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Innovative Grower Feature: Kyle Courtney

Kyle courtney

About Kyle Courtney

Kyle’s agricultural journey involves growing corn, soybeans, and wheat. His commitment to agriculture goes beyond his farm; he’s been a member of the Dickey County Water Resource Board, chaired the Dickey County FSA Board, and now leads as CEO of Rentease.

Q: You worked another job after graduating college, why did you want to come back to the farm?

A: Farming is a lifestyle when it’s ingrained in you. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to farm. I was lucky enough to get out of college at NDSU and try a different job as a stockbroker for a couple of years, but all that did was reinforce how much I wanted to farm.

Right now, I have an eight-year-old, I have twin girls who are six, I have a four-year-old, I have a one-year-old, and I have a newborn. And my eight-year-old Everett says that he wants to farm. Now, whether that stays that way or not, I’m not going to push them one way or the other. Because at the end of the day, it still has to be his choice. But a lot of the farmers I know don’t do it for the money. They do it for the love and the passion of wanting to create something better for the next generation—that’s how I feel. I’m fortunate enough to love what I do. I get up every day, and no matter if it’s planting, harvesting or whatever—it still doesn’t feel like a job.

Q: What do you love about it?

The wide open space and the feeling of trying to build something for the next generation. You also get to be out in nature all day every day. I get to hop out of the combine at night, shut it off, and look up at the stars—that’s a cool feeling.

Q: Can you tell me about your operation?

A: I’m a fifth-generation farmer. I started farming in 1999. In 2012 I brought in my cousin Drew to help. And today we farm with a lot of help from my uncles and other family members.

My mother is still involved in the farm. My wife and six of the kids help out as much as they can. We’re slowly getting my eight-year-old trained in on certain things.

As far as the technology, we try a lot of the things that come from Precision Planting and PTI. If they can show an ROI on their farm down in Illinois, we adopt them up here and see if we can replicate it. We are typically looking for those investments that show a return within three to five years. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t because our soils up here are different than what we see down there.

A lot of the testing right now is done down in the I States, but I think one of the things Grand Farm is trying to do is bring more of that testing up here. This should get us more relevant data for adopting those new technologies that are coming out.

Our farm is located in Oakes, ND about six miles from the South Dakota border. We generally farm corn and soybeans. We plant a couple of quarters of wheat every year so we can get some tiling done.

One of the practices that is new to our area is drain tile, which is a hot button topic right now. It’s a relatively newer technology for the area where you put plastic pipe in the ground at a certain spacing dependent on soil type. The ideal function of soil is 25% air 25% water and 50% soil. That’s the ideal growing conditions for crop and drain tile helps you achieve those conditions. Doing this wasn’t very common in our area even 10 years ago, but now more farmers are doing it. It seems like if farmers do one quarter, they want to continue doing it because they see results from it.

Our farm is in the James River Valley Basin so we’re kind of at the edge of where salinity becomes a big issue, which hurts crop potential. However, once we put tile in, our yield improved.

Q: Why do you consider drain tiles such a hot button issue?

A: Because it’s so new to the area. There are not many people doing it right now, but it is expanding.

I’m pretty fortunate that in my location, everybody gets along. Everybody tries to help each other out. So, in our area, if somebody tries something that looks like it’s working, it’s not very long before other people start trying it as well.

The downside to tiling is it’s a lot of paperwork because you have to work with National Resources Conservation Service. You have to work with Fish and Wildlife. It’s cost-intensive to hire someone to do it. The machinery to do it yourself isn’t cheap either. It is expensive on a per-acre basis to do it. So you have to look at the long-term effects of it.

The nice thing about drain tile is once it’s in the ground, it’s there for 100 years. It’s not just affecting me in my generation, it’ll affect my kids, and it’ll affect my grandkids. Every farmer I know wants to leave the ground in better condition than what they found it in. This is one thing I can point to that will do that.

Q: So, you think it’s a no brainer if you have the means to do it?

A: Yes, but it’s not one size fits all either. Because, like I said, there’s a lot of paperwork that has to go into it. You need a viable outlet for the water to be able to transition to a lake, a stream, or a holding pond. One of the downsides that people talk about with it is fertilizer runoff. We haven’t found any of that at all. Fertilizer is expensive and as a producer, we don’t want to be putting money out there that we would basically be flushing down the toilet. We also want to make sure we’re environmentally friendly.

Q: Do you do the tiling yourself?

A: The first project we hired out. Now, we do about 50/50. I do about half the projects myself, and I hire out the other half. It’s a long process—it’s not something you’re going to get done in a day. You have to figure in a couple of months to get through all the paperwork. Plus, putting in the tile takes a while as well. The big companies that do it can get about 160 acres done in a week. If you’re doing it yourself, you’ll probably have to add a couple of days to that. Farmers have to wear a lot of hats. We’re planting or spraying or harvesting, we’re working on machinery, we’re marketing, spending time trying to figure out the best way to market our crops.

Q: Going back to technology, what are some of the most successful products you’ve used in your operation?

A: The biggest thing for us is the data. We’ve been tracking our planting populations, our fertilizer use, and our harvest results since 2004. When you have that type of data built up, you can start making what are called variable rate maps, which allow you to tell which parts of the field respond well to different types of inputs. Instead of farming in 160 acre chunks, we can now get very precise and farm in 5-10 acre chunks.

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