On-Farm Trials ft. Eric Odberg

Join this conversation in Genesse, ID as Eric describes the features of his new Ag
Pro drill, increasing his ROI by reducing his inputs, his experiences growing and marketing
sunflower, millet, cover crops and more as part of his wheat-based system. We also hear about
how Shepherd’s Grain has enabled producers to account for their cost of production with
identity-preserved regional marketing.

Carol McFarland: I’m happy to be here with Eric Odberg on Odberg Farms outside of Genesee, Idaho. Thanks so much and welcome to the podcast. 

Eric Odberg: Thanks to you, Carol. Thanks. Yeah. 

Carol McFarland: Appreciate you having me out today. 

So let’s get to talking. Would you share a bit about yourself, your farm, and who you farm with? 

Eric Odberg:  Yeah, I’m fourth generation Odberg Farms.

My great grandfather came here to this area back in 1894. He actually didn’t settle where we’re standing today. He settled about eight miles east of here. And so that was ]the] original farmstead. And so my long time employee actually lives there at that farm and the farm that we’re at today. My grandfather purchased it in 1901 and [we] feel very blessed that they decided to settle here.

It’s very good soil. We cover a wide area in the Genesee area from the breaks of the Clearwater River to eight miles east of Genesee, eight miles north of Genesee. And we’re three and a half miles south of Genesee right now. And so, more traditional Palouse, topography and the stuff on the breaks and more we call  rim ground is flatter but good soil as well average 22 inch rainfall area.

For a time my great grandfather moved to Cooterville up on the Camas prairie and farm ranched and hauled mining equipment for a while. And so then he decided to come back here. And so I feel very blessed that he made that decision. 

Carol McFarland:  I had a really good time meeting Carl, your hired man who who has been working with with your family, since he was 18 and is now-

Eric Odberg:  16!

Carol McFarland:  16! Of course. Thanks for the correction. That’s a difference. And is now 80 years old. 

Eric Odberg:  Yep. Yep. Still working, still productive and he knows a lot. So. Hard worker. 


That’s a good guy to have around. 

Eric Odberg:  Yeah, he’s kind of like a mentor to me growing up. 

Carol McFarland:  Someone will  have big shoes to fill, I’m sure. 

Eric Odberg:  Yeah, I have. I’ve had a hard time finding that person. I know it’s. You talked with other farmers and farmers that I work with, and it’s a constant struggle finding employees so I don’t know if I’ll ever fill his shoes the way they were. So it’ll be.

It’ll be different. Well, that’s for sure. 

Carol McFarland:  Yeah. Sounds like he’s been a big part of your operation. Would you talk a little bit more, please, about your kind of your standard rotation? If you have one? You might not. I know you have pretty diverse rotations around here. 

Eric Odberg: Uh, yeah. It’s a four year rotation of winter wheat, spring grain,  canola and then pulse crop, usually garbanzo beans.

But I’ve experimented a lot, a lot with different alternative crops to the Palouse. Millet, sunflowers. Um, with some success and growing some cover crops as well to make no -till work of having a good diverse rotation. I mean that’s one of the cornerstones of conservation and farming and so I’m a real big believer in rotation, but it’s kind of hard in Palouse because you’re really limited with the rainfall that we get.

warm summer type crops like corn, soybeans. You know, they just don’t do well here because we don’t have the summer precipitation and it’s more of a mediterranean type climate. We get all our moisture in the winter, early spring, 

Carol McFarland:  It sounds like you’ve had some adventures in trying different crops.
I look forward to hearing a little bit more about those. Um, how long have you been in no till?

Eric Odberg:  Oh, 23, 23 years. Kind of started in 2000. 2001, purchased my first no till drill in ‘02 and I went from there. 

Carol McFarland:  Right now we’re leaning on this nice Ag-Pro drill. Is this a good time to talk about that?

Eric Odberg:  Sure, sure. Yeah, just. This is just my second season with it. My previous drill, John Deere, 1895. I ran for 18 seasons and I spent about three years researching, looking at different drill options before I purchased this. But I had a couple of field men that really thought that this was the best drill out there. And, you know, all of the farmers that I knew that owned them and ran them, they just loved them.

