Change is a scary concept and, in any form, an adjustment, but for Oklahoma farmer Brent Rendel, change quickly transitions into necessity. The emergence of bigger and better on-farm technologies pushes producers to harvest more from less. In turn, farmers must keep up-to-date on new equipment to keep a profitable ROI in the long run. Focusing on long-term profit is an endeavor that can hold water during a drought.
Rendel is a strong advocate for on-farm technologies. He didn’t always know he’d end up on the farm but knew he couldn’t ignore his roots.
“I did a little bit of engineering work, but then fell back into the farm about 20 years ago,” Rendel said. “I didn’t have any formal ag training and from a college level, I really learned from my father and grandfather growing up on the farm.”
Rendel studied at Oklahoma State University with a degree in mechanical engineering and shortly after, started service with the U.S. marine corps. It wasn’t until 1996 that he came back to his family farm and helped build it to an operation that today consists of 4,000 acres today of corn, soybeans and wheat.
“My dad, he was also is a mechanical engineer by degree,” Rendel said. “He really brought me up on the farm, sparking my interest on ‘How do things work and why do things work the way they do?’ That really led me into engineering. I had an affinity for that.”
With a proven interest and background in mechanical systems, Rendel was contacted by his local Oklahoma State agronomist asking if he would be interested in a new handheld crop sensor called the GreenSeeker. The idea was to create a formula that tells farmers if there’s an acceptable amount of nitrogen for the growing season. After using the sensor, the Oklahoma State agronomist said Rendel didn’t need to apply nitrogen on that specific field for the coming year.
“This was a 110-acre field of wheat, it’s a pretty big gamble to say I’m not going to put on 70 pounds of nitrogen, which is what I would normally put on,” Rendel said. “But they showed me that their sensor and their system would work right. So, I went ahead and said I believe that.”
The GreenSeeker program delivered results as intended. Rendel saved money in nitrogen application resulting in a higher annual ROI, but just because the system worked once didn’t mean that he was set for full integration.
“One experiment is not an answer. It’s a data point. You need multiple data points to arrive at an answer or to arrive at a new question,” Rendel said. “So, I tested it again the next year across more fields. In every case, it always returned the most net income, but it did not always return the highest yield. Once you factored in the cost of the nitrogen and the cost saved, it always returned at least equal to the highest income on the farm.”
After spending time using a variety of on-farm technology systems, Rendel wanted to share his story with local farm communities and learn more from other farmers in the four-state area. Social media, specifically Twitter, became a great outlet for him to share those experiences. Rendel’s profile can be found on Twitter at @okiefarmerbrent.
“Social media is an amazing tool to make a really big world smaller, and you can learn so much watching what other people are doing,” Rendel said. “I learned as much from failure or more from failure than I do from success. Because in success, there’s always the doubt of ‘Did I do it right?’”
During periods of drought, having an online community can help keep producers from feeling alone. Staying involved and finding local farm neighbors will be crucial going into the winter months. Rendel said most people don’t realize it, but winter is one of the driest time periods in this part of the country, specifically in November through February. Farm stressors are widespread due to the moisture absences in September and October.
“There’s always a measure of faith,” Rendel said. “Anytime you’re in farming or ranching, it just goes without saying you just have to do things and be optimistic. It’s hard to be optimistic right now. But again, I can’t be an absolute pessimist.”
Rendel’s final piece of advice to producers was to not focus on the things we can’t change. There are several mental health resources available to help get through the tough times.
“There are a lot of things we can’t change in this world. So, don’t worry about what you can’t change,” Rendel said. “I don’t know if it’s going to rain or not. Me worrying about whether it’s going rain or not doesn’t do any good. So, I don’t worry about it. The one thing I’d say is reach out to the Twitter community, or a Facebook community, or your church, or your Farm Bureau, or anybody. There are so many resources out there, that if you’re struggling, financially, emotionally, at home, or work, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for a little bit of help.”
To listen to the full interview, take a listen to the Farm Talks podcast at www.farmtalknews.com.