Indiana farmer who favors innovation makes headlines
GASTON, Ind. (AP) — The sidewalk leading to Jason Mauck’s farm house is flanked by a pair of kiddie sand pails half full of an unknown dark substance.
“Smell this,” Mauck says, holding a bucket that gives off a pleasant-enough earthy smell if you stick your nose down in the bucket.
“Now smell this one,” he says, holding up the other pail, “but don’t get too close.” If you hover over that bucket for a second, the rotten-egg smell forces your head to snap back.
Both containers hold manure from Mauck’s hog barns across the road, but one has been treated with biochar, a carbon-rich residue similar to charcoal produced from sources including manure.
“It’s very similar to Arm & Hammer (baking soda) in the refrigerator,” he said. “You can put it in something that really stinks and it draws all of that out, stores it and locks it away.”
Mauck’s also testing biochar’s fertilizer ability on a window box of flowers.
Experiments like this are why nearly 11,000 people follow him on Twitter, why he speaks at farm conferences across the country, why he makes headlines in the ag press and why he was filmed by MSNBC for the “Hardball with Chris Matthