05 Jan Mitchell Hora: Soil Health Data Analytics
Mitchell Hora’s first word was “corn,” which couldn’t be more fitting for this seventh generation Iowan farmer. In fact, in 2021, the Hora family will be celebrating 150 years of Hora family farming legacy and innovation in their hometown of Washington, Iowa. Mitchell still works closely with his father, trialing and experimenting with new processes of production to improve soil health and sustainability.
Generational Support for Innovation
“I am in a situation where, when I give my dad an idea to try this, he takes it even further than my original idea instead of pushing back,” says Mitchell. “He looks through it, implements it and takes it further than what I have the know-how of what to do.”
This kind of support is exactly what the future of regenerative and sustainable agriculture needs. Typically, overeager younger generations find their ideas cast-aside in regards to testing, trial plots, new innovation and new technologies. By working together, they’ve found results in a cover crop system that has increased their yield over other farmers in their county. The support of innovation isn’t just two generations worth, though. Mitchell’s grandfather was the third person in Iowa to purchase a no-till drill in 1986!
Testing New Techniques: Roller Crimpers
One current test plot for Mitchell is on two acres of his own farm and is a trial of beans planted into a rye cover crop. While nervous, the plan is to use a roller crimper over the beans to crimp down the cover crop – a technique that Mitchell has seen used by other farmers. Since the beans are nimble, they will bounce back up and continue growing but the cover crop stems will be crushed and, if done at the right time, the crop will be terminated with zero need for herbicides.
The roller crimper mirrors some of the attributes that grazing livestock would have on the cover crop, but Mitchell is quick to point out that there are many benefits missed by not using actual livestock. Livestock are a good biological function with the deposits of their urine, saliva and manure. The ripping and tearing of the crops actually stimulates the plants to recuperate, which subsequently pumps carbon into the soil.
The Future of Sustainability
In 2015, Mitchell took his passion for soil science, sustainability and regenerative agriculture and combined it all into his own company: Continuum Ag. Originating with excel spreadsheets and human-interpretation, Mitchell analyzes reports from the Haney Test, which uses unique soil extracts in the lab to determine what quantity of soil nutrients are available to soil microbes. The most current soil test for showing available nutrients today, Mitchell tests his own soil weekly to continue adding and analyzing data to their research, but recommends everyone to test their soil every other year.
Continuum Ag has built the first software to help interpret the Haney Test and has the largest private database of Haney Test results and has served 40 states and ten countries. As Continuum Ag continues to grow, the plan is to use a wide array of tools to provide comprehensive, unbiased and scalable systems to help farmers make decisions in a transparent and unbiased system.
“I have very intense data and that’s why I work very closely with Dr. Haney,” explains Mitchell. “The soil is a living system and is always changing so that I can cross-compare a soil sample from one-second in time across all of our data.”
What Does Regenerative Mean?
To Mitchell, someone who can be considered a regenerative farmer is someone that is:
- Continuously improving on the components of soil health
- Minimizing disturbance
- Keeping soil armor
- Optimizing a living root at all times
- Implements diversity of crops
- Integrates livestock
- Utilization of plants to ramp up soil health to improve profitability
Current Regenerative & Sustainability Leading Brand in Agriculture
“There are companies that are pushing on it and some that are trying to lead but none have really gotten there yet,” says Mitchell. He recognizes that General Mills is doing good work, Amazon has done some sustainability work so there is expectation to see more through Whole Foods, and Grounded Growth.
Grounded Growth is a farmer network that works with smaller food brands and connects them directly with regenerative farmers to implement sustainable practices like water quality practices, implementation of new diverse rotations or cover crops, and more. They help the consumer facing company to work directly with the farmer and, in exchange for their dollars, gives them marketing opportunities.
By continuing to build the opportunity to record metrics of biology in regenerative agriculture, Continuum Ag and Mitchell hope to help quantify the benefits of sustainable agriculture into a real dollar value. Integrating other data software tools and more, and, as awareness continues to build, they hope to grow with the industry to help farmers, consumers, and the economy.