“I always try to keep pushing the envelope forward and every morning when I wake up I try to be better than I was yesterday.”
— Steve Hunt, President, H&R Agri-Power
For this episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers & Innovators Podcast, brought to you by SOURCE® from Sound Agriculture, Steve Hunt, president of Case IH dealership H&R Agri-Power (winner of the 2023 No-Till Innovator Award for business category), talks about his dealership’s involvement with Harry Young Jr. and the first-ever commercial no-till plots on U.S. soil.
- No-Till’s Past, Present and Future with the Harry Young Family — from the Kentucky Field Where it all Started,
- Stewarding The Birthplace Of No-Till,
- Personal Memories of No-Till’s First Field (1962)
No-Till Farmer‘s No-Till Influencers & Innovators Podcast podcast is brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.
SOURCE®️ from Sound Agriculture is a soil activator that gives crops access to a more efficient source of nitrogen and phosphorus. A foliar application of SOURCE provides 25 pounds of nitrogen & phosphorus per acre and enhances micronutrient uptake by stimulating beneficial microbes, and its performance is supported by a cash-back guarantee. Learn more at www.sound.ag.
Full TranscriptMackane Vogel:
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast, brought to you by Source from Sound Agriculture. I'm Mackane Vogel, assistant editor of No-Till Farmer. In today's episode, Steve Hunt, president of Case IH dealership, H&R Agri-Power, winner of the 2023, No-Till Innovator Award for Business Category. Talks about his dealership's involvement with Harry Young Jr. And the first ever commercial no-till plots on US soil.Dan Perkins:
All right, So let's talk No-Till a little bit. When did you first get involved with No-Till and what did that look like?Steve Hunt:
I'll tell you, it's going to go back a generation for me and that's my father. So my father started out with [inaudible 00:00:51] Grayson Company as a fertilizer salesman years ago and he was involved with probably the first No-Till that there was in our county, which is Christian County Kentucky. And Mr. Harry Young, he's kind of the grandfather of No-Till. So dad was his fertilizer salesman and sold him some fertilizer and was aware of what Mr. Harry was doing there. So we're about five miles from my house is where it was first ever experimented with, be truthful with you. So kind of unique there.Dan Perkins:
In the US?Steve Hunt:
In the whole US. That's right, that's right.Dan Perkins:
And that was about when?Steve Hunt:
You're going to date me now. Probably, and I have to be careful here. I think it was like the year I was born about 1961 and it was in the sixties, the early sixties. Now Mr. Harry's books out there. I just got the exact dates and everything and Charlie Phillips, the Alice [inaudible 00:01:47] planter engineer that helped him get started and do what he was doing. But I think he very first No-Till it could have been tobacco with that kind of experimental deal. Can't remember, Deb can tell you all the story, but very unique there to just have that starting out in the county really was.Dan Perkins:
Yeah, absolutely. It's neat for me to talk to you about that personal note.Steve Hunt:
Sure. Sure.Dan Perkins:
So you know Phil Needham.Steve Hunt:
Yes, Phil.Dan Perkins:
A little bit about him. He wrote that you were the first to work with and test that case 500 No-Till drill. So tell me about Phil and that No-Till drill. What were you thinking, testing that demo? What did it turn into?Steve Hunt:
Right. That's a very good question Phil. Phil first of all is a good friend, a good friend of the family of my sons. He's an Englishman, came over from England. Billy Joe Miles, Miles Farm Supply group brought he and Chris Boley over to help us with our wheat yields. We were just terrible with wheat yields back in those days and the English were growing a hundred bushel wheat back then I think. But so Chris and Phil did a lot for the wheat industry in Kentucky where we started there. And yeah, we were pretty intimately involved with Case IH and the development of the 500 T drill. So we're kind of a hybrid dealer principle model here. We farm as well as have the dealership and we are in a pretty remote area so they could come do a lot of demo and testing and nobody come driving by the four lane highway.
