Ep. 53: What is stock cropping? With Zack Smith of Stock Cropper, Inc.
Ep. 53: What is stock cropping? With Zack Smith of Stock Cropper, Inc.
“We knew we had to think differently.”
That’s what fifth-generation Iowa farmer Zack Smith said when in early 2020, corn and soybean prices were at historical lows.
Along with a group of fellow farmers, Zack began to brainstorm solutions that would keep them farming, and that’s where the idea of stock cropping was born.
After testing farming concepts like strip inter-cropping with soybeans in between corn, Zack and his farming buddies dreamed up the idea of, “What if we put livestock in between the corn instead?”
Their thought process was, “How can we utilize multiple livestock enterprises in between strips of row crops, create a rotational system where animal manure minimizes the need for fertilizer, and create pasture strips in between corn to amplify production?”
What came about from that was a dynamic farming system combining multiple species of livestock and forage plants with crop production – now known as a Stock Cropper system.
In its prototype, the Stock Cropper grazed four different livestock species in a mobile infrastructure that moved twice daily through strips of pasture in between strips of corn throughout the season. Out front were sheep and goats; in back were pigs, and behind that were chickens.
The livestock consume a diverse pasture mix while leaving behind manure to feed the soil. The row crops grown between the pasture strips benefit from this arrangement by having more access to sunlight.
Then the following year, the cycle is completed by rotating the strips so that row crops are planted where the livestock grazed and deposited their manure. The livestock are fed from the feedstuffs that were produced the previous year.
The result is a combination of high-quality meats marketed and sold directly to consumers while profitability is maintained for the farmer.
Zack says two years in, “By using the power of this arrangement, and with the edge effect and that of nutrients from the animals, we grew 303-bushel corn this year where our static average was 230 to 240 in our area.”
And to drive that home, “I didn’t spray anything on that corn. All I did was change the arrangement, plant a few more plants, and I grew 60-bushel acre better corn, and there was no bill to pay,” Zack states. “What better thing is there as a farmer than that?”
Here’s a glance at this episode:
[02:43] Zack shares how the idea of a stock cropping approach to farming came about.
[05:48] Zack explains how the first Stock Cropper prototype was built, used and tested with four species of livestock rotationally grazed on pasture in between corn.
[09:07] Zack discusses the goal of a stock cropping system and the intended ratio of pasture to row crops.
[12:57] Sharing that planning and timing are critical to optimum grazing, Zack also shares the types of cool-season and warm-season forages that are ideal for grazing.
[15:15] Zack explains the specifics of how they’ve designed their stock cropping system to accommodate the behaviors of pigs.
[18:07] Zack shares what he thinks is the ideal acreage and ideal customer of a stock cropping system.
[23:01] While the movement of the Stock Cropper is autonomous, Zack demonstrates what feeding and care of the livestock entail.
[26:32] Zack describes the benefits he’s seen on plant health from strip inter-cropping from increased solar capacity.
[32:20] Zack shares two additional practices he has implemented on his farm to improve soil health.
[25:52] Zack leaves with what the future development and production of Stock Croppers looks like over the next few years.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Zack Smith is a fifth-generation farmer from Leland, Iowa. Before developing the Stock Cropper system, he worked for a large chemical supplier in the ag retail space and owned a seed and fertilizer consulting business. In 2020, he began full-time farming in pursuit of scaling Stock Cropper, Inc.
Welcome to Precision Points: An Ag Tech podcast where we plant seeds of innovation to inspire informed decisions about precision technology and its impact for growers like you. We explore precision ag tools and technology from the soil to the sky with your host, Morgan Seger.
Morgan Seger (00:21):
Welcome to Precision Points, an Ag Tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host, Morgan Seger, and in each episode, we work to bring you ag tech information and ideas. Today on the show, I'm joined by Zack Smith from Stock Cropper. Zack is a fifth-generation farmer who farms near the Iowa/Minnesota line, and he joined us today to talk about his business, The Stock Cropper, and the way he's been implementing regenerative ag and more modern ag ideas on his own farm.
Morgan Seger (00:54):
Essentially, what Stock Cropper does is allow you to graze livestock in between rows of corn, which has an increased yield effect for your corn, because you have the edge effect where those rows are getting more sunlight and more air movement, while also turning out a high-value meat product at the same time. So, we talked through some of the things he's been experimenting with, what manufacturing looks like for this product and other ideas for those of you who are listening and thinking that it might be time to try something new on your farm. So, we're going to dive right into that conversation after a word from our sponsor.
Morgan Seger (01:29):
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Morgan Sager (01:57):
Today on the show, I'm joined by Zack Smith from Stock Cropper. Zack, welcome to the show.
Zack Smith (02:03):
Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.
Morgan Seger (02:03):
I've been following your work for a few years on Twitter. Can you just kick us off by sharing your background?
Zack Smith (02:10):
Sure. So I am a fifth-generation farmer on the Iowa/Minnesota border. I'm 43 years old. I've spent most of my career in agriculture, in the ag retail space, working for a large chemical supplier, and then having my own seed and chemical and fertilizer consultant business up until a year and a half ago. And then I stepped away from that to farm full-time and pursue what I'm working on now with Stock Cropper.
Morgan Seger (02:43):
Sure. So for those who are listening who maybe haven't heard of Stock Cropper and haven't seen your barns before, could you describe what Stock Cropper is?
Zack Smith (02:51):
So, Stock Cropper is a couple of things. It started out as a different type of farming system, which would be the best way to describe it. And just a real quick history. In the early part of 2020, right before the pandemic hit, corn was 2.72 a bushel, and beans were like 7.20. And a couple of friends of mine, myself, Sheldon Stevermer and Lance Peterson, were brainstorming on how can we get ourselves out of this mess. We're small farmers, we didn't want to get squeezed out, and so we knew we had to think really differently. And we'd been playing around with some of these concepts like strip inter-cropping and 60-inch corn and trying to find ways to hack a solution.
Zack Smith (03:42):
And that's where Lance had the idea of, instead of strip inter-cropping, running soybeans in between corn, what if we instead put livestock? And so that's essentially how the idea was born is how can we stack multiple livestock enterprises in between strips of row crops and then create this perfect rotational system where the animals lay down the manure, you minimize the need for outside fertility, and then by creating these pasture corridors when you're planting corn in between, you get the edge effect, which is a major positive, and you can manage that to a high degree. You can actually amplify corn production that way. And so it just became this really interesting system that allowed you to substantially increase your revenue both on corn, and then the thing that really makes it interesting is what you can do with pasture-raised livestock in between that. And so, in order to do that, to make stock cropping work, we had to invent the world's first autonomous multiple-species rolling livestock circus on wheels.
Zack Smith (04:50):
And that's what we did. The first idea was to just make a singular pen for sheep. And I thought, if we're going to really do this up, we're told all the time in agriculture we don't have enough diversity on the landscape. And then I also thought about, “Who's going to eat sheep in the Midwest?” There are some lamb markets, but people like eating beef, pork and chicken. And so we thought, “What if we made this very logical pattern where you would have ruminant animals out front and then pigs to root in the soil and chew at the vegetation that was left?” And then you have chickens behind them in a very disciplined sequential matter. And the barns would move through these strips autonomously with solar power and electrically driven motors and you could power it all or control it all with an iPhone.
Zack Smith (05:48):
We imagined that up and built the first prototype three months later, put it in the field and it's taken off from there. The first prototype was all manual advancement with an electric winch, but we had four species, sheep and goats mixed together out front, then pigs, and then chickens. And we powered that or pulled that with an electric winch. We would move the barn twice a day so that the animals were constantly moving into new pasture and then we grew corn in between. And then fast forward to today, two years later, I have a manufacturing relationship now with Joe Bassett of Dawn Equipment and he and his team have helped fully see that dream, which was in a Twitter DM two and a half years ago now of this barn walking through a field with an iPhone controlling it to we actually did that this year and it auto steered itself and everything that we dreamt up has come to reality.
