NORFOLK — A fifth generation farmer and a leading investor in farmland and agricultural technologies will be bringing his message to Northeast Community College next month.
Clay Mitchell, Waterloo, Iowa, will be speaking to agriculture students and to the public during his Sept. 5 visit to the college.
Since 2000, Mitchell has farmed 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Waterloo. Mitchell Farm has been a leader in the use of automation in farming operations and has pioneered quality testing of field operations that uses satellite imagery, genomics, artificial intelligence, software and hardware.
While at Northeast, Mitchell will be speaking on specific practices he uses to improve his operation’s productivity.
“I think when people see ‘cover crops, technology, soil health, etc.’ the risk is that the audience is being sold a product, or that the talk is a general talk full of platitudes. I think people get the most out of my presentation if I speak in specific and technical terms on the things I’m doing on my farm and what we do on our investment farms.”
In an interview with No-Till Farmer magazine, Mitchell said his operation has seen a boost in crop yields due to the use of precision technologies.
“Controlled traffic helps create soil qualities in which we see higher yields,” he said.
Mitchell uses a real-time kinematic (RTK) guidance system where tractors, combines, sprayers and planters drive on exactly the same paths from one year to the next. GPS devices allow Mitchell to plant seed, apply fertilizer and spray herbicides with centimeter accuracy.
Driving the same path reduces compaction of topsoil that can reduce yield and allows Mitchell to precisely track performance row-by-row. After five-years, soil tests showed better water flow in Mitchell’s no-till operation than on neighboring farms.
Mitchell also noted improvements in machinery efficiency. Not only do his GPS-guided tractors travel less ground, they also exert 40-percent less effort while driving on heavily compacted traffic lanes. That results in significant energy savings.
Mitchell also takes advantage of intercropping corn and soybeans by alternating 30-foot swaths of each crop in fields. This allows the corn to take advantage of additional sunlight to improve yields without causing too much of a drop in the soybean crop. Maps showing yield in single rows allow him to correct mistakes and refine delivery of fertilizer and chemicals.
“When everything becomes aligned, you reveal errors. Differences as high as 83 bushels can be seen between rows,” he said.
Despite the occasional challenge, Mitchell said his system is paying off.
“For grain farmers, the sum of their work is contained in the fullness of their bins at the end of the year. This is really a fantastic story of energy savings and soil improvement on our farm.”
Mitchell consults to the largest farm in Russia and Ukraine. He is a graduate of Harvard University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in crop and soil science from Cornell University, where he was a Saltonstall Fellow.
Over his farming career, Mitchell’s leadership in the industry has been built upon cooperation with manufacturers and institutions of higher learning, a willingness to host groups of domestic and international farmers, and accepting invitations to deliver keynote and plenary lectures across the world. Such activities have helped him develop a deep and invaluable network across the farmer, academic, industry, agricultural journalism and government communities.
Mitchell is also co-founder and managing director of Fall Line Capital, a Silicon Valley-based private equity firm that buys, improves and manages farmland. Fall Line closed its first fund with $125 million of commitments in the spring of 2013.
During his Sept. 5 visit to Norfolk, Mitchell will be speaking to Northeast’s Issues in Agriculture class, which is made up of approximately 100 freshmen students in the college’s agriculture programs. The class was established to make students aware of what challenges and opportunities are occurring in the agriculture world and how they can address them in their careers or farming operations.
At 6:30 that evening, Mitchell will speak during a public forum in the Lifelong Learning Center on Northeast’s Norfolk campus. There is no charge to attend.