So we're right next to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, a big air base down there. So they're sealed off from the south. Nobody can get even in them. So anywhere around them brought the first 500 T unit down. It didn't even look like a drill, it just was on a little cart and they took a bunch of readings and they planted wheat and no-till corn stalks. So when no-till the wheat and irrigated corn stalks I should say. So very unique concept. They were developing and trying to see if we could drill wheat, intercede the wheat in those very robust residue left by that irrigated corn. And that's where the first testing that I was aware of that was, and that might've been some other somewhere else, but we kind of got involved with that testing group.Dan Perkins:
Then what happened?Steve Hunt:
We didn't know at the time what it was going to do, but they had already drilled and they were good with the data that they had gathered and a week or two went by and the weed started coming up. I said, "Okay, this might be a good concept here." So it has turned out to be evolved into the 500 T drill and we sell a lot. We're a hundred percent no-till wheat on our farm. And there was an initiative by the Kentucky [inaudible 00:04:46] Association, which I was on that board back then. My son's on that board now to be 50%, no-till wheat by the year 22,000. So our board had really pushed it. It conserves your soil, it doesn't have erosion problems and you can make more money with it. So we try to no-till the wheat, no tillage there. Not every field we can do that way with, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot... Majority of them, we are a hundred percent no-till today.Dan Perkins:
So you were talking about no-till and where you can and can't do it talking herbicides, fungicides, maybe you could... How do those other practices help in combination with these no-till drill equipment and practice?Steve Hunt:
Right. So we have a pretty wide variability in our slopes. So erosion control is for sure imperative. So that's where a no-till comes in really. So we don't have to till the soil whatsoever just go in there and no-till the wheat and the stalks. So when you no-till the wheat and your weed presence is there. So you have to be sure your herbicide program is ramped up enough to handle all that difference that you'd be pressure wise for weeds and stuff. So Phil does a great job helping us manage that agronomy part of our wheat program, our no-till wheat program and changing up those herbicides, be sure we don't build resistance all along taking care of those necessary weeds suppression. So yeah, it is all a system approach to farming is what it is.Dan Perkins:
What would happen if you couldn't use those weed control?Steve Hunt:
We probably couldn't no till if we didn't have some control for broadleaf weeds. It's the soils there, you've got the corn stalks, you've got some weeds even going up while you're drilling the wheat. There's weeds there already established. So you have to kill those and then keep those in check throughout the growing season for the wheat, which it's a spring and fall application, you have a fall application to be sure they don't get out of hand then spraying, you have to treat it again because they go dormant and they come out in the spring and start growing. So again, it's an approach. It definitely takes some management, that's for sure.Dan Perkins:
And then residue management and fungicides [inaudible 00:07:05].Steve Hunt:
So we've evolved into a lot of fungicide use, which has really helped our yields. So first of all, on the corn, which makes a lot more residue for the corn, which falls down and then you have to no-till the wheat through that. So we have to have a pretty good product to get through that all along the wheat and Phil and Chris and those guys brought this from England, Syngenta companies and then there's other companies today that make the fungicides for the wheat that really make our wheat healthier longer. Because we're in, right there on the Mason Dixon line. And we get introduced into all kind of different diseases that we have to stave off with fungicides. So we might apply fungicides three times on our wheat crop just in different periodic times to be sure we suppress that disease that's coming on. It's all weather, well majority weather driven. So really wet, humid conditions and again developed in England very first. So mythology is there, agronomy is behind it. It definitely makes us more weak for sure.Dan Perkins:
Great. Let's talk about your role in the case of dealer advisory board. Maybe talk briefly about how you got involved with that but also how that your role maybe and that has helped No-Till.Steve Hunt:
Sure, absolutely. I was on the Case IH dealer advisory board and I was on the crop subcommittee under that advisory board. That's where I started on the board. So we go to the meetings and they ask our opinions as dealers. And again, I bring a little different perspective being a farmer slash dealer to the table that a lot of them don't have. There's more than me that way, but still it's a different model. So when we start talking about planters and what we needed for planning and seeding as well with the warranty, I give some direct input on what we need and just like I said, we can't get through the residue with the current no-till drills properly to get a seed to soil contact to get that emergence, bring that to the table. And that's kind of where, I guess where the 500 T drill was born that way.