Zack Smith (06:51):
And the fun thing is it all works. And I just wrapped up harvesting corn out of this system last year or about three days ago. And we grew the corn in the same strip that the animals went through last year. And then all we did was put on a little bit of additional nitrogen this year, no additional fertility, nothing special. And with that power of arrangement, with the edge effect and that of nutrients from the animals, we grew 303 bushel corn in that system where our static average for 30-inch corn was probably 230 to 240 in our area. So a substantial bump. So it's fun growing the corn in that arrangement, but the real value is in the livestock piece and then connecting that story with consumers with a differentiated offering. So a long-winded answer, but that's essentially what stock cropping and the Stock Cropper are.
Zack Smith (07:45):
And now the business that we're creating is Stock Cropper Inc. is focused on being the premier livestock autonomous management grazing company where we're going to manufacture these barns with the help of Joe at Dawn and his manufacturing plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and make lots of different iterations of ways to move livestock autonomously across the landscape, not only in strip inner crop corn fields, but in say, vineyards, orchards, backyards, acreages, solar arrays, all sorts of different venues where you need stuff not to escape, but you need to be able to control it in a very controlled manner where you don't physically have to be there all the time to take care of it.
Morgan Seger (08:35):
Sure. Well, first of all, I think it is so cool that you had an idea and you took some action and now it's all coming to fruition. I think that that's really neat and congratulations on being able to get from where you started just a few years ago to where you guys are at today. I think that's really powerful. I have a ton of questions. So my first question being a grain farmer, is are you farming roughly half as many acres in row crops, or what is that breakdown when you start putting these strips in between?
Zack Smith (09:07):
So this is something that people get hung up on all the time. They're like, "Well, if you're only going to have half your field in corn, then your yield is going to be half." And so let me back up and say yes, that is the intention. The intention of this system is to grow feedstuffs in between pasture strips. That's set up this rotation. And the key, or what I'm really shooting for, is to get to the right ratio where you can have enough in crop to produce the grain it takes to produce the feedstuff to feed the animals the following year or something close to that. And so that's really the goal of the system. It's not to grow $7 corn and haul it to the ethanol plant. It is to create a closed-loop system where I don't have to truck potash on the boat from Ukraine over here and phosphorus out of Florida and nitrogen from wherever.
Zack Smith (10:08):
I want to do everything on the farm, grow it on the farm, process it on the farm, and feed it back to the animals. And the only thing that really leaves or gets trucked off is the livestock that we produce. So roughly, the relationship we've set up right now, to answer your question directly, is a 50-50 rotation. It doesn't mean that we couldn't have more things. Maybe it would be a third where you would have a small grain strip and then a corn strip and then a strip of livestock. But we've typically done just a 50-50 ratio of pasture to row crop in the system.
Morgan Seger (10:46):
Okay. So I'm guessing the row size is going to be more determinant on the farmer’s equipment they already have than it is on the edge effect you get from the extra sunlight.
Zack Smith (10:56):
To a point. But once you get past a circuit and work with it, you start to lose your efficiency of the edge effect, at least when it comes to growing corn. And then also, if it gets too small, your cost of barns on a per-acre basis goes up because you have to have so many more base units out there. So for me, in this system, I think the optimal working with of lanes is going to be somewhere either probably 15 or 20 feet for a commercial field production level, which 20 feet is what I'm setting up a field on right now for long-term strip inter-cropping that works with bait row equipment and you can get most combines down through that. It's not a 60 or 90-foot working width. I think those widths will not apply if you're trying to apply what you're doing on conventional acres.
Zack Smith (11:45):
But I think the system, especially for somebody that is not trying to farm three counties to be in business but maybe has a few hundred acres, these types of concepts and ideas are systems that I think could allow people to do that and not have to have the goal of farming everything like what the normal model is right now.
Morgan Seger (12:09):
I think when we talk about making some big changes, lots of times the prohibiting thing is how expensive equipment is to change even when people look at different row spacings and different tillage methods and things like that. And so I guess that's what I was getting at is you don't necessarily need to change a whole lot of your base equipment. You just make space for these in between.
