A Man of Faith
Few businesses are as imbued with risk as farming. Every season, farmers across the country repeat the cycle of incurring major cost to raise a crop, not knowing what the season will bring. Seed goes in the ground without any guarantee that crops will make it to harvest or that the markets will cooperate enough to make a profit. So, naturally, being a farmer means having a lot of faith – faith in the weather, family, equipment, yourself, or the divine – that everything will make it through.
For Mark Miller, 49, a 5th generation farmer from Hurley, SD, faith is not only the most important part of farming, but the most important part of his life.
“Farming for me is one of those things that I realized that God owns everything, and I’m just the manager,” Miller said. “Then, it really clicked for me. God is in charge. He has the power, and I’m just his manager.”
Managing risk on his 1000-acre corn and soybean farm then becomes a way to extend and reinforce that faith. As a part of that management plan, Mark has worked with the agronomists at Hefty Seed Company in Freeman, SD since the store opened back in the early 2000s. At first, simply saving money on products was enough to earn his business, but what kept him engaged was the company’s efforts to inform farmers about all the ways they could improve their bottom line.
“I thought, ‘Wow I’m saving a lot of money going to these guys,’” Mark said. “I’ve become more and more of a customer over the years because I was impressed with how they do things like education.”
Shortly after started to work with the Freeman store, Mark began watching Ag PhD TV and attending workshops, and he tries to catch all the workshops that are held in his area each year on topics such as crop protection programs, rebates, and the latest in ag technology. However, his favorite workshop continues to be the Ag PhD Soils Clinic.
“The whole issue of soil tests and being able to read them was always a big mystery to me,” Miller said. “Generally, I would always rely on someone else to tell me what to do, what to put on. When you think of how many dollars you put into fertilizer and amendments for your soil, it’s just amazing how many dollars we throw at it and know so little about it. To finally understand it was a huge moment for me.”
Over time as he became more confident in his soils knowledge, Mark went from taking a single composite sample for each of his fields to sampling his whole farm in one-acre grids. The ability to look at his soil tests and make his own recommendations for balanced fertility has allowed him to make more informed fertility decisions and increase his overall yields.
On the seed side, Mark’s farm has also started using Hefty Complete, both for the added protection and plant health benefits his crop gains, but also from the assurance that if insect problems show up later in the season, the respray program offered with Hefty Complete will be there to follow up the seed treatment with in-season applications.
“I had all my soybean seed treated with Hefty Complete this past year,” Miller said. “LOVE that. I saw the beans come out of the ground, and they were healthy and had an incredible root system. I was very pleased. Most people don’t even realize there’s that guarantee if there are insects that you’ll get a free spray. On one field where I had to spray and respray due to insects, they handed me free chemical. All-around, I am so impressed with Hefty’s seed treatment.”
Apart from all the informational and agronomic benefits he gets from working with Hefty’s, Mark appreciates the flexibility and pricing he gets from the prepay program.
“When I started farming, I didn’t really see places where you could put down a bunch of money, and if you didn’t use it, you got it back with interest,” Miller said. “Also, I was dealing with companies that you would lose your discount if you switched to something else.”
With Hefty Seed Company, Mark Miller’s farm is free from such restrictions.
While saving money is important, it’s not everything. What Mark Miller most appreciates about doing business with Hefty Seed is that the company’s leadership follows a perspective that matches his own. That perspective is one of faith, and it informs Hefty Seed Company’s mission of putting the success of farmers first and foremost.
“At the end of their meetings, they put up a Bible verse that encourages people,” Mark said. “For me, I’m a Christian and I really respect that someone would carry values like that into a company and try to run it with the value that you seek to help people and treat them correctly. The biggest thing that people overlook with Hefty’s is they’ve got the philosophy that if you treat people right, then they’ll do business with you.”
In other words, it comes back to faith, and farming takes semi loads of it. The ability to draw comfort and encouragement from faith can help alleviate the stress that comes from working in what can be one of the most stressful and riskiest industries out there, and it goes a long way in making any farm a success.