So single disc drill, that's kind of where it came from. And our 2000 series planter, we had a 1200 series plant that was great, but it still needed some refinement. So Case IH took all of the dealers, not just mine but all the dealers input in the room and went back and built a 2000 series planter unit that is best in class. I mean it's hands down by far the best. Again, we had a lot of input there on our own farming operation with those developments and the tickle of death by the way to do that, to have something that's going to really work well to promote farmers bottom line is what we're after to make sure we can help everybody make more money. That's how we stay in business. But we're pretty innovative in our county. That's where the Martin row cleaner was born there.
I mean that kind of took no-till to the next level. So my uncle was very good friends with Mr. Howard Martin and they collaborated some of them that even, and it was very unique in what they developed for sure. And it turned out to be very popular obviously. And Steve, his son's taken that company and developed more products and my son works with Steve quite a bit on new products all the time for different attachments and different needs we have. So very good. Enjoyed the time on the DEB and really felt like our group made a lot of input there on No-Till and helping No-Till further.Dan Perkins:
It sounds like you guys really pushed him to the next level on getting No-Till commercialized so that people could really reliably use that practice.Steve Hunt:
Sure, absolutely. So definitely, definitely.Dan Perkins:
I'm not trying to put words in your mouth.Steve Hunt:
No, no, you're a hundred percent right.Dan Perkins:
That's what I'm hearing.Steve Hunt:
Yep, yep. Well, not bragging about anything here. We told them what we thought, what we needed and that's what we did and it worked very well.Dan Perkins:
If you're on the dealer advisory board, I guess you advise them, right?Steve Hunt:
That's what it means. Don't ask me if you don't want to know.Dan Perkins:
So let's talk twin spinner, combine options.Steve Hunt:
Oh, yeah.Dan Perkins:
This is another technology you got on board with pre early, so tell... Well maybe just describe it real quick. Twin spinner, combine, what does it mean?Steve Hunt:
Yeah. So the twin spinner on the Case IH combine it's residue management at the rear of the combine and how it distributes the residue. So really I can't take credit for that. I'm just going to have to tell you. Scott Huber asked me why I wasn't using that. Okay. Scott and I are really good friends. Okay. And Scott has double cropping, no-till just like we do. And going back, if you roll the clock back here 10 years prior to the AFX combine, the older model combines 2388s and 2588s had the twin spinner on the back. So that wasn't available on the new AFX initially. So I think it was developed maybe for the rice country. I'm not a hundred percent sure somebody in case will probably correct me on that, but Scott made me aware of that option was out there.
He said, "You've got to have those." And we started using those twin spinners could control the speed on the old combine. You couldn't. It just was set. But with that, with the chopper and the combine, the new high residue management chopper, that Case IH has, you could manage a residue unbelievably best in class, I mean still is today. So we still have that ability to test. If you make it, you got to put it back out there and you got to spread it out pretty even because you're going to have to go through it again. So the case has done a good job of the homework on that might not have been developed for wheat, but we're using it for wheat. It's awesome by the way.Dan Perkins:
Why not?Steve Hunt:
Yeah. Phil liked it because he could clamp through the corn stalks and the beans [inaudible 00:13:15] and stuff without any problem. He loved the way it did distribute the residue behind the combine. But awesome.Mackane Vogel:
We will come back to the episode in a moment. But first I'd like to thank our sponsor Source from Sound Agriculture for supporting today's podcast. If you want to make your fertilizer plan more efficient, source it. Source from Sound Agriculture optimizes the amount of crop nutrition supplied by the microbes in your soil providing 25 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus per acre. It's cost-effective and easy to use. Just throw it in the tank and spray in season if you want to unlock your crop's potential and increase ROI. There's only one answer, source it. Learn firstname.lastname@example.org. And now let's get back to the episode.Dan Perkins:
Well beyond prototyping, you've been working with education and promotion on variable nitrogen rate.Steve Hunt:
Why would you do that with a no-till system?Steve Hunt:
Yeah, that's a good question. This kind of goes back to my tenure on the Kentucky small [inaudible 00:14:26] board. Okay. And working with University of Kentucky, Phil Needham, Lord Murdoch, Dr. Murdoch was kind of the grandfather of this with us. We were the practical application. We had the equipment, we used the Trimble equipment, the green seeker technology, and this kind of goes way back here to water quality really. So this is where the nitrogen management before it gets so expensive, that's where we were trying to be sure we were sounding what we were doing out there. Not just putting on a hundred units to put on a hundred units put on what that crop needed, where it needed it. So we've done a significant testing with it and in fact more than Trimble, I think ag leader has that today. I mean there's several [inaudible 00:15:16] in the market today that actually does that.