Zack Smith (12:33):
Correct. I have done this on a shoestring budget, and I've kind of just used what I've had. I've bought a cheap grain drill for like 1200 bucks at an auction to make it work. And this is all stuff that is very, very accessible and doable.
Morgan Seger (12:52):
Cool. So then, in between the corn, what are you laying down for them to graze on?
Zack Smith (12:57):
It's a couple of different things because the timing of when the barn is going to be over the pasture mix is really critical. So what I do is break the field into a race track pattern. So the block I've used is 750 feet long, and then whatever the barn width is, 20 feet wide, and the barn is moving at a pace where it gets through that 750-foot lane once every 30 days. Okay. But you have to plan your grazing for when the animals are going to be there. So if you want to start right off the bat, you've got to have something that overwinters, like a cereal rye or a clover, something that'll get up quickly so that you can get the animals out on pasture right away. If you don't do that, then you have to plant a really cool season, an early established mix of oats, annual ryegrass, and forage rape.
Zack Smith (13:59):
Some cowpeas, Sudan grass, not all that stuff is cool season, but you've got to have some cool season stuff to get up, and then some warm season to hopefully fill the gap after the animals go across. So my first month of grazing, I usually do a cool season with a couple of warm species mixed in, and then the second lane comes back in July, where I usually have a warm species mix that I plant three to four weeks before I anticipate the animals to be out there. And the idea is that you set up this racetrack pattern, the barn goes down, it comes back, and by the time it gets back to the start point, that pasture has had the ability to regenerate and you can go and hit it again. And so you just do the circle. And so essentially, it's a four-month racetrack pattern to hopefully finish out the pigs, finish out the lambs or the goats, and then you would have two crops of pasture-raised chickens. So two turns in the chicken tractors as well.
Morgan Seger (15:00):
So you mentioned pigs. How are they in the barn? Since they have all that pasture underneath them, do they mostly just root in that? I just feel like pigs sometimes in barns can be a little destructive.
Zack Smith (15:15):
We have not had any issues with anything on that original barn breaking or the pigs wrecking anything. The inside of the barn has raised tenderfoot flooring, just like you'd have in a confinement system. And that's really important because when you get a four-inch rain, you want to have the ability to keep them out of the mud because pigs do what pigs do. They love to root. They love to cool themselves off. If we have a water leak and we move the barn, the first thing they do within 30 seconds of the barn moving is they put their snout in and they want to lay in it. And so the rooting piece has definitely been, it's definitely been a challenge. We've solved that by ringing the pigs somewhat. And then the other thing that helps is the fact that we're moving it frequently.
Zack Smith (16:01):
And if they don't have too much time to set up and wallow unless it's like a four or five-inch rain, which has happened, then they really can tear stuff up at that point. But the other thing that I didn't do this year, but I'd like to experiment with next year is there are some breeds of hogs that have a different snout orientation, like Kunekune or there's a new breed of Kunekune and Berkshire, I think they're called Idaho pigs. And there's a guy nearby that has those. The problem with them is they are slower growing, and so they can't finish in four months. The current pork industry doesn't look at rooting as an issue because everything's on slats, but maybe we have to do some more exploratory work and find some breeds that will finish in four months that have that characteristic.
Zack Smith (16:57):
But yeah, it's definitely a challenge, but stuff has got to be well-built. And that's the other thing with our design. In three years of doing this, we have not lost one animal in our system to predation of any type. And we've got a lot of pressure around us, coyote, fox, owls, hawks, you name it, mink. We've not lost anything of that, and we've not had anything get out other than a goat that jumped over a panel that was initially built too short. So yeah, stuff has got to be really well-built. You got to think about all the dynamics of moving and not running stuff over. That has to be taken into account. And not just with one species, but you're doing it with three or four different animal types.
Morgan Seger (17:41):
Yeah. There are a lot of moving pieces. We just always had pigs in 4H, and I just know that, like you say, if you give them a chance, they'll try to tear pretty much anything up.