“The overarching thing for my own farm is faith,” Mark said. “Everything comes back to God. I see myself as a manager for God, and I see myself as a person who looks out for my family, loves my family, and loves my people around me. When I get all that in order – God first, family second, farming third – then, things seem to start working out for me. It’s funny how things work themselves out when you get them in the right order. When I see the Hefty boys, they’ve got a lot of that. And that’s why I really appreciate what they do.”
Ross Van Hulzen
Patience, precision, and a progressive mindset are invaluable traits on the farm.
For Ross Van Hulzen, 34, a fourth-generation farmer from Edgerton, Minnesota, a year like 2019 can make it difficult to stick to those principles, especially when 7500 acres of corn and soybeans need to get in the ground.
“We have a lot of ground to cover, but we’ll never be the first ones in the field, “Van Hulzen said. “It was challenging to be that patient this spring.”
And keeping that patience is important because in farming, there are a lot of details that need to be right for a crop to be successful. In his multi-generational operation, Van Hulzen works along with his younger brother, Reed; his father, Keith; and his grandfather Virg. Their farm utilizes all the latest technology at their disposal to make every element of their operation more detail-oriented.
“We’re very into precision farming,” Ross said. “Every one of our acres is grid sampled, and we’re variable rating lime, NPK, and micronutrients. Much of our equipment is outfitted for precision, especially the planter. That’s the most important pass – we are very particular about our planting.”
Focusing on details requires being eager to learn. Through observing the habits of other farmers, studying available agronomic information, and taking part in educational programs like Ag PhD workshops and Randy Dowdy’s Next Level program, the Van Hulzen farm has continually increased its focus on utilizing data to make better farming decisions.
A big push in recent years has been to do more tissue and soil sampling with a focus on making fertility more efficient and profitable.
“We’ve become a lot more knowledgeable with our soil sampling and tissue sampling, and that’s definitely gained us bushels,” Ross said.
As the Van Hulzen operation continues to grow, they’ve found the easiest way to gain more acres is to start by using precision techniques to farm better on current acres. By using data to inform decisions, be more efficient with input expenses, and increase yields, they can make assurances that any ground under their management will be well taken care of.
“We are very open with our data, and the more transparent you are, the better,” Ross said. “Even if you’re not the highest bid, you can show that you’re going to take care of the land and get high yields.”
Part of Van Hulzen’s management strategy also includes working with the agronomists at Hefty Seed Company. The farm’s relationship with Hefty’s goes back 15 years, to 2005 – just after Ross had completed college and had a very successful crop year.
Despite having a record crop, the farm wasn’t nearly as profitable as it should have been. After reaching out to the Hefty Seed Company store in Marshall, Minnesota, Ross determined that they could source their ag chemicals there significantly cheaper than they had with their previous dealer. The rest took off from there.
“We switched all our chemical business over to Hefty’s right away in 2005,” Ross said. “A few years later, we switched 100 percent of our soybean business to Hefty. Now, we’ve been steadily increasing our Hefty Brand Corn, and it’s been working well.”
Van Hulzen also works with the agronomy staff at Hefty Seed Marshall for advice on the best product choices for plant health and profitability.
“Mike Homandberg is our main contact, and he’s awesome,” Ross said. “Any kind of agronomic question we have, he’s our first phone call. He is one of the most knowledgeable agronomists that I know.”
Agronomic knowledge isn’t the only benefit Van Hulzen has gained from his Hefty relationship. A few years ago, a hail event wiped out more than 4000 acres of his farm. Ross recalls being impressed with the efforts of the staff at the Marshall store to help him get his operation back up and rolling.
“They definitely went above and beyond,” Ross said. “They brought out beans 24/7 as we were replanting and used their own tender and brought extra help out to fill the planters. Their willingness to do whatever it takes really was above and beyond what any other seed company would do.”
The relationship with the Marshall store led to the Van Hulzen farm becoming both a soybean seed production and research site for Hefty Seed, and the information he gathered from this experience further transformed how his farm operates.
“Mike came to us because he knew we were progressive growers,” Ross said. “You have to go the extra mile in management with extra fungicide and insecticide, that kind of thing. We’ve taken those seed guidelines and applied them to all of our acres, and it’s been very successful.”