Real, true, no-till farmers and so I mean, that’s what it’s all about growing good crops and that this was and it was worth it cost extra money than other drills out there but I thought it was worth it, I mean it’s a very critical part of the farming operation. I thought it was a good purchase and so far I’ve been pretty happy with it.

The customer support is fantastic. They really stand behind their work. I mean, we had a few things that I wanted to fix and correct and repair and they were just out here and right behind it and got things fixed. And so really, really good company. 

Carol McFarland: Did you get any special features? I know- or, do you want to talk a little bit about what’s on this drill that makes it really do what you want it to do? I mean, it sounds like you did a bunch of research. We’d love to hear a little bit about what that process looked like as well.

Eric Odberg: I really love the seed placement with it, with a traditional hoe type drill that is something you kind of sacrifice with it. But this has a leading coulter and then it has a depth wheels on the back of the shank and then independent hydraulic arm cylinders on each one of the openers.

And so it really follows the ground contours, the slope…My prior drill was a single disc drill and a lot of times in high residue situations, you’d get the seed in in straw and not good seed the soil contact and just don’t have that with this at all. And so to compensate for that with my old system, I would a lot of times do a fertilizer prior fertilizer pass and even though it was a one pass drill to get some disturbance out there and I really wanted to get away from that.

I wanted to have, you know, one pass true one pass and be able to, you know, get through the residue. 

Carol McFarland: So does this work with spring canola? 

Eric Odberg: I’ve been very happy with the stand, with spring canola, they engineered new seed meter rollers with it and it’s very accurate. It’s low seeding rates that you have with canola.

And it also gets you wanting to be very shallow as well but still have it in the soil and it does an excellent job of that as well. So it’s been a very nice surprise with that. And then my going to garbanzo beans, you want them deep three and a half, four inches deep, and it can do that too.

And so it’s a little bit of a learning curve with it. I spent a lot of time last fall with that because you can adjust the leading coulter’s and that makes a big difference with the performance of the opener. And so I kind of learned that last fall, did more experimenting this spring and I think I Got it figured out.

But like I said, with AG Pro Company, if I have a question, a problem is call or text. And I mean, they’re just able to help you right, with it and get things figured out. 

So that’s great. That’s a good company to have behind you. You’re already doing so much 

and they’re local. They’re local. And so, yeah, it has been a good fit.

I’m glad I went with this, this purchase. 

So that’s great. 

Carol McFarland: And pulling it up the hill, What kind of horsepower does that take? 

Eric Odberg: Well, I just have a 485 horsepower case quadtrac. I was concerned about it being able to handle pulling the drill, but has a lot of hydraulic down pressure on the openers as well as on the wings.

So all the weight is in the center section of the drill, but it kind of transfers that weight out to the wings. And then also it has cylinders on the tongue and transfers that weight then to the back of the tractor. it pulls a lot easier than, you know, it really should. And then it has high flotation tires on it as well.

And so I’ve been very pleased that I used to be able to go up and down hills a lot more, you know, an A-B line. I can’t do that anymore. But I have, you know, section rate control and everything. So I, actually, my- my over application has gone down with it because of that. Oh, nice. You know, there’s always so much to just dig into some of this too.

Carol McFarland: I feel like I could ask questions about all of that and just keep going all afternoon.

Eric Odberg: But yeah, I like talking about drills. Yes, well, I know it’s one thing. That’s one thing my wife does not like talking about. So she’d rather not talk about drills. So. So if I get a chance with you or anyone else that I’m more than happy to do that.

Carol McFarland: No, that’s great. Well, you know, it’s really an important part. I’ve mentioned before that, you know, in the soil science world, there’s only so much that we really learn about equipment, at least at an introductory level. And, you know, when we talk about soil health and different conservation practices, it’s such a key piece of the operation that I think and there’s so much nuance in it as well.

I mean, like you talk about how much disturbance and down pressure and, you know, I’ve heard that when one guy I was talking to said that seeding spring crops on the Palouse into no-till is like, the Mt. Everest of no-till well because of the high residue. And so just getting through that to make notes l’adoption successful you know it’s important, but you can also get, I think, too caught up in it.

I mean, it’s really just one piece of the puzzle of the conservation, agricultural puzzle. And but it’s important, but it’s just part of the whole system, really. So don’t get too caught up.Sure. I noticed you had one combine in  the shop.

Carol McFarland: Is that the only one you run or do you run a few? What are you running here?

Eric Odberg: Yeah, I have a case 9120 currently purchased in 2014 and before that I had two John Deere 9600s. This one combined took the place of those two. I had a hard time, you know, believing that thinking that was, you know, actually going to be the case.

But it has been. And so it just really increases your productivity because, you know, you’re eliminating an employee and I, you know, have to do more work and just harvesting all the acres. But I mean, you’re just so much more efficient and your data capability is a lot better because, you know, you’re harvesting all the acres and so you’re mapping all the acres and that’s I’ve been pleased with the way combined the straw management could be better.

I think, you know, John Deere combine has a better chaff spreader but also what I’ve found with this new Ag Pro drill is that I have to manage the straw better. And so, and high residue situations I have to run on a flail mower to size the residue so the, you know, drill can get through it. That is a drawback.

Overall, I’m pleased with the system. It’s working as well. 

Carol McFarland: And with that, let’s talk a little bit about your management goals and how they might be different on the whole farm scale, crop scale field by year. What are you going for when you’re thinking about your farm management decisions? not going broke is probably right there at the top, but….

Eric Odberg: Well, yeah, yeah. My wife makes sure that that doesn’t happen. That’s an important role on the farm. 

Carol McFarland: Yeah. It’s a very, very critical role. 

Eric Odberg: Yeah. So yeah she’s a business mind of Odeberg farms and now she has an MBA from Washington State, and so, [a] very important part of Odeberg farms and very great partnership with it I think.

And so um, but I would say the whole farm approach to things and with no-till, it really forces you to plan ahead. And it really emphasizes the importance of crop rotation and I’m always looking, like you said, looking to grow the most profitable crops. But sometimes other things take precedence, like soil, health or weed management. So for example, this year I do have a full field cover crop and it’s an enhancement with CSP.

And so I’m getting some support with that. But I mean, the main reason I’m doing it is to for weed management and and for soil health  but yeah, you’re taking one field out of production for the year but I mean you go back my, my, my dad used to do that and my grandfather, they, you know, they’d have a field fallow, have green manure and that’s where, you know, essentially cover crop is, is green manure.

And so getting back to the soil. So, I mean, from everything I’ve read, you know, with this cover crop, I’ll have like 120 lbs minimum of organic nitrogen. And so I’d really have my focus on reducing synthetic inputs, reducing synthetic nitrogen. And that’s one way to reach that goal. 

Carol McFarland: That’s great. There’s a lot of follow up questions. I would love to ask you there.

How do you terminate your cover crop? 

Eric Odberg: Well, the plan is to use my flail mower when the weed that I’m going after Italian ryegrass when it you know, they had forms on to to mow it all down and then there’s certain species in the cover crop that won’t be terminated even on that.

Weed  will be hopefully terminated. They will, it’ll keep growing and I’m the plan is not to grow anything on that ground until next spring   if certain moisture situations occur, you know, might do fall canola, but just got to be ready for that, I guess. But my real plan is to put until spring canola next year behind that cover crop before going to winter wheat.

Carol McFarland: Your cover cropping plan? I think there’s a lot that goes into developing a cover cropping plan. So where did you go to follow up on that? 

Eric Odberg: Hmm. Well, you know, No-Till Farmer has a lot of stuff on, you know, cover crops, but there’s other other growers in the area that have had a lot more experience with cover crops Wayne Jensen Frank

Wolf, and also Guy Swanson, I use his fertilizer application system, a fair amount of knowledge that cover crops as well. And so I just- I took from whatever sources I could figure out the mix of doing seven different species of cover crops and hopefully it does what I intend it to do.

Carol McFarland: Yeah.
So what’s in the mix? 

Eric Odberg: Uh, it has sorghum Sudan grass as just regular spring peas and barley, hairy vetch  covers sweetclover, you know, things like that. So yeah, the warm season grasses, courses and grasses, cool season, broad leaves 

Carol McFarland: Do you use this ag pro to seed it? I know sometimes seeding different sized seeds at different rates can get a little work, work, work fine with that I use in the wheat seed rollers with it.

And because you had large seeds, small hard seeds and all seen that seemed to fit the bill great. 

