Top Producers gather to discuss challenges, opportunities

The ESN Smart Nitrogen team was front and center as hundreds of farmers from across the U.S. gathered in Chicago Jan. 27-29 for the annual Top Producer conference.
The event featured a tradeshow, seminars , workshops, high profile keynote speakers, and panel sessions on current hot topics such as leadership transition/succession planning, growth strategies, farmland value trends, and risk management.

With this year’s theme of ‘Cultivate Every Opportunity,’ the ESN booth was busy with farmers asking how the unique controlled-release nitrogen product could help them boost yield and overall ROI when crop prices are trending low. (For more information on top ‘ROI Killers’, click here.)

“Guys naturally have a lot of questions as they put together their nutrient plan,” says ESN marketing representative Kent Broscoff, who is based out of Minnesota. “We understand how important it is to maximize that investment, and ESN is a product with a great track record in all kinds of crops and conditions. Once they give it a try by running a test, they see the strengths it brings to the crop.”

Doug Sibbitt, National Account Manager with Nutrien, gets to see ESN in action across the U.S. and up into Canada. “The polymer coating protects the nitrogen against early release when the plants don’t need it, and we’ve seen it protect the nitrogen when the fields get absolutely water-logged. Once the right conditions activate it, it’s going to feed the growing plants every step of the way. Some guys have the approach that they’ll just keep increasing the urea they’re applying, but when the field’s are in rough shape that’s a big case of diminishing returns.”

Sibbitt says the best approach in communicating the efficacy of ESN is to demonstrate the product in the field in the exact conditions faced by the farmer. He helps farmers work with their agronomy experts and retailer to incorporate ESN into their plans, and he also works with the rest of the ESN team to hold many grower plot tours throughout the season. One of the farmers who approached the ESN booth wanted to know specifically about ESN performance on wheat.

“We are fortunate to have compiled hundreds of years of in-field data provided through the university extension system,” Sibbitt explains. “That’s credible, third-party research that provides the farmer with a clear idea of the yield boost he can expect. With regards to the wheat question, we’ve seen ESN boost the protein level, too, and we have research to back it up.”

At Top Producer, the hallway conversations are just as important as the formal sessions. Pam Fretwell, head of digital projects for Farm Journal, which hosts Top Producer, said the amount of knowledge transferred between farmers is astonishing.

“These tend to be farmers from very successful operations, so they are sharing some of the hard won lessons learned from the field,” she said during a break in programming. “The program committee does a tremendous job of lining up speakers and topics that are absolutely on the cutting edge. From input planning to dealing with the extremes in weather the past few years, Top Producer has become a real hub for knowledge transfer.”

Joe Leininger is a fourth generation farmer in Indiana. Guests of the ESN team, he and his father get a lot out of the annual event because it always features conversations around new technologies and ideas. “We’re skeptical by nature but at the same time open to being as progressive as possible,” Leininger said during a dinner. He mentioned that there is a lot of buzz around precision agriculture, but the best tools are the ones that can quantify ROI. “We have to see results in the field, that’s just being a responsible business operator.”

Back at the ESN booth, Broscoff is showing a farmer a jar filled with water and ESN . “It’s a simple but very effective way to demonstrate how the nitrogen granule is protected,” he says, giving the jar a little shake.

“It’s been a great event for us,” adds Sibbitt. “We get a chance to meet face to face with our customers, potential customers, and business partners. But the best part of my job is still seeing the reaction on a farmer’s face when we head out into the field and he sees that his nitrogen is still protected by that coating.”

Watch SmartTalk for regular updates on field tours and demonstrations in your region.