Zack Smith (17:49):
Yeah, they will, for sure.
Morgan Seger (17:52):
Okay, so if someone has a field, what do you think field size or acreage they would need to support a barn? Or are you generally placing multiple barns on a field or what does that look like?
Zack Smith (18:07):
I want everybody listening to know that this has just been an experimental concept at this point. So we've done it. We've built three or four of these barns that I have been using on about a four-acre site on my home farm outside of Buffalo Center, Iowa. So we have not deployed fleets of these things yet. It's more been exploratory, figuring out what works and what doesn't work. To answer the question, I think ideally, I have an 80-acre field right now that I am trying to lay the groundwork with the strip inner cropping on 20-foot sections that I'm hoping within the next couple years if things go well, that will be my first actual production field of stock cropping. And on an 80-acre parcel, depending on how I set it up with blocking the field up into these blocks and then racetrack patterns, I will need roughly somewhere between 30 to 40 of our cluster cluck barns out there moving through those lanes.
Zack Smith (19:06):
I've built a model for a farm like that, and with the timing of the strips and knowing how it works with the pasture management, that is about pretty close to appropriate for having half of the field in row crop and then half the field in the strips. And then you have to have blocks in between the lanes where you would maybe have, maybe it would be an alfalfa operation or hay, something that you could still make use of these blocks in between where you would turn the barns around on, or these alleyways I should say, in between the blocks. But that would give you a rough idea. An 80 would be cut into thirds from a block size in this race track pattern, and then we would have hay alleyways in between the blocks is kind of what it would look like. But that's at a commercial level.
Zack Smith (19:59):
Honestly, I think about what we have the most interest in right now, and we can talk about it. There are a lot of challenges to scaling this up, a ton of them. But I think one of the things I'm most excited about with the barns is not somebody buying 20 or 30 of them. It's somebody buying one or two, and they have an acreage that they're tired of burning $4 gas on with a lawnmower, and they have all this space, and what if I could just have some lamb or some goats moving around and I don't have to go out and chore them because they're just moving themselves and the barn catches its own rainwater. So I have to maybe go out once a week and fill some water up, and they just move across in this controlled manner and manage my vegetation and I get some protein out of it at the end to share with my family and friends or whatever else.
Zack Smith (20:51):
And so I think initially, it was how do we make stock cropping take everything over in the corn belt. That's a nice idea, but that's not going to happen overnight. Eventually, that's a goal. I think there's a certain block of agriculture that's looking for opportunities that where they're not in the machine of just scaled monster production, looking for that opportunity, but I think there's a lot of folks not involved in agriculture at all, especially coming out of the pandemic that wants to be more in touch with where their food comes from. And getting more people involved in this business is something that I kind of want to spend the rest of my career focused on with this project.
Morgan Seger (21:33):
Very cool. When you said that you're working with Dawn or Joe at Dawn for manufacturing, do you use the roller crimper kind of thing when you're going back into corn in those same alleys the following year? Or are you spraying that or how do you plant into what was an alley the year before?
Zack Smith (21:54):
So all the species that we're using right now are annual. We don't have any perennial things. So they all die at the end of the year. And then what I have done up to this point is just gone in, and I've strip-tilled through it and then come back and plant the row crop into those strips because especially when we do sorghum, sedan grass, that stuff can be pretty matty and quite a bit of material there. So I don't know how well it would work to no-till directly into some of that stuff. But I think there are some mixes for the purists that want just a straight no-till type of system, I think it could be done, but you would just have to get the planter set up right to be able to manage to get through the residue and do something like that. But yeah, I mean John's ZRX would work really, really well for helping mat that stuff down and then divide to get through it.
Morgan Seger (22:51):
Earlier, you had mentioned that it's collecting its own rainwater. Tell me more about supplemental feed and water and what that looks like.