Which trials do you currently have going on your farm? So it sounds like you’ve got your cover crop trial. Thanks for talking a bit more about that.

What else do you have going on out here? 

Eric Odberg: Well, I’m currently working with an independent certified crop advisor named Doug Johnson and I guess I kind of like to call him my soil health coach. And so we kind of have three main goals, right now. The first one is to increase soil health and then reducing synthetic nitrogen inputs and and then just reducing my overall fertilizer chemical budget.last year, probably along with the lot of the farmers, it was pretty expensive years, a dramatic increase in that part of our budget.

And so really focusing on this year, trying to reduce that. 

Yeah, I don’t know that the market really takes the commodity market prices when you sell your crop, really take the input costs into consideration. 

Carol McFarland: Do they?

Eric Odberg: And my wife has really been doing to reduce that you got to somehow get that under control of the fertilizer chemical part of our budget and so it goes.

Then it goes well with soil health so by reducing those inputs, you’re reducing that part of the budget. So there’s a few things that we’re doing. We did this spring, did it primarily with canola and malt barley, doing splitting up fields, doing a full just normal rate of fertilizer. And then also in the same field, cutting the fertilizer, you know, back about a quarter third, also doing different fields that way, comparing, you know, one normal field and then one where it’s reduced and where I’ve reduced fertilizer inputs, I’m adding biological or natural products in that mix.

Just to see if that helps compensate for the, you know, reduced rate of fertilizer. So yeah, I have been experimenting with this this year and this season and um hope to get some answers. Well if it shows no difference and everything then and then I know- kind of know that now I don’t have to be applying fertilizer and I’ve just been kind of incrementally scaling back.

I started that about 18 years ago with the purchase of the Exactrix  fertilizer system, and it even has an application of anhydrous ammonia along with liquid fertilizer. And so I mean, that’s point claim is to be able to reduce nitrogen fertilizer inputs by 20% because of the even application. And so I did that and showed that it wasn’t a reduction in yield.

And so I’ve just kind of continued that on. And then 15 years ago started doing a variable rate application and now that reduced fertilizer inputs another 15%. and I got that ground truth by the research program that I was in, I was part of the REACCH project. It was called the Site Specific Climate Friendly Farming Project, and it was on ten acres.

It had 20 monitoring stations within that ten acres and really showed that what I was doing with variable rate was right on that. Like my nitrogen use efficiency was 80%. And I mean, usually if you’re 50%, I mean that’s what the gold standard is. And so, um, by reducing your nitrogen and putting it where you need it to, I think that really is what increases efficiency there with it.

It was a great project to be involved with, got just a tremendous amount out of it but then  we’re going forward just doing things to increase soil health, cover crops using more, you know, natural products and then just trying to reduce that fertilizer rate further then as well. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point of not not having synthetic fertilizer.

I just don’t think that’s practical. I mean, we might have to at some point, but I just don’t at least not maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe, 

Carol McFarland: Yeah, there’s a lot of pieces in this ag puzzle, aren’t there? You never really know what’s coming down the pipeline. So when you made your maps to do your initial variable rate applications, did you base that off your yield monitor or other other data prior to ground truthing it with the REACCH project?

Eric Odberg: Yeah. You had a yield monitor combine, made maps from that, then just started doing it with infrared imagery that seemed to work just as well. And it shows the same variations within the field. of all the areas in the United States, growing, producing areas that the Palouse  really screams for that technology because of the hills and the eroded clay hilltops and the really deep topsoil that’s in our low lying areas.

Also with my exact fertilizer system, it’s very responsive. It runs on power beyond and it has hydraulic valves on it and it has like a three second response time. So it works really well with with variable rate and is able to change very quickly in between those those zones of production zones usually I hired out with with a mapping and but here I don’t know for the last five eight years I’ve just been using maps that I have and I’ve just been using those because they, they work and, and it’s easy and I think no, I haven’t done, I haven’t gone into and I’ve wanted to and now I can with how my drill is configured set up, I have a hydraulic drive for my seed and so I really want to get into variable rate seeding and you have to have a different kind of an application map for that. That’s different than the fertilizer application map. And so that’s been a big, real big stumbling block in my mind.

