Jerrod Sandness, 48
3rd Generation Farmer, Sandness Brothers Farms

Hometown: Gwinner, ND
Family: Wife and three daughters
Crops: Corn and Soybeans
Community Involvement: James Valley Grain Board

Jerrod Sandness (seated) with his wife and three daughters.

In the past three decades the United States has seen a decrease in the number of family farms. According to the USDA, from 1982-2012 family-owned farming operations decreased in number by 130,000.  That statistic, coupled with an increasing population demanding to be fed, leads those who still are farming, like Jarrod Sandness and his brother Corey, to feel learning is key to staying successful.

“I went to NDSU for Ag Econ and then went to work at a fertilizer plant for four years,” said Sandness.  “Higher education is very important and getting more important all the time.  Farming is now technology-based, and the margins are getting tighter than they were even 10 years ago. In my opinion, you’ve got to have a business background and keep studying.  I go to a lot of ag meetings and listen to a lot of different speakers. I also watch the Hefty webinars.”

Sandness says that research helps him determine which planters and seed monitors will work best for his field, and he employs new practices based on what he has learned from reading and talking with other farmers.

“We used to soil sample a whole field as one, and we spread the whole field according to that one sample,” he said.  “The last couple of years we have started variable rate fertilizing and taking soil samples in several different areas of one field.  There are spots where maybe we would have spread 100-150 lbs. of phosphate, and now we are only spreading 40-50 lbs. We are now also starting to spread gypsum and lime in places we never have before in an effort to get the soil the right nutrients it needs to grow the best crops.”

By spreading lime, farmers increase calcium levels in the soil, which increases the porosity and the amount of oxygen. This improves soil health and soil nutrient balance and gets soil pH into an ideal range.

Sandness says each additional step taken has been financially worth it during a time where profitability is top of mind.

“The overall economy concerns me,” he said.  “It seems like prices went up on everything when corn was going for $6-$7 per bushel, and now that it’s under $3 it doesn’t seem like a lot of those prices are coming down.”

Another concern for Sandness is the public perception of farming.

“I think farming has gotten a black eye simply because a lot of non-farming people don’t understand what we do,” he said.  “The main misconception surrounds GMOs. Everyone thinks, ‘Oh my gosh GMOs and Roundup are going to kill us all.’ They simply don’t understand how much GMO crops save us from spraying more insecticides and everything else that would have to go on the field if it wasn’t a GMO crop.”

Events like the Rose Parade where farmers can get out in the public eye and answer some of those questions will hopefully help people understand where their food comes from and why it is grown the way it is, as well as shed new light on how vital farmers are to our economy.

“In big cities I don’t know if people really think much of the farmer; but in the United States everything really does run around the farm,” Sandness said.  “We feed the world.  The economy in our state is primarily run off of farming.  If farmers don’t make money, small towns don’t make money.  Farming is the heart of the nation.