So we've pretty much every acre of our wheat, the second shot always gets that green sticker around over it and just put the nitrogen where you need it. So it reads the chlorophyll and the leaf, the algorithms that fill and Dr. Murdoch and my son kind of all collaborated together. We have a test strip so we have to kind of teach it what to do. It takes off and goes and it applies to the nitrogen. So it's pretty amazing how it works. You won't put... You won't overly, but you won't under apply. So you might have some yellow wheat out there that really needs maybe 130 units and 60 units at a time, whatever. It'll put that on there for you. Where if you have a really green streak where if you had maybe a tobacco patch or something that kind of got an edge of it'll back that rate off. So you won't put too much on us. Therefore, conserving the nitrogen costs today by the way, and the nitrates in the soil. We're putting what the plant needs, where it needs it.Dan Perkins:
How many people in your sense are doing that?Steve Hunt:
Several. I think there's some technology out there coming even today that's going to be even more advanced than that today. So Dan, it's where it's all headed. I mean technology is driving our profitability on the farm. That technology goes back a lot of years ago, more than 10 years ago. So there's more technology. Today's going to drive our business and drive our profitability on the farm too as well.Dan Perkins:
You just answered the next question without me asking it.Steve Hunt:
That's not good is it. M [inaudible 00:16:49] I messed up.Dan Perkins:
No, that's great. All right, so for your farm, I guess when did you adopt no-till and then why did you decide to do it? And you were an early adopter, so what was the community's reaction then and now?Steve Hunt:
Right. That's a very good question. So when I was managing our family farm operation, we weren't as much no-till as we are today. Brandon, my son, come back to the farm from college and I was on the [inaudible 00:17:19] board. That's kind of when the no-till initiative came along. And also the equipment, the 500 T drill came out. We were no-till corn. And that's a little bit of our soils or soul rich in clay that we have a hard time, no-tilling. And some people have done it fairly successfully. We were not that successful. So today we're strip tilling a corn, we do everything in strip till for the most part we can. And that'll break up that clay barrier and that clay compaction and plant that seed right over the top of that rip trench, which is great. The wheat we're just a hundred percent no-till wheat. We've got that. Brandon's done a good job with the process with fills help of getting that process down.