It doesn’t necessarily correlate really well with variable rate fertilizer. So you want to have a higher seeding rate on the north slopes, and that’s not necessarily the case usually with fertilizer. So having the two different maps and I just know there’s guys that are making it work, doing it, and I just haven’t crossed that bridge yet.

Carol McFarland: I guess so. Well, now you got this drill. Maybe that’ll help. You’ve got a new problem to solve. 

Eric Odberg: Maybe my soil health coach can help with that. Or another crop advisor. I use a lot of different crop advisors. It’s that they’re a valuable resource. It’s the resource I don’t find painful to write a check to because I really think I’m getting a lot of value in the work that they’re doing.

And there’s a lot of other things that are a lot more painful, like writing fertilizer or chemical bill and or the fuel bill and um, but writing it to those guys, I don’t have a bigger problem with that.    

Carol McFarland: You got infrared mapping done as part of your refer to variable rate fertilizer kind of entry point.

Can you tell me just briefly about what that looked like? Did you hire that out, it sounds like, or did you have a drone with infrared on it yourself? 

Eric Odberg: Yeah, no, just I hired that out. I used Ag Verdict, which is a it’s kind of a precision ag component of the Wilbur Ellis Company they made the maps that I’m currently using,

I haven’t gotten into drones at all, but I know guys do. And I think it seems like they really have a place in like in-season monitoring of your fields. And that’s, I think, where drones are really, you know, could be a useful, useful tool. But as far as making maps of infrared imagery, I don’t know.

I think just getting satellite imagery is just as good now. 

Carol McFarland: Hmm. 

Well, it is a bit of a different perspective from the air. You can see different patterns and just going out into it. So that’s a great segway into talking a bit more about some of the things you monitor when you try things. You’ve tried quite a few different things over the years, haven’t you, here on your place?

What kinds of things do you tend to look for through the season? 

Eric Odberg: I want to make sure that my yields are increasing and not really going after the top yield. That’s not not my goal is to be the highest yielding grower in the Genesee area which is tough to do because it’s a pretty competitive area to be farming in.

And good soil. And you know, it’s really focusing on the marginal rate of return and that’s where reducing the fertilizer and still, getting an average yield is, you know, kind of my focus right now. 

Carol McFarland: I’ve been asking folks about their return on investment, and it sounds to me like you might have some other parameters for return on investment as well.

We had a workshop this last winter. We were talking about on farm experimentation and, and Doctor Dave Huggins was there and he had an interesting breakdown for framing up return on investment the soil oil and toil components of how your inputs lead to outputs.

Eric Odberg: I said I experimented with Sunflowers and it takes quite a bit more work and time. It seems like to grow that crop. And so you kind of have to plug that into the equation of whether or not it is profitable.

Something that has to be pretty profitable before. And if you’re going through that kind of a headache and hassle to be able to continue on with that. I’ve had a hard time with sunflowers and not having a consistent yield and having the extra work and extra headache and, and so that’s the toil aspect and, and it’d be one thing if I were really making a lot of money. They do great things for the soil, you know, with the big, you know deep taproot and and everything and the pollinators and fun crop that grow and but really have to take that into consideration when

when growing that crop. I really almost seeded them again last year because, you know, war in Ukraine and they’re number one sunflower producer and where they produce 80% of the sunflowers in the world. And I thought, well, it might be a great opportunity, but I don’t think that the price really did get that high with them.

And like I said, I just haven’t been able to get a consistent yield with them. 

Carol McFarland: And here in Genesee what do you take them up to Spokane for a market or where do you market them? 

Eric Odberg: Yeah. From birdseed market and which Global Harvest and that’s closest one is in  Spokane and the same thing with millet as well but with millet been working with WSU they got a a a SARE Grant looking at food market for for millet and not just birdseed and human consumption market for for millet and so I’ve been growing test strip trials with them I’ve probably played around with it the most here on the Palouse so and I did find a food market for my test strip  production last year and Jeremy Bunch with Shepherd’s Grain found the company on the west side it’s mostly companies on the west side whether it’s gluten free malt. That’s what I’m hoping that millet could be used for as a gluten free malt, gluten free grain.

And then unfortunately, everything seems to be on the west side. So they have transportation costs associated with that. I’m hopeful that something will come about,  with that in having a gluten free malting company. I was doing some something with Linc malting up in Spokane, uh, a few years ago with millet , and then they decided not to add one different direction and, but, you know, maybe they will, or another company will decide to do that and be able to grow millet for human food consumption that would increase the value versus just, birdseed. 

