Thursday, March 7, 2019

Minnesota Pig Farmer Leads by Example on Water Quality
This blog was submitted by the National Pork Board in Celebration of National Ag Day.

Randy Spronk takes safeguarding the environment very seriously on his family’s
Edgerton, Minnesota, pig farm. He has since the day he started raising pigs almost
40 years ago.Spronk has decades of data and information on his farm’s environmental 
footprint — overall water quality, how many gallons of manure his farm has yielded, 
how many gallons have been applied to his crop acres, how his crops have utilized 
that manure and more.

He does it first and foremost because it’s the right thing to do. He’s also been able to 
make use of that data in ways that improve his farm’s overall environmental footprint. 
t’s enabled him to put his attention to his natural surroundings into action by taking 
further steps to improve the performance of both his pigs and row crops.

Real Pig Farming sat down with Spronk to discuss his farm’s history and 
how he uses technology to sustainably raise pigs and crops in on his southwestern 
Minnesota farm.

Real Pig Farming: Talk about your history as a pig farmer and your farm today.
Randy Spronk: I graduated from college in animal science in 1981, then moved 
back home and started with 100 sows. I bought the farm in 1988 and partnered with 
my brothers. We started together with a 300-sow farrow-to-finish farm, and we’ve 
grown ever since then. Spronk Brothers is our livestock farm, and we have around 

10,000 sows now. We have our own on-farm feed mill and are vertically integrated 
backwards. We harvest 2,600 crop acres and we feed all of our own pigs.

RPF: What are your water quality goals?
RS: For my entire farming career, I have made the environment a huge priority. It’s 
a lot of hard work, but it’s a labor of love. I know that if I don’t take care of the 
environment around me, it will take care of me. I obviously want to improve our 
water quality, and show society that we can improve overall water quality. We want 
to make it better, not just prevent it from eroding. I want to be part of the solution, 
not part of the problem. At the farm level, I work to ensure that once that water is 
on our farm and in our pig barns, the manure doesn’t go anywhere until I am 
ready to use it agronomically, and then I am going to use it for an agronomic benefit. 
I don’t waste any water.

RPF: Why is water quality so important to you?
RS: Our farm is on the Buffalo Ridge, which is sort of the “Continental Divide” 
between the Missouri and Mississippi River watersheds. It’s a critical area for 
water quality, and we’ve always wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the 
problem. I’ve always felt that I’m a caretaker entrusted not just with the pigs, but 
the soil and water here. That’s my occupation, it’s what I do every day, and it’s what 
I was educated to do. It’s important to me to utilize these resources — our soils and 
water — to produce food and make decisions that benefit both me and society. 
We all coexist.

RPF: What makes your attention to water quality unique?
RS: We’re certified with the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification
Program and I have a third-party verification conducted that shows the farm’s 
environmental impact with Centrol Crop Consulting, Inc. We have worked with 
the same agronomy consultant to conduct those verification's for 25 years, and 
through my entire farming career, I’ve always worked with a third-party to sample 
manure pits, conduct soil tests and give recommendations on how to manage our 
manure so it’s best for our soils and water. We have 25 years of data on a spreadsheet 
showing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in our soils, and we use the latest 
agronomic rates to produce our crops using our own manure. We don’t waste 
anything. Our manure has a lot of value, and we use it that way.

RPF: What role does technology play in your water quality efforts?
RS: We grid-sample our fields in 2 ½-acre grids and we know exactly what our 
crops and soils need from a nutrient standpoint. And, I have all of that information 
on my smartphone, so it’s with me at all times. I can tie my manure applications 
to crop yields in ways that show how beneficial they are to our water quality. 
Since now we can sample our manure pits before we apply the manure, we 
can program rates in and apply exactly the amount of fertilizer at the optimal rate. 
In the 1990s, we were putting on 4,000 gallons per acre. On most of our corn acres 
today, it’s probably 2,500 to 3,000 gallons per acre because of increased nutrient 
content that justify those lower rates. We always know exactly what we’re applying 
before we even go to the field. Then, we can go back and report that through a 
third-party so we keep our records up-to-date.

RPF: What do you see as important to the future of water quality on farms like yours?
RS: I think we’re going to continue to innovate on the animal nutrition side. We’re going 
to find ways to innovate, adapt and change so that we can apply that manure more 
effectively, and ultimately have the ability to do more with less. A 100-bushel corn crop 
was huge for my dad. If we’re not raising at least a 200-bushel crop now, we’re doing 
something wrong. We’re going to continue to find ways to raise our pigs, utilize manure 
and raise stronger crops, all while improving our water quality. Animal nutrition and 
manure application technology will help us accomplish all of those goals.