Joe Sullivan runs Sullivan Family Farms alongside his Dad and 3 brothers. To say Joe’s farming lineage is strong would be putting it mildly with 4 generations on his maternal side, 5 generations on his paternal side, and an up and coming 6th generation in training!
The first generation of Sullivan farmers owned 160 acres. This land is still in the family but today makes up a small fraction of the 12,000 acres owned and operated by Sullivan Family Farms. In addition, they actively manage and provide custom agricultural services on another 5,000 acres. About 80% of the land Joe manages is set in a tight area covering 5 townships in Minnesota.
“Producers have to go out of their comfort zone to improve perceptions of Ag.”
Joe is on average producing 220 bu/ac of corn and thanks to careful nutrient management, good land stewardship and the naturally high CEC of his MN soils (typically 22+ppm on his farm). He is able to do this with relatively very low amounts of nitrogen, using just 0.68 – 0.7 lbs/bu of corn.
Joe manages each acre of his farm using the latest VR technologies, ‘nothing is broadcast, it’s all site specific’. Running his farm as a scientific laboratory for the advancement of the best product in the best place, every year Joe is testing new products. He is constantly reviewing the performance of the products, and unraveling the effects he sees in the yield results with data. Joe takes directions as what products to test but ultimately has the most confidence in what he can prove out himself on his farm.
In your opinion, where are the biggest gains to be made in your ROI?
Putting subsurface drainage in to fields along with intensive management of all inputs to that field.
What’s the most important advancement in agriculture in the last 10 years?
Data Analytics to real world decisions.
“Auto Steer enables us to concentrate on the things that really matter when planting.”
What could you not live without on your farming operation?
Auto Steer. We previously had to switch out operators every 1.5 hours to prevent driver fatigue. With auto steer, we can be as straight as possible on our rows. We have been able to increase the number of products we put out and we have time to pay attention to the monitor.
Ag, Now and in the future
Joe views perception of the agricultural industry as the most critical issue in agriculture today, in particular the perceptions of how growers get their work done. People who don’t know Ag typically think of it as “plows, cows and barns”. This old-fashioned view persists, and “modern growers need to make sure they are getting out there with their stories. Producers must go out of their comfort zone to improve perceptions of Ag, talking outside the Ag community. It also seems that people have this idea that corporations are taking over farming, where in fact it is only about 2%. And in most of those cases it is still the family farm at work, doing the best they can in a sustainable way.”
What would your top piece of advice be to a new ag investor?
This industry is just starting to use data analytics. The days of taking many years to get products to become adopted are going away. It used to take years for the technologies to change. For example, my dad used to plant the same seed for 10 years. Now they kind of have a 4-year shelf life: 1st year we are looking to see how it performs, it might then be our main seed for 2 years, but by the 4th we’ll only be planting a small percentage of it and we’ll be onto the next one. This is due to the constant technology change and 2-4% a year newer genetics; plus, younger generations are more used to change.
Where is the investment money going in Ag right now?
The investment in Ag right now is towards products like the Pivot Bio Microbes. We’re trying to figure out how to grow and do more with less resources and throw in the sustainability element as well. Plus, sustainability is an easy to grasp concept, even for non-Ag people.
Getting it done with…
12,000 acres | Corn and Soybeans | Average field size 120 acres | FieldView | John Deere Apex | My John Deere | Precision Planting Encirca | 99% John Deere Equipment