What is YOUR Next Step to Better Production?


What’s your next step to better production?

That’s the question I plan to raise at the Global Farmer Network’s forum in Buenos Aires this week, during a gathering that will bring together at least 75 farmers from more than 25 countries.

It’s an amazing chance for us, as farmers, to discuss and debate the challenges and opportunities for world agriculture, no matter who we are, where we’re from, or what crops or livestock we grow. This is a learning opportunity for all participants. Those involved in agriculture are privileged and depended on for sustainably producing food. This international gathering of minds is manifesting the dream of our predecessors.

All of us stand to benefit from the give and take, as we engage in what the information theorists call “knowledge transfer,” which is a useful phrase for describing the exchange of ideas through conversation.

Farmers meet and talk all the time, whether it’s for an impromptu meal at the local diner or during sessions at an agriculture trade show in a big city. Rarely, however, do we gather the way the Global Farmer Network is about to bring us together—creating occasions for a corn and soybean farmer from Iowa like me to talk with a rice farmer from India, a vegetable grower from West Africa, and a wheat farmer from Australia.

Despite what may look like huge differences, we share a common motive: a desire to collectively grow more food more sustainably. As farmers we are continuously looking for self-improvement and ISO methodology – plan, monitor, and review.

Create your plan and write it down ahead of time, execute it during the season, and finally review it afterward.

The first step in planning—even before writing it down—is to discuss it. Propose your goals, expose them to scrutiny, and hear what others have to say.

Sometimes you learn that what you think you want is not necessarily what you need.

That’s why I’m going to ask fellow farmers to answer my simple question: What’s your next step to better production?

I try to pose this question to myself and my farm every year. I don’t always have the luxury to make big improvements. My major goal might involve only a few minor tweaks to a longstanding practice. Sometimes it’s just to get one more year out of an old planter or combine.

In 2023, I have a clear objective for better production: I’m going to focus on microbials. In particular, I want to get more value out of the manure produced by my own hogs. We already try to take advantage of it, but I think we can use it more effectively by conducting a few science-based experiments as we apply it in new ways. If we’re successful, we may learn how to reduce our reliance on synthetic fertilizers. If we’re really fortunate, we’ll share the results of our techniques to other farmers.

At the meeting in Argentina, I expect to encounter farmers who have more experience with microbials—and as I describe my plans, I’ll want to hear what they have to say. They may suggest helpful approaches or warn me away from potential mistakes. It will not surprise me if I learn the most from a farmer from Tanzania or the Philippines.

Last summer, I saw knowledge transfer in action when I visited CIMMYT, a research facility in Mexico. Its agronomists studied the habit of many family farmers in developing countries to plant seeds with sticks, and noticed that the efforts of men, women, and children led to different results. The problem wasn’t that some were strong, and others were weak, but that their hands were different sizes. CIMMYT helped these farmers take their next step by creating a tool that helps these farmers, big or small, plant with more consistency.

I think the key element I learned in the CIMMYT example is to analyze the situation and then discover the next step. By focusing on just one step of improvement and doing that well over time, great change will happen.

One of my top goals in Buenos Aires is to help others. I don’t know how it will happen, but I expect to listen. I feel I know as much as any farmer about growing corn and soybeans in large fields, but I also have experience with raising vegetables in tiny plots. I hope to provide a farmer’s perspective on just about any question involving GMOs—a technology that many farmers already use, but to which more would like to gain access.

I don’t know how our conversations will go, but I know how I intend to start them: What’s your next step to better production?

Mark Heckman grows hogs, cattle, corn, soybeans as well as cover crops as part of a family farm partnership in SE Iowa. Mark is the Midwest Biofuel Business Director for EcoEngineers, provides carbon consulting services and volunteers as a Board member for the Global Farmer Network. www.globalfarmernetwork.org

Note: “Farmers – we NEED our voices heard!” said Reg Clause, chairman of the GFN board at the Mobilizing the Global Farmer Network in Support of a Resilient Agri-Food System opening session in Buenos Aires, Argentina on February 6, 2023. In the photo above, Clause is joined on stage by panelists Marcus Holtkoetter, Germany; AD Alvarez, Philippines; Jose Luis Gonzales Chacon, Colombia and Gina Gutierrez, Mexico.

Mark Heckman is participating in the program in Argentina February 5-11, 2023. You can follow Mark and his fellow participants by following #GFNMobilizing

Mark Heckman

Mark Heckman

Farming in West Liberty, Iowa, Mark Heckman volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network and is currently serving on the Animal Ag and Environment Committee for Iowa Corn, and as Advisor for the US Grains Council. He and his family partnership farm about 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans with a focus on soil health. The family farm also includes pork and cattle production. Heckman Farms uses technology that supports the sustainable use of hog and cattle manure while maintaining water quality standards and good relationships with his neighbors.

Mark is focused on improving sustainable production of food, feed, and fuel, and off-the-farm is a Senior Regulatory Consultant for EcoEngineers of Des Moines, Iowa. Mark is a past member of the Soil Health Partnership and has dedicated much of his career assisting producers and companies focus on specialty markets and renewable fuels. He also has expertise in Strategic Risk Management, Commodity and Energy Procurement, Policy Development, and Raw Material Exposure Coverage.

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