Carol McFarland: I have two follow up questions for that. I’d like to hear what would you have liked to know when you started growing millet or what have you learned about growing millet that you would tell someone who is just starting?

Eric Odberg: Well, I just want to look at the production guides for Extension Nebraska and North Dakota, South Dakota, and took a lot of what they had and trial and error and and and try to adopt it here on the Palouse. And just some of the things that I learned from it is it’s now it’s a warm season grass so you just you you seed it later and and so one of my experiences with that seeding it later, you know, two years ago when we had our had our drought, I seeded it after Mother’s Day, because that’s what I’ve kind of found out, that that’s a good time to grow it like when you’re planting a garden, it’s the same, same kind of concept and well, but the thing was it never got any moisture after that. So it, unfortunately, failed. It became a cover crop and then that did end up being one of my best yielding fields of winter wheat the following year. So, you know did you get something out of it which kind of encouraged me to go more into cover crops and but better still getting back to millet itself versus sunflowers.

I’ve had very consistent yields with with millet and so that’s a good aspect of of the crop as it’s now it’s very similar to barley production-wise seeding and growing and harvesting and and so it’s not where I was  talking about sunflowers being you know more work more a headache. It isn’t and you don’t have to have special equipment like sunflowers.

I’ve rented a header to harvest some before from another grower Mark Rector and then we helped him adapt that header to harvest them even better. And so that was more work again, once again with sunflowers and sounds like innovation to me. 

And innovation then and but you don’t- you don’t have that with not so you don’t have any of that harvest headache I guess and so hopefully yeah it could become a crop on the Palouse.

So we’ll see what comes out of this research grant.

Carol McFarland: Yeah, looking forward to hearing more about that. I kind of want to come visit you again, Eric, and there’s just, there’s so much more that we can talk about. And I also want to- it sounds like you’re trying a lot of stuff. I’d like to hear what comes out of your combine maps this year with some of the fun you’re trying this season, so I know that you’ve got a long history of being one of the shepherds grain growers. Do you have an elevator talk about Shepherd’s Grain and what’s that what that’s been like? 

Eric Odberg: Well, Carl Kupers and Fred Flemming, who started the company over 20 years ago, really, you know, they were cutting edge, way ahead of their time with the concepts behind Shepherd’s Grain being a source of a sustainable identity preservation.

I mean, you know, now everyone wants to know where the food comes from. Well, I mean, we -they did that from the start. every pound of flour was- you were able to find out which farm, you know, that bag of flour came from. so having that verification and then having a third party verification with all the growers to ensure that they’re, you know, practicing sustainable production methods, that they are training employees well, and then also having a wildlife preservation component to their farm.

You know, as has been said, that’s another one of the cornerstones of shepherd’s grain that differentiates and that allows Shepherd’s grain to have a premium price in the market. But last summer a very unfortunate thing happened. Actually I was just- I did a podcast with Jeremy Bunch about this time last year right before this event happened.

But the flour mill Pendleton, flour mills that we were using burned right before the last harvest. And so…very unfortunate turn of events in the company Grain Craft. He owned the flour mill. Their next closest farm was in Blackfoot, Idaho, and so they had found some notable growers down there, thankfully. I mean, that is kind of another hotbed production area that has a lot of no-till growers.

So that wasn’t very difficult. But it’s been hard being so closely tied with the company with that co-op. And then to have that happen, I’m fortunate that I continue to be able to haul grain down there. We hauled all that ourselves all the way down to Blackfoot. 

Carol McFarland: And your wife was okay with that? 

Eric Odberg: Yeah, I did not do the hauling.

No, I did not do hauling. So but it, it penciled out and then we were able to back haul line from Nampa doing that Grain Craft is trying to figure out what they are going to do as far as Flour Mill goes. And but we’re still, you know, part of the company or having a board meeting is actually tomorrow and we’ll get an update on things.

But you know, it’s not dead by any means but it’s been a challenging year. I don’t think I don’t think Fred or Carl planned or envisioned that either. 