As Van Hulzen looks forward to the next season and beyond, he will continue to apply his progressive mindset to learning more and improving his crops, yields, and bottom line. Should any questions arise throughout that process, the agronomy staff at Hefty Seed will be there to help with the information, support, and advice to help make each new season better than the last.
The first crop Stefansen ever planted on his farm near Prague, Oklahoma was in April of 2015 on 70 acres. With no history of farm management to guide his new operation, Stefansen found himself behind the 8-ball when it came to acquiring the knowledge to make his farm a success. He spent thousands of hours researching everything he possibly could. Then, he came across the resources of Ag PhD and quickly became a fan, going on binges of Ag PhD TV and Radio and attending every type of Ag PhD event numerous times, from Agronomy Workshops and Soils Clinics to the Ag PhD Field Day.
“I just appreciate the transparency of information,” Stefansen said. “I had the scientific foundational knowledge, but I didn’t know how to apply it in a real-world example. Having that transparency for free is just mind boggling, and it led me to be successful. So many people pay to go to these seminars with high yield growers. The fact that you give this away is phenomenal to me.”
Since his first crop, his farm has grown to 175 acres, and he now raises a continuous double crop of soybeans and wheat. And in 2018, armed with his background in biology, his study of Ag PhD, and through working with Hefty Seed agronomist Aaron Elam out of Garden City, Kansas, Stefansen achieved a dryland soybean yield of 132 bushels per acre with Hefty Brand H42X8 soybeans.
Stefansen said that even though Elam was based 7 hours away, that did not prevent him from being an engaged collaborator on Stefansen’s journey to high yields, coming to the farm twice a month between podding and harvest to walk fields and do counts.
“Aaron worked harder than any person I’ve ever seen that wasn’t the actual farmer of that particular farm,” Stefansen said. “It blew my mind how willing and able he was to come down and make sure I had everything I needed for a successful crop.”
In addition to the assistance of Hefty’s agronomy staff, Stefansen was also pleased with the selection of available varieties, as well as the thoroughness of information and recommendations provided.
“Hefty has the best technology at the best value,” Stefansen said. “If you were to look at competitors, they only have two seed options for you. Opening up your seed guide, it’s of biblical proportions with all the varieties you can choose from. A lot of the details that people need to know to make an informed decision are right there in that book.”
Another selling point for Stefansen is the value built into Hefty Complete Seed Treatment, which tied in well with his understanding of soil biology from his college studies.
“Everything about the biological approach feeds in to the way my brain works,” Stefansen said. “It makes perfect scientific sense to me. The first time I actually compared QuickRoots, it was a night and day difference with more root mass and root hairs. I’ve used it ever since on every crop. There is also ROOTastic inoculant, which I compared side by side with several different inoculants. It’s been the best soybean nodulation inoculant that I’ve found. The fungicide and insecticide side of things is also a no-brainer. The value with these already being in Hefty Complete is awesome.”
Although he has achieved a yield of 132 bushels, Tyler Stefansen knows there is always room for improvement, and every season presents its own unique challenges and lessons to learn to improve crops going forward.
Doug Van Duyn
COLTON, SOUTH DAKOTA
“You really have to change how you think before you get a different result,” Van Duyn said. “And that’s what Rob Fritz has helped me to do more than anything. I’ve worked pretty closely with Rob for a number of years now, and he is a wealth of knowledge. He’s able to do that because of the organization that the Hefty’s have developed, the culture of showing people how to do things better instead of being centered around sales. This is one of the few guys that I’ve worked with in my career that truly, truly is as excited about my success as I am. That’s what trips his trigger. I’ve never felt I’ve even had a sales-type presentation made to me. It’s always been education.”
Van Duyn and Rob have been trying to push the envelope on his farm through making drastic changes to planting dates and populations in both corn and soybeans, as well as making sure to manage soybeans just as closely for yield as corn. By using techniques like seed singulation, in-furrow and variable rate fertility, and timely fungicide applications, Van Duyn has continued to experiment with what works and what doesn’t to improve emergence, standability, and overall crop health to increase yields on his farm.
But the key is to take what works continue trying new ways to move the needle forward.
