Crop Forecasting: The Future of Agriculture?

Organic agriculture focuses on primarily two principles: diversity through rotations and soil building, which provide nutrients to the soil and then allows the soil to provide the necessary nutrients to the plants. Here on the farm we have kept particularly detailed notes on this subject, generally based on field observation and a few samples we would send in for lab testing. Over the years, I have shared what I’ve learned about switching to organic systems with others at conferences and field days held on our farm every other year. And in early 2014, I had the thought that more could be done to help farmers successfully switch from chemical to organic agricultural systems.

Our mission is to promote organic agriculture and support organic farmers, to increase diversity of crops and diets and to protect the heritage of a high quality, delicious ancient grain for the benefit of this and future generations.
~KAMUT International Mission Statement

As an involved owner of KAMUT International, I could think of no better way to honor our mission statement than to focus on the fields and farms growing our KAMUT® brand khorasan wheat. I spoke to a long-time friend and colleague, Wes Gibbs, about my idea and together we designed an organic field man position to focus on especially the newer converts to organic agriculture and those who were thinking about making the switch.

As you may have noticed from our social media outreach earlier this year, one of the goals of this project is to inform, encourage and increase organic growers. Once the conversion process to organic agriculture has begun, it is our objective to improve farmer success and crop quality by using the information Wes gathers throughout the year.

The 2015 season was the first full year of the project, during which Wes visited twenty-one KAMUT® grain growers’ fields, five of whom were new to organic agriculture—these visits represented about 9,000 acres. And while he’s focusing on farms in Montana for the moment, there has been a great deal of interest from our Canadian growers as well.

In 2015, Wes visited each farm three or four times throughout the season, collecting basic information, such as planting dates and rates, rotations, weed and pest populations, and then plant stands as well as head and kernel counts. While there he can also answer questions or offer advice. And, of course, he’s also collecting soil samples, which are sent in for analysis to evaluate nutrient levels in the soil. This year he is continuing to work with growers, which has been very well-received. At the request of growers, he even put on a spur of the moment field day in July to demonstrate what he was seeing on several organic farms in the area.

Going forward, we hope to compile this information to create a crop forecast as well as a handbook for those transitioning to organic farming in this area. Crop forecasting is similar to weather forecasting, meaning we intend to use the data collected to determine how a crop will fare based on past actions and results. With this information and the proposed handbook, a farmer will be able to better determine the best time to plant, the best seeding rate, the best green manures for soil building and even how deep to set the drills—all specifically to their farm and region of the state—for the best yields and best quality in the long run.