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15 minutes with a farmer: Lukas Fricke's advice on carbon programs

When Lukas Fricke returned to his family’s southeastern Nebraska farm after graduating from college in 2016, he wanted to put his degree to good use. An interest in sustainability and an early-adopter mind-set led the Ulysses, Nebraska, farmer to join a carbon program early. Here’s what he’s learned and his advice for farmers on how to evaluate these programs. 

SF: What spurred your interest in carbon programs? 

LF: I always wanted to figure out sustainability for my farm. At the same time, Land O’Lakes started what is now Truterra, which has a sustainability benchmarking tool. We evaluated for some different farming practices, such as strip-till. Because we had all the data and we were using the system, we had an opportunity to sell some extra carbon credits. The first offering was a look-back program, which accepted practices we had recently put in place, that sold credits to Microsoft and it worked up really nicely. 

SF: How do you use carbon programs on your farm? 

LF: On our farm, we try to be prescriptive and adopt the best practice for each piece of land. We try to be smart about what we’re doing on each acre. It’s really an opportunity for everybody. We still use crop protection products, and we still use GMOs [transgenic crops], so it’s not a fringe situation. I think a lot of people are more sustainable than what they know. It just takes time to put it down, get a metric, and then build off it.

SF: What should farmers consider when evaluating contracts? 

LF: The biggest thing is the term limit of the contract, as to how long you are involved in doing the [stated] practices. The other thing I looked for was how to get out of the contract if need be. It’s not that I want to, but I wanted to make sure fallbacks existed if something were to happen. One of the biggest things to consider was who owned the rights of the data and any related areas. Truterra is very farmer-friendly in that I own the data from the field. That was really important to us, and still gave us the ability to participate in future programs and other offerings that the crop might be involved in.

SF: How did you obtain your early-adopter mind-set? 

LF: I’ve always liked new technology. I like to look at data. I also like being different every once in a while. The best part is that I work with a brother who is very logic-minded, so I have to think through everything before I bring it to him. He is not a first adopter, so we have a good balance. For me, the excitement is in trying new technology. At the same point, I have to look at if it’s scalable and has long-term benefits. It helps to bounce those ideas off my brother.

SF: If you could tell a consumer anything about agriculture, what would you say?

LF: A big passion of mine is knowing we have to back up what we’re saying. I would tell consumers they can trust the food they eat. I am just as worried about the water, the air, and the soil as you are. I’m doing everything that I can to take care of that, and still be able to feed everybody up and down the road.

SF: What’s next for your farm? 

LF: Some of the biggest things we’re looking at is how we can increase our plant productivity through different applications and more biostimulants. We’re also always trying to make our data capture more efficient. We’ve been able to work with Truterra and AGI on applications in the tractor that collect data for us to make that carbon score more accurate. That’s been a really cool project.

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