, a cool one that, in my opinion, that a farmer implemented. There's just this chunk that, same thing, 'aha' moment. "I never really like farming in that spot anyways".

He wasn't necessarily interested in any long term programs, but he was interested in starting to get involved more in cover crops.

Through this, they identified that, "Hey, we could grow rye on these acres. We could harvest them, get them cleaned, and then we could apply these, what I grew on my own operation on the rest of my farm, so I don't have to go in source and buy seed. I grew my own seed.

Just the cost savings on that alone cranked up the return on investment on those acres and the whole operation. That was phenomenal to see and I think a great success story.

Obviously, we have other examples where they enrolled in CRP or other programs, but I just wanted to focus on some of the more working lands alternatives that we've implemented.

Tony: Yes. That really brings to light of the opportunities and potential that there is out there working with Pheasants Forever. like you said whether it's working with extending pasture or CRP conservation-type effort, things like that.

There's a lot of opportunity.

There's one more story that I want you to touch on or some information something very exciting coming next year that I'm pretty excited about. Pheasant Fest 2019, you guys had, what I believe, was the first Precision Ag workshop at Pheasant Fest--

Tanner: Second.

Tony: Second Precision Ag workshop at Pheasant Fest 2019, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about how that went and what we've got to look forward to here in 2020.

Tanner: 2019 Illinois, as you mentioned was our second annual Precision Ag workshop and we had the pleasure of having Joel Dawson with John Deere came and he's a phenomenal speaker.

Came and kicked things off at the workshop and talked about John Deere and it was great to hear and see him up on stage. Along with that, we had a farmer panel, we had professionals, we kept the power points out of it although there were a couple. We kept it more of a panel discussion.

There's about 150 people there, which was a full room, so obviously anytime you have a full room, that's phenomenal. It was filled with conservation professionals, Ag business professionals, farmers. It was just a whole host.

We also partnered up with American Society of Agronomy and we actually offered CEU credits as well and I submitted those, I think, there was somewhere around 15 plus individuals that signed up for credits.

The whole event was phenomenal, presenting sponsor was John Deere. With that, we also had our second precision farmer of the Year award go out in collaboration with John Deere. That went to Wisecup family, down in Iowa.

We had a nice, big print with some green equipment on it, a few pheasants. I'll look to add that on the description below for the listeners if they're interested in reading a little bit more about the precision farmer of the Year award and go from there.

To jump into 2020, It will be February 14th, so it will be Valentine's Day but we will be having a Precision Ag workshop and this year it’ll be in Minnesota in St Paul in collaboration with Pheasant Fest.

Look for more details we're working on ramping that up and get in nuggets of information out leading up to it. We're excited to have it right here in Minnesota, on home turf, home base for the organization and blow out the water this year.

Tony: Not only is John Deere partnered with Pheasants Forever on the Precision Ag end of things but there's also another piece of the puzzle when it comes to Pheasants Forever and John Deere. Correct?

Tanner: Absolutely, we're excited to have John Deere on as the you official habitat tractor.

Tony: Tanner, where can people go, who can they talk to, to learn more about whether it's Pheasants Forever, the organization or if they want to learn more about the Precision Ag and conservation end of things?

Tony: Tony, people want to learn a little bit more about the organization, you can go to our website which would be

Another opportunity would be to like us and follow us on Facebook. It’s just Pheasants Forever and you can get there. Twitter would be another opportunity, that would be @pheasants4ever in addition to quailforever would be another hash-tag you could search for.

Definitely look us up and follow us on those social media channels along with-- I was talking to Tony here before we started and in the description below this podcast, there’ll be some documents and some links provided.

You can learn a little bit more about our Precision Ag initiative, you can learn a little bit more about our organization along with find contact information for Precision Ag and conservation specialists broken down by state.

Tony: I just want to thank you Tanner for taking the time to sit down with me here and talk a little bit more about how Pheasants Forever is. It is a lot more deeply ingrained in agriculture than what a lot of people think. It's really exciting to hear what you are doing with the Precision Ag program and some of your conservation efforts in that matter.

Tanner: One more thing for you Tony. Just a disclaimer, I'm not a podcast individual, I've never listened to a full podcast. Now here I am, ironic, on a podcast.

But I will tell you that the first-- I think you still call it the podcast but the first podcast, full podcast I listened to was about two weeks ago and that was with the video format with you and Zach Johnson the Minnesota millennial farmer.

That was just absolutely phenomenal and I've briefly met Zach before and obviously I've met you and just the graphics that were in there and watching the eye movements, that was pretty cool. I came into this thinking I was going to be on another kind of video podcast but thanks for the opportunity, I appreciate it.

Tony: Absolutely. The producer of this show Nate Dorsey does an amazing job with his skills and abilities doing the animation and everything like that. Tanner is referring to episode 86 with Zach Johnson, the Minnesota millennial farmer.

We've got a video out there on YouTube. It's on the RDO Equipment YouTube page as well as Zack Johnson's Minnesota millennial farmer YouTube page. Very neat.

I will be completely honest with you Tanner before I started hosting this podcast, I was not a podcast guy. Now that we're a few years into it, I listen to quite a few podcasts so you're not the only one out there like that.

Learn More:
Read more about the partnership between John Deere and Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever, and their efforts to improve wildlife habitat in the U.S.

Take a listen to all our episodes by visiting our website's Podcast page, or tune in wherever you listen to podcasts (SoundCloud, Stitcher, iTunes, and more). 

Have a story idea or a precision ag topic we should highlight? Connect with us on social media: Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Twitter and connect with podcast host, Tony Kramer on Twitter at: @RDOTonyK.

Thanks for tuning in!