Carol McFarland: Well, it seems like the milling, you know, that there’s there’s a lot in between the field and the eaters that that makes a big difference in cropping systems innovation and it does seem like Shepherd’s Grain was trying to take some of that stuff on and and also from what I understand, really try to tie your market price to the cost of production a bit more closely.

And I also, in my experience with the Farmers’ Network, really appreciate that all the Shepherd’s grain growers seem to be the first to sign up for all the soil health events that we’ve done. So you guys clearly really care about that. 

Eric Odberg: Yeah, and thanks for reminding them about the cost of production. That’s another real cornerstone. Our base price of our wheat flour on is on the cost of production and it’s a very important part of the successful model that has been created there.

Carol McFarland: MM. from what I understand, the third party certification that you mentioned is the Farmed Smart still or 

Eric Odberg:  No, we’re still doing the Food for the Alliance.

Carol McFarland: Food Alliance. 

Eric Odberg: Yeah. Well so we, we’re doing it with Farm Smart and, but we’ve kind of stuck with the Food Alliance. 

Carol McFarland: Thanks for clearing that up for me.

You know, Eric, having known you for a few years at this point and seeing you be first in line at a lot of the Farmers Network, soil health events and I would be really interested to hear a bit more from you in terms of what you look for when you’re evaluating soil health successes on your farm.

What do you look for? Do you do soil testing? It sounds like maybe you’re starting to think more and more about pH too. 

Eric Odberg: Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. It just really seemed to me that I was reaching. I had a plateau. I talked to other farmers experiencing the same thing. Russ Zenner was really, really battling that.

So his successor Clint Zennerstarted trying different things as well. And so similar stuff that, that, that I’m doing and other things and really trying to change that soil soil health and you know, pH is a big part of that. one thing I look for is, is when you go out into the field and you dig into the soil and see the see the earthworms and residue on on the ground and just you want to see that you want to see that soil life and you want to see that increasing and I just you know, I don’t think you really we haven’t seen and it’s been really plateaued.

And so doing some of these other things like cover crops and and reducing your synthetic nitrogen and hopefully that that will change and we’ll see see more benefits not that it’s that our soil health is as bad I did the Haney test for a long time with with CSP and know all the scores and everything were all right and weren’t bad but you know it’s they seem to just kind of stay there and they weren’t improving and and want to really try to change that.

Carol McFarland: So I’m hearing from you that observing the soil as a vital living ecosystem is definitely more of an art than a science on your farm. 

Eric Odberg: Yeah, it’s both you, you know, it takes all tests every year, every spring, and we fall. Oh, gosh. One thing, though, that I’ve been doing with Doug Johnson that he got me doing that John Kemp started and it’s SAP analysis and it’s not tissue testing, it’s SAP analysis and it is been very insightful and that a lot of times what your plant is showing or deficiency is, is not what it is and that the plants lacking some other nutrient that what it is showing that is deficient in. Another thing that I’m also looking at is when you have a healthier plant, you also have less pest pressure, which is primarily insect, but also disease pressure as well. And that’s another thing that John Kemp preaches.  I was reading about another researcher I think is Thomas Dykstra.

He has  another instrument that, uh, can, can get the same kind of a measurement instantaneously out in the, in the field. And comes up with a score and whether or not that plant is healthy or not. there’s a lot of measuring tools and, and it seems like they’re getting better and they’re being able to direct our inputs to different things and being more efficient, for example with the SAP analysis this year.

So you have to sample twice during the early part of the growing season. And when Doug came back with that second sample, he said, well, you have to apply this, this and this to your crop and, you know, we’re dried and look like you’re going to be any rain in the future. And, but I slept. I woke up in the morning and I was like, gosh, I got to do this.

And so I did. And then it happened to rain. We’ve been getting thunderstorms off and on and so now I’m really glad. And some of it was adding additional nitrogen to a lot of, you know, stuff, wasn’t it was adding you know, soluble phosphorus, boron, molybdenum, 

Carol McFarland: That’s all foliar, right?

Eric Odberg: Answer all your foliar apply now kind of late late season the flag leaf finally timing and so yeah 

Carol McFarland: Did you say there’s humeric in there too?

Sorry, I think I cut you off. 

Eric Odberg: Yeah. Yeah, I’m doing a lot more. I’ve done a lot with him in the past and I’ve been doing more with molasses as a carbon source with my nitrogen. And so I think that’s a way of being able to reduce nitrogen as well, having that carbon source with its product  called Boost is what we’ve been using.