Zack Smith (23:01):
Yeah, so obviously your ruminants don't really need a lot. You can put mineral block, and I mean, some people may want to do a creep feed just to make sure that they're getting everything they need, but the pasture should suffice for that. The monogastric animals, like pigs and chickens, they stay on a full feed ration just like they would if they were in a confinement barn. A lot of people in this space think that everything should just be naturally grazed, but their stomachs don't work that way. You got to give them some grain. So ideally, down the road, I would want to be able to grind my own feed that's coming off of the field. I got a lot of other stuff going on. So I cheat on that. I go to the co-op, and they bag me up feed, and we take it out.
Zack Smith (23:53):
So the question is, how often do we have to chore and water? Right now, with the carrying capacity that we have in the barns and the number of animals that we have, it's usually every two or three days that we have to go out and fill the water up. And that's just simple as we've got a cage tank on the back of a UTV that we take out, and we've got banjo fittings that we can quickly lock everything up. And so it goes really quick and plumbed to the tanks that are inside that are also hooked to the gutter systems. So if it rains, we can collect water that way too. And then the same thing with the feed. We've set up the feed capacity so that we can go two or three days at a crack. You know what? Yeah, I don't know. I talk out of both sides of my mouth.
Zack Smith (24:37):
Anybody that has livestock knows that it's not a thing that you can just walk away from for a week or two at a time. So people hear me talk about autonomous stuff like the movement is autonomous, but the farming is not autonomous. A pig may grab a water line and drain all the water. And so if you're not out there looking at that or you have a system to detect that, that's an issue. So it's still very much a system that requires a set of eyes on it, probably daily. But we want to make the infrastructure for the logistics of feed and water something that's only a few times a week. So for example, if you want to go to the lake for the weekend, you don't have to have a neighbor necessarily come over and chore the barn for you.
Morgan Seger (25:26):
That makes sense. As you think ahead and as people are getting into maybe fuller production acres like you're saying, if someone decides to put this on an 80, will it impact later season applications that they maybe had planned? We're seeing more people rely on fungicides and things like that regularly. Do we still do those or does increased airflow reduce the need, or where do you see that going?
Zack Smith (25:54):
Yeah, so a couple of things. If you're marketing these to consumers and you're going to try to float a haggie in between and douse fungicide and insecticide, it's probably not going to go over too well or an airplane. So it's probably frowned upon a little bit. But the thought is with the design of the system. There are a lot of benefits like what you just said. You're going to increase airflow, you're changing the environment. Yeah, I mean, we've got tar spot here now and we've got northern corn leaf blight and common rust and all the things that can hit corn.
Zack Smith (26:32):
But from what I've seen, the plant health in these strips with strip inter-cropping, when you increase solar capacity on the edge effect, and you open things up, the plant health seems to be just overall generally better than when you put it in the stress of 30-inch corn. And so, is it going to control everything? Is it going to keep the tar spot completely at bay? I don't know if it will, but I do believe in the cultural differences of changing arrangements. And that will alter what happens with the disease triangle, too, on some of this stuff.
Morgan Seger (27:07):
Yeah, for sure. I was just thinking about that. And then some people are doing late-season nitrogen, and all of those things just would need to be probably experimented with and reevaluated as you change the system. So what else should we know about Stock Cropper?
Zack Smith (27:23):
I think what we're doing has hit a nerve with a lot of folks because it's a blend of both systems. I come from the production ag world where I know it's important to grow a lot of food, but I also come from the production ag world, and I realize all of the downfalls to a lot of the things that we have. And I see what's happening with the squeeze and the consolidation, and I think there's a lot of people that see that as well, especially that work in agriculture. There's a lot of folks that I've talked to that or have normal ag jobs, and they're like, "Man, this would be really cool if I could quit my job working for whoever, and just my family only owns 80 acres, and we rent it out, but then I could do this. "I'm like, "Yeah, I know. I get it." And so that's really what the spirit of Stock Cropper's about is how do we farm more intelligently where we can grow a lot. People can make a living. I'm not a purist. I'm not like this has to be all organic or this has to be nothing but taking what works for big ag. I'm very agnostic on all of that stuff, and I want to find a system that works environmentally for communities and opens up a pathway for more people to be better connected and think about things from a systems approach rather than just-
Morgan Sager (28:56):
Zack Smith (28:58):
Morgan Seger (29:00):
It's tricky, though, because so many of us are very good at that one thing, and the part I think that makes this change the hardest is thinking about direct-to-consumer meat products when we are row crop farmers. Do you have any insight on that transition or how someone can wrap their mind around almost a completely different business?