Again, it's a system way of farming. There's things you got to do different, just like strip till is some things you have to do different. It's not for everybody, but it's been adopted quite significantly to be truthful with you and it's where the money is. So you do it for the monetary reasons here and the yield and both come out.Dan Perkins:
Did you get sideways looked from people when you started it?Steve Hunt:
Some of them called it... Let's see what they got, farming ugly, I've heard that... Planting that wheat with those corn stalks still standing out there. You're out there planting with a drill and it doesn't look too pretty and it comes up and you get good germination, but you really can't see it real good until a wheat gets up about this tall and still see the corn stalk sticking through it. But it's all about the... Yeah. What did they do out there? It looks like [inaudible 00:18:58]. So again, it's all about the bottom line. Where can you generate the most revenue? That's for sure.Dan Perkins:
And so now I imagine it's kind of commonplace more people are doing it, the community sort of, maybe not everybody's on board but it's more mainline mainstream, maybe.Steve Hunt:
Yeah. From no-till there's been some minimum till come out. They just knocked the stalks down one time, then run a no-till drill over it and then everybody's preferences are different. But I think that the evolution of No-Till has changed a lot of the way we do things. It really has from Mr. Harry's start with old Alice [inaudible 00:19:35] planter and the big footed culture there. It's came a long way. It really has.Dan Perkins:
Well congratulations. I understand you got an award this year, your dealership or your business for the No-Till Innovator Award.Steve Hunt:
Yeah. Thank y'all for that. Appreciate it very much.Dan Perkins:
Yeah. So what does that award mean to you and your business?Steve Hunt:
Oh, I'll tell you what, to put us in a class that does in my... This is my opinion, but first of all we're all about our people. It's not about Steve Hunt, Wayne Hunt, it's about our people in the business. I'm kind of all really to be honored in this regard because you put us in a bucket with Mr. Harry Youngs of the world and the true innovators, the [inaudible 00:20:19] Dean Martins of the world. I mean those guys are the true innovators. We always have tried to help the farmers be better. That's what our job is. Does that sell iron? Sure it's going to sell iron some, but it sells the right iron. We want to be sure to try to help that farmer make more bottom line because he's going to spend money. If he does, he's going to be in business if he does. And that's what our job is as equipment dealer.Dan Perkins:
Well it sounds like you're well deserving based on the-Steve Hunt:
[inaudible 00:20:47].Dan Perkins:
... You've told me today and your involvement over the years. So really congratulations. I think you deserve to be in that.Steve Hunt:
Well Dan, thank you very much. And again, I'm pretty humbled by the award. It's in a whole different class. It really is. But again, I can't say it enough. It's about our people and our company and what we've done and that's what we've got leadership and they drive every day to just what we've been talking about today. They look at it and what does that farmer need? Are we filling that farmer's need today? Do we have all the gaps covered? That's what we look at and we set ourselves apart that way. We try to anyway. So appreciate the award. Thank you very much. It's very honored to receive the award.Dan Perkins:
Great work. So I guess this is your time to tell us whatever you're working on, whatever you'd like to tell us about what you've got going on.Steve Hunt:
Yeah, well Brandon needs to be here more than me on this probably... We're all the time refined farming operation, our own farming operation, strip till conference coming up here and it's pretty innovative there. Jeff Morgan's on our management team. It's hard to demo strip till all the way to planning, but we really are looking at that pretty hard here. It's definitely a difference. Now, it's not going to be to the extent everywhere, but in our area it's a significant difference when you do the strip till process. And it is a process. It took us to hunt farms. It took several years to get there with equipment, but we're really evaluating the strip till process and fertility, where to go. It's pretty challenging. Exactly what do you do? We're old fertilizer people. So we feed the soil to feed the plants. So where is the best bang for the buck there and to help farmers make the most bottom line.
That's what we're after today. We're really chasing that pretty hard. We see a pretty bright future we think for that process. That's pretty much wherever you are. There's going to be some difference in different areas for sure. But in our home county where the Red Clay is, we know what it will do because just tillage alone is a significant difference. But it's not for everybody. You got to manage to get there. And boy, Brandon, we're still not a hundred percent strip till ourself, but we're trying to get there though. And it definitely is a difference for sure. So we're trying to be on the cutting edge of stuff like that and looking at that autonomy. Where's autonomy going to fit in here and what is the next thing here? So I think that's what we're try to look for, is to be sure we keep pushing, keep looking, keep driving forward here to help our customers be better. That's what I do every morning when I get up. I want to be better than I was yesterday.Mackane Vogel:
That's it for this episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators podcast. Thanks to Steve Hunt for that great conversation. And thanks to our sponsor Source from Sound Agriculture for helping to make this podcast possible. A transcript of this episode and our archive of previous podcast episodes are both available at no-till farmer.com/podcasts. And for entire staff here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Mackane Vogel. Thanks for listening. Keep on no tilling and have a great day.