Case Study: Josh Kroeplien's Fertility Programs Flourish with Biology

Case Study: Josh Kroeplien's Fertility Programs Flourish with Biology

Not that long ago Agriculture had two distinct categories of farmers—“organic” or “conventional” with very few farmers in between. Today’s fastest-growing segment for Purple Cow Organics is the biologically minded conventional grower. Regenerative Farmers, Sustainable Farmers, or Organically Principled Farmers represent the growing number of professionals prioritizing the benefits of biology in their farming systems. It has not always been easy for these farmers to find support and guidance, but that too is changing. 

Nitrogen (N) management emphasizes adding carbon and biology to a nitrogen program with timely application. Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) management focuses on getting the most from your soil, manures, and applied fertilizer.

One of our customers, Josh Kroeplien from Fly by Acres, saw his high-profile 700-acre farm increase yield by 10% from the efficiencies brought about by using a BIOACTIVE™ program.

Watch the entire conversation between Josh Kroeplien and Steve Stumbras here.

Fly By Acres Ag Services

Fly by Acres Ag Services, LLC has been helping farmers with their inputs since 2016. When biologicals started to hit the market, they were seen as a “bug in a jug” and were faced with skepticism by farmers. In the beginning, there were no clear answers as to whether biologicals were making a difference. They were expensive, and nobody understood how they worked quite yet.

Josh Kroeplien, founder and owner of Fly by Acres began with some in-furrow products added to his starter programs. With his engineering background, he knew he needed data on how biology could positively impact the outcomes on his customers’ farms.

“When we first started talking in 2015 and 2016, there were a lot of people teasing us saying ‘Oh, you guys are playing with snake oils’…now we’re getting people today that are coming in and want to understand why it’s working,” Kroeplien explains. “They want more education on what they’re hearing and seeing in the results.”

Josh Kroeplien on Working with Co-Op Products

Many factors can impact profits on the farm, but good soil is key to increased profit. As a spray service provider, Josh knows that good equipment for precision applications and better cultural practices like split applications can positively impact the bottom line. Josh works to enhance the products his customers get from the local Co-Ops in ways that decrease costs and increase both yields and profit.

For Kroeplin’s customers, he first gets them into a liquid carbon product starting at a 90/10 inclusion—90% nitrogen and 10% carbon-heavy products, such as Molasses. Nitrogen (N) management adds carbon and biology to a nitrogen program while making timely, split applications. From there Kroeplin stacks biologicals into the systems—80% nitrogen, 10% carbon, 10% biology (BIOACTIVE LiquiLife™). Now, farms are experimenting with inclusion rates of carbon and biology of 30-40%.  

“We’re trying to build our bugs (microbes) and our biology back up to not only get us results and yields and profitability this year but build them up for a marathon to make our soil better and healthier for years to come,” says Kroeplien.

Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) management strives to get the most from your soil, manures, crop residue, and applied fertilizer.

Published estimates on fertility efficiency today suggest only 30-70% of applied nitrogen gets to the plant. 30-60% of applied Potassium gets into the plant and only 5-30% of applied Phosphorus is taken up by the crop. In other words, 70% to 95% of the phosphorus applied is either lost or immediately tied up in the soil. One of the main reasons P applications are so inefficient is Phosphorus readily binds to calcium, iron, aluminum, silicate minerals, hydrous oxides, and carbon in the soil humus. Bio-availability, as opposed to solubility, means the unique characteristics of soil microorganisms help access a far greater proportion of the total phosphorus back in the soil.

Kroeplien’s approach to phosphorus uptake is not more applied phosphorus, but rather more applied biology.

Residue in the fall breaks down faster and more effectively. Biologicals then help the microbes access the nutrients within that residue and expedite the process. Previously, fields could take two to three years to break down a root ball from a corn plant. With biology in play, farmers see those root-balls broken down completely within one full crop cycle. Healthy microbiology can recycle the NPK from the residue to use in the next growing season.

Depend on Your Soil

“In our area, our soils have enough NPK to last us for years to come,” Kroeplien explains. “We just need to learn how to harness and utilize it today.”

For Kroeplien’s customers, using a biological allows farmers to depend on the field to provide the nutrients, instead of continuously applying inputs that may not be needed. When those inputs are needed, it is in smaller doses.

Kroeplien says that farmers following his lead and have invested in microbials and biologicals are seeing lower input costs, especially for fertilizer. In cost comparisons, that is about $100/acre for conventional fertilizers with biologicals versus $200-$300/acre for those not using biologicals. That starts them with an almost $200 advantage toward their margins from inputs alone.

“Customers are always looking for that silver bullet to solve the problem,” Kroeplien says. “Not one product is going to be that. It’s about combining multiple products to get a bigger effect.”

Josh Kroeplien – Increasing yields, saving thousands

Kroeplien’s 700-acre farm saw this advantage in the last growing season. Their program uses 100% conventional fertilizer, which would have been over $160,000 in total inputs. Due to their multiple years of utilizing biologicals, this farm is looking at $67,000 in inputs to accomplish the same goal. That’s almost $100,000 in savings over 700 acres.

The focus is a return on investment in the first year, improved yields in the second, and continuing that momentum to better and better fields over the years.

Many factors can lead to cost savings—good soil, lots of minerals from manure, good equipment for precision applications, and split applications of inputs. The remarkable results from farmers utilizing broad-spectrum biologicals within their systems prove that a BIOACTIVE™ program can be advantageous on many levels.

Kroeplien says, “With biology, we’re making the soil work for us.”

Want to read more about improving fertility efficiency? Check out our farm trial with Josh Hiemstra here.