Zack Smith (29:26):
Yeah, no, I don't have that part figured out. I'll be the first one to admit it. And that is something that is incredibly important. But I also am very good friends with and work with closely another one of your previous podcast guest, Jason Mauck out in Indiana. And that guy is doing a lot of stuff where he is just basically. I think, creating a blueprint that could be replicated all across the country to enable folks to show them how to do this. Don't look to me for guidance on that. If people aren't following Jason @JasonMauck1 on Twitter, you should be to figure out that next connection. So I'm hoping that we're going to work together.
Zack Smith (30:10):
He's actually got one of our first barns at his new regenerative demonstration farm north of Indianapolis. And then he has a USDA kill facility and then the meat packaging plant in Muncie that he has. And what I'm hoping to do is that if we can get Stock Cropper where I'm hoping it's going to get to, that will be the first breeding grounds for putting a network of producers in and around his plant that we can fade into Indianapolis and that market and then try to create this ecosystem, show people how this could be done, get consumers bought into the system, and then hopefully we just replicate it.
Morgan Seger (30:47):
Well, and that would take a little bit of pressure off of those of us who are interested in this but are nervous about that piece.
Zack Smith (30:53):
Everybody tries to do this by themselves, and I think it is going to take some sort of cohesive brand with a set of standards, and people understand what that is, and that is a hundred percent transparent to the consumer level. With these barns, I want the consumer to essentially be able to look in at any point. Like in ag, we say, "Keep out." We have all these trespass laws now in Iowa. It's silly. What a terrible optic and I want full transparency with everything. And so the consumer is a part of the whole thing. I think there are more people interested in that than there ever have been before. And I want to feed into that interest.
Morgan Seger (31:37):
Sure. Do you plan on live streaming your barns?
Zack Smith (31:39):
Yeah, we already have. The first year we were live streaming every night on Facebook. And then, when we moved sites, the connectivity to wifi was not as good, and so we haven't been able to do it. But on our newest barns that we have, they have an AT&T mobile connection on them where we could definitely put a cell service on them where we could live stream a couple of different camera angles 24/7.
Morgan Seger (32:08):
So when we were chatting on the phone the other day before you came on our podcast here, you were strip-tilling cover crops.
Zack Smith (32:17):
I was strip-tilling into a field that we had seeded cover crops on two or three weeks ago, and the cover crops were just coming up now.
Morgan Seger (32:25):
Can you tell me more about some of these other things that you're doing to improve your soil health?
Zack Smith (32:30):
I mean, the whole reason I got into this vein is I've always been passionate about soil conservation and soil health. I kind of stumbled into it on accident when I got into strip-till. Soil health was not this in-vogue thing, but the more I did it, the more I saw stuff start to change, and I wanted to keep going down that rabbit hole. And now here we are. I'm doing those things on all the acres, which have gotten almost boring and old hat to me now. And like I said, this last year, I did a field of strip intercropping where we plant corn and beans every other 20 feet across the field – was successful with that. Grew some really good corn, and really good beans. I'm going to keep going with that as kind of the base field to set up for stock cropping down the road.
Zack Smith (33:17):
And then the other piece that I've been really interested in is we did a big test plot this year where we were comparing 30-inch regular corn to a 60-inch twin-row corn and 90-inch twin-row corn with this concept of planting other mixes in between to see how that would compare to 30-inch production. And so we just got that harvested last weekend and had some really, really favorable results, especially to the 60-inch twin-row corn. And so the idea is if you can get parody yields to 30-inch corn, then what you're normally getting, and you can create a space or a venue in between where you can somehow put livestock through the middle of that or grow, say, a legume-based cover crop that you would establish in early June and grow your nitrogen for the next year, and then just simply move over and plant your twin rows in that spot.
