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Brian Sutton

President and Founder of AirScout with operations in Illinois and Indiana

How many generations has your family been farming?

“My family has been on the same farm since 1862, and my son is now the sixth generation of farmers on the home place.”

Where are your operations, and within what geography do you operate?

“Our operations are in Northwest Indiana in the Great Lakes region.”

What crops do you grow, and how diverse is your operation?

“We grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay, along with many different cover crops. The farm has been no-till for over 20 years, and we’re going into our eighth year with cover crops. We also have beef cattle so we can complete the entire sustainability cycle.  We have also began to transition some of our fields into a Certified Organic program.”  

Why did you decide to get into farming?

“I was the oldest son and in line to take over the farm, but had the bad luck of coming out of high school in the 1980s during the last big farm crisis. Dad wasn’t sure if there would be much future there, so encouraged me to look elsewhere. The only other thing I liked doing was flying planes, (I learned to fly when I was 13 years old), so I decided to go to Purdue University and then eventually got hired by TWA which is now part of American Airlines. I now fly the 787 Internationally.”

“I was able to come back to the farm in the mid 1990’s, and partnered up with my brother. We went no-till at that time, and began to expand the operation. We also invested heavily in technology and began to experiment with aerial imagery. This eventually turned in a business now known as AirScout. We continue to push the boundaries of technology with this business as well as with the farm. The imagery has taught me many things, and has enabled me to build zones within each field that makes the technology on the planter and fertilizer equipment work. Precision Ag needs to start with good zones. Without that vital information, none of the fancy gadgets will ever pay.  This is what AirScout is all about.”

What is your favorite part of farming?

“It’s the fact that things are changing all the time. I’ve been faced with a lot of adversity over the years and have been challenged to continually become more efficient. In a strange kind of way, I like the challenge. I’ve watched how when we went to no till, it changed the soil on the farm. As I see cover crops in play, and begin to bring organic acres on line, I am impressed at how we can make a change for the better.” 

What is one thing that would surprise people about farming?

“Most of the guys I fly with are surprised by the technology. Farmers are still stereotyped as having pitchforks and straw hats. Most people don’t realize how much technology is available, and are amazed at how we use the imagery to change the way we farm and manage nitrogen for the benefit of all.”

What tech do you use today to look at land/do business?

“Imagery is a large part of land evaluation and management. Being able to watch the crops as they grow is particularly helpful.”

What is the biggest issue facing farming today?

“It’s adoption. You have to get all technologies to a point where it’s clearly more profitable to make the change. If it’s only marginally effective, most farmers won’t change.  A wise old farmer once told me “If its not profitable, its not sustainable”. Regardless of what we want farmers to do as a society, we need to keep this clearly in the front of our minds.”

What kinds of things do you think we should be doing to encourage more people to pursue a career in agriculture?

“First, you have to figure out a way to give them hope. Agriculture has been in a bad place for many years now. We need to figure out a way to make farmers hopeful that they will be profitable, and can see a clear path forward. If the farmer is not profitable, nothing in the ag industry is sustainable.”

Why did you decide to join the CIBO Farmer Advisory Network?

“I’ve been friends with CIBO co-founder Bruno Basso for years and have seen the impact of his model. SALUS is clearly ahead of any other models I have had the opportunity to evaluate. When I see Bruno’s model, it gives me hope that it can be used on my farm in the future as I continue to quantify mineralization. Other models just aren’t asking the right questions, but if we can make SALUS work for farmers, we can have a significant impact on the future of agriculture.”

What are you hoping to get out of the board?

“Understand better what CIBO is trying to do, and help steer them in a direction that uses SALUS for the farmers’ benefit.”

What type of feedback are you looking forward to contributing to the board?

“I think I can help the team pull several different technologies together in a practical manner that works on the farm.” 

What do you hope CIBO can make better?

“I think CIBO has tremendous potential. It’s exciting to work on advancing farming technology from both ends.  I believe the SALUS model can help farmers understand soil and particularly nitrogen better. The way we have handled nitrogen for the past 100 years is not sustainable. As I said, to get something new adopted, it must be profitable. I think that with SALUS, we can get farmers to adopt change, and ultimately benefit everyone.”

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