Carol McFarland: I think fundamentally one of the things I’m very interested in is so when you try something, how do you know if it worked? How do you know whether you know, what’s your end of year evaluation? How do you know if it’s something you’re going to put into practice or try again next year? What do you think?

Eric Odberg: Well, you know, it increases the yield, you know, yeah, definitely it worked. But if you’ve got the same yield, but you reduce your inputs by 20%, 15% even. I mean, that’s a win. So I got to look at all, all aspects of it and, and just, you know, using that with a yield monitor Guy Swanson said, oh, you got to do the you know, your strip trials.

The way the researchers have done it if you really want to know and I don’t know, I think there’s so much more lately. You just have farmers out there. It’s looking at their yield monitor. And I mean,you can flag off an area with production happen and be able to look at that map then and you know and get a, you know, accurate reading now.

And so it’s so much easier to, you know, find out now maybe it’s not quite as precise as is you know an engineer would like to have and I’m not going to argue that. But just for practical business. FARMER know, that’s what I look at and I think it tells you enough. I mean, for my opinion.

Carol McFarland: Well, you’ve had a lot of experience working with researchers and other folks just to try things on your farm. it sounds like you’ve really kind of homed in on, you know, also the way you try things on your farm as a working farm. I heard earlier when you were talking reducing your nitrogen inputs, you do like split fields 

How do you choose how to represent things, especially with the spatial variability that we’ve talked about? 

Eric Odberg: If I have a certain amount of fertilizer seed in my drill or fertilizer in my drill I say, Well, I’m going to do that full rate, I’ll do that, and then I’m going to try the rest of the field this this different rate and try a different product.

And I’ll just compare them. I look at the convenience and not making it, you know, work harder like you talked about earlier and and you know, let’s kind of try things out that way. 

Carol McFarland: Great. How do you keep track of all the stuff here You’re trying to –

Eric Odberg: There’s this notebook here and I’m very kind of old school and I like the WSU test plots.

You wrote things down and bakers and different varieties and fertilizer days and and I just do that with it’s just maybe one of my maybe I’ll get someone, an employee that will get me fully into the technological age or one of my boys will do that. But I know I’m still stuck in old school- 

Carol McFarland: Do you have a big pile of those notebooks somewhere in your shop?

Eric Odberg: Yeah. Yeah. But I know farmers are very- they like their paper, I think. And I’m yes, I’m, I’m one of those. And you know, I have this- all this great technology out there, but, you know, I need to be able to have it at your fingertips and not get frustrated by trying to find it and fiddle with a lot of that.

Carol McFarland:Yeah. Yeah. 

It sounds like you’re using that to just fine. Eric, you know, I usually need help with it. 

And so, you know you’ll get no argument from me on the, on the paper side of things. Well you know what it’s been a real pleasure visiting with you today. I think we could probably talk about this stuff for quite a while longer.

But I think this is a great place to stop for now. And maybe there’s room to follow up another day. 

Eric Odberg: Nice talking with you too, Carol and Ben. Nice, nice. Good interview. 

Carol McFarland: Thanks. Well, thank you and I’m glad you got to talk about your drill a little bit, too. Is there anybody you’d like to nominate for being on the podcast but you’d like to hear from?

Eric Odberg: Well probably. You’ve already interviewed Russ. No, no. Well, you need to interview him. So he is very instrumental. You know, he started direct seeding no-tilling before I did. And so farmed and sure, a lot of fence rows with him. And so I was able to watch what he was doing very closely and then start adapting a lot of things that he was doing on my farm.

And then, we did our parallel courses and, you know, he’s retired now, which I kind of was disappointed with. But, you know, it’s a time and place to step away and you know he did that and  he’s still a great resource and he loves talking about all of these same topics that we talked about.

So that’s who I would nominate. 

Carol McFarland: All right. And that’s. Mr. Zenner?

Eric Odberg: Right. 

Carol McFarland: Well, I always love having folks nominated for that. Maybe the podcast will give you another vicarious opportunity to peek over the fence of what he’s up to. 

Eric Odberg: Yep. Yeah. Good notes. 

Carol McFarland: Thanks so much, Eric.