“We’re not going to stop trying to change and improve,” Van Duyn said. “We’re going to use some of the things we’ve learned in the last few years that we’ve felt truly made some improvements in our results.”
Much has changed for both Doug Van Duyn and Hefty Seed Company over the past 50 years. Though both operations have evolved immensely from where they began, the core philosophies remain – for Van Duyn, it’s to constantly improve yield and profit; for Hefty Seed, it’s to give farmers like him the tools they need to succeed. As Doug continues to strive for higher and higher yields, Hefty Seed Company and agronomists like Rob Fritz will be there to help, with the agronomic knowledge needed to find the answers to unlocking those higher yields.
Having grown up working on his family’s farm, Chris Edwards had some familiarity with how to make a crop in a low-moisture environment, but when he took over management of that farm three years ago, his wheat yields and profitability had hit a wall – he needed some advice on how to move the needle again and wasn’t sure where to start.
“There was a yield plateau where we just couldn’t get more than 60 bushels,” Edwards said. “Even on the wettest years, we’d get 60, maybe 65. I just wasn’t comfortable going out my first year and doing it without some guidance.”
Chris’s father, Mike, suggested that they sit down and have a discussion with Dave Dye, their local Hefty Agronomist out of the nearby location in Quincy, WA.
When every farm has unique challenges, it is essential to find the right solutions in terms of both agronomy and return on investment specific to the needs of the individual farm. Helping farmers to learn why and how to cost-effectively solve yield and crop health problems is a key tenet to how Hefty’s does business.
“I see it as more of a partnership than where I just show up and take an order,” Dye said. “I don’t like to tell somebody to just go and do X, Y, and Z. I want them to know why I recommend what I do. Chris really feeds off of that.”
When Chris sat down with Dave to discuss methods to make his farm more profitable, a big focus was on making sure the crop received adequate fertility and protection throughout the season. Soil sampling more strategically and more frequently, applying foliar fertility, and mixing fungicides with those applications became the first priorities.
Throughout this process, the important element to keep top of mind is always return in investment. You can spend a lot of money to build a healthy crop, but everything has to pay at harvest.
“Dave strives for a 3-to-1 return on investment,” Chris said. “If he doesn’t believe you’re going to get back at least that, he’s not going to recommend it. That’s huge for me. Using fungicides for disease protection and applying foliar fertility have been fantastic as far as protecting my plants’ health – not only that, but also bringing money back into my pocket.”
After he started working with Hefty’s, Chris also began attending Ag PhD workshops to reinforce learning the reasons behind why he and Dave were making changes on his farm. Understanding the value of balanced soil fertility and cultural management practices have further helped with moisture conservation, which is essential for continuing to push yield in his geography.
“The way we farm out here, we didn’t like stubble because drills couldn’t get through it – we just pounded the ground with tillage tools,” Edwards said. “It was an eye-opener to me that stubble needs to be there to conserve nutrients and water. I switched to no-till when I learned that when you don’t work your ground, you immediately save almost four inches of moisture. That’s a huge deal for us here.”
The combination of enhanced fungicide application, fertility management, and moisture conservation have made a significant difference in terms of yield and profitability on the Edwards farm, breaking his old 60-bushel ceiling.
“I’ve now had fields that have bumped the 80-bushel mark, so that’s huge on our non-irrigated ground in this part of Washington,” Edwards said. “And Dave and I are working on some plans for us to be able to grow 60 bushels in the driest of years, not the wettest. There are some areas of fields that are still non-productive, and we’re working on building our soil organic matter to restore the ground.”
As Chris continues to push for greater returns on his farm investments, Hefty Agronomist Dave Dye will remain a year-round source of information for the Edwards farm, there to guide Chris through his soil tests and walk fields with him to help diagnose diseases, deficiencies, and more.
“When the time comes, we’ll get on the four-wheeler and ride every field together,” Chris said. “If he sees something out there, we’ll sit down, and he will explain to the best of his knowledge what’s happening. Dave has gone above and beyond the call of duty for my farm. If I need something, he’s just there. He’s a great guy to work with and really invested in the success of our farm.”