Zack Smith (34:13):
I know that not everybody is going to cluster cluck up and put livestock in the field, but I'm really interested in these other different schematics than how we do things now but could provide value that is for free. That's the big thing with what we're doing with Stock Cropper. We're not selling anything really right now. Eventually, we're going to sell cluster clucks, but I just like this idea of instead of needing a solution in a jug, just changing the arrangement of stuff and using plants in different arrangements and geometries to create value rather than paying somebody $600 a gallon to maybe get a marginal return every four years or something like that. I mean, that's the space I came from, and I know what that is, the reality of that, and just to compare that, I never sprayed anything on my fields that I ever sold that made me raise 303-bushel corn.
Zack Smith (35:09):
I didn't spray anything on that corn. All I did was change the arrangement, plant a few more plants in this edge effect thing, and I grew like 60-bushel acre better corn, and there was no bill to pay. What better thing as a farmer is that? And so that's what really gets me going now. And the network of people that I'm surrounded with are all kind of passionate, and it is just a very, very, very fun, rewarding space to be in. How we're going to make money with it, I don't know yet, but we'll figure that out eventually.
Morgan Seger (35:40):
Well, thank you for the work you're doing. It's really interesting to follow. I know you said you're not really selling the cluster clucks yet. Do you have an idea of what production for those might look like if someone's interested?
Zack Smith (35:52):
Yes. So up to this point, it's just been prototype development. However, Joe and I have met, and we've set out a goal of selling X amount of them for this next growing season. And so I don't know that I want to share the number right now, but I guess what I would say is it's going to be a limited number of barns that we're going to have the runway to produce, and we're going to be looking to put them into people that would be good strategic initial partners that would be still considering that this is basically a second or third generation prototype with the hopes of getting feedback and then be really ramping up for the 2024 campaign. So we're going to be making cluster clucks similar to what if people followed us this year that we released in September with some added improvements. And then we're also going to be making a new product that is going to be meant for backyards with an egg mobile type of deal that would be autonomous for a backyard version as well.
Zack Smith (37:00):
So, a couple of different products. And so, if people are interested, what I would do is go to our website, thestockcropper.com, and we have a mailing list you can sign up for. When we're ready to release that information, it will come through that, and I'll put it on my socials too, but we have a lot of interest. Every other day I get a couple of emails with, "Hey, when are you going to have this for sale?" And we can't go fast enough right now, but I'm very committed. Joe's very committed. We have to get it right and have something that is going to work for people, and we're very, very close to doing that.
Morgan Seger (37:40):
Awesome. Well, we'll link out to that in the show notes. One last question I have that we ask all of our guests is, what is one technology outside of your own that you're most excited about?
Zack Smith (37:51):
I listen to your podcast, and I'm like, oh, she's going to ask me that. It sounds really bad, but I am really excited about what I'm doing, and it's all that I really think about at this point. I'm going to be the bad guest that says I don't have something to answer that with. I'm pumped enough about what I'm doing that's got all my focus and attention right now.
Morgan Seger (38:14):
Hey, that's fair. Totally fair. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time.
Zack Smith (38:21):
Yeah, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Morgan Seger (38:23):
In some ways, this conversation almost felt like a continuation of those that we've had with Joe at Dawn in episode 44 and with Jason Mauck in episode 29. So if you're interested, I encourage you to go back and listen to those as well. I think the work that Zack is doing with his partners is really powerful and really could change the landscape in agriculture that we see here in the future. If this is something you're interested in, I encourage you to follow Zack on Twitter and on YouTube or check out stockcropper.com. As always, the show notes from this episode will be available at precisionaggreviews.com. While you're there, check out our grower-sourced reviews. We collect a database of information from growers like you who are using different pieces of precision ag equipment to help you make decisions when you are trying to make those changes on your farm. Let's grow together.
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