Continuum Ag. LLC, Partners with West Fork Crooked Creek Watershed Project: Mitchell Hora - Washington County, Iowa
Story Submitted by Clint Bombei, Project Coordinator for the West Fork Crooked Creek Water Quality and Soil Health Initiative WQI Demonstration Project
Mitchell Hora is a recent graduate of Iowa State University that has started up his own crop consulting company, Continuum Ag. LLC, out of Washington, IA. He not only helps clients in the West Fork Crooked Creek Water Quality Initiative Project but people all across Iowa and other parts of the world. I recently was able to ask him a few questions about his business and what he thinks about soil health and conservation.
Q: Tell me a little about your family’s farming operation.
A: I grew up on the family’s farming operation in Washington County. The corn and soybean operation farms less than 1,000 acres.
Q: What conservation practices are implemented on the farm?
A: Most of the operation has been no-till for over five years and the 2017 growing season was our second year with cover crops. We mostly utilize cereal rye but have also experimented with mixes that include oats, harry vetch, crimson clover, and tillage radishes. Across the farm, we utilize waterways, terraces, and tile to manage rain water. We are split-applying nutrients and doing a lot of soil health testing to learn about the changes in nutrient availability through the year.
I recently bought my own 40-acre farm and will be performing a lot of experiments to learn about conservation, cover crops, and building soil health.
Q: Are you seeing any benefits from these practices?
A: Soil health testing has helped Dad and I quickly learn about cover crops, no-till, and various new products that we are trying. We are seeing improvements to soil biology and nutrient management, even in the first year of cover crops.
Q: Tell me a little about your company.
A: Continuum Ag is a consulting and data management company focused on soil health. We work with farmers, consultants, and ag businesses around the world to quantify and improve soil health. The company started in the fall of 2015. Our first customer was a company in South Africa. In South Africa there is a massive need to improve soils. We continue working in South Africa to manage data and monitor improvements to soil health. The bulk of our soil health sampling is done around Iowa, but large expansion is ensuing across the Midwest and the world.
Q: What made you want to start your own company?
A: I started Continuum Ag to consult with farmers and help to improve their operations. I wanted to get back in Washington County, and I used my junior summer to start my company, instead of taking on another internship. Soil health was my niche and way to get my foot in the door. In the last couple years, the soil health movement has exploded and soil health is 90% of Continuum Ag’s business. Continuum Ag uses Brookside Labs, and in 2017 we were already their largest soil health customer. I am not aware of any other company in the world collecting as much soil health data as we are.
Q: Why are you such an Advocate for soil health?
A: Soil health, microbial health, fertility, plant health, animal health, human health, and environmental health are all connected. Cleaner water, cleaner air, and healthier people all start with the soils.
Our Iowa soils are awesome, but intense farming can be harmful. There is huge potential to improve Iowa’s soils and massive opportunity to improve the soils around the world.
Q: Why do you think so many people are interested in soil health/conservation?
A: The soil health movement is easy to get behind. “Why wouldn’t I want healthy soils?” “Why wouldn’t I want to do my part to help the environment?” Farmers want to be the best stewards they can. The thing holding people back is the risks ensued. The pieces missing in the soil health movement are the understanding of the logistics and the economics of improving soil health. This is why Continuum Ag uses soil health testing and a variety of other tools. We are working with farmers to determine how they can logistically improve and in a way that not only provides long-term economic returns, but economic returns in the short term. Farmers have to make money. They have to remain profitable year\to\year. Improving soil health can take time. We are helping to provide logistical advice and showing the short-term economic gains.
Q: What is your philosophy as it relates to farming and the environment?
A: As long as people are eating, the world will need farmers. Our soils need to be improved in order to continually be able to produce food, fuel, and fiber. Improving sustainability is crucial, and farmers have to continue producing more crop with improved economic returns. Nine and one-half billion people can only be fed with technologically-advanced farming practices. Genetically advanced crops feed more people and provide affordable food. Healthy soil is the key to sustainably producing healthy food, leaving a healthier environment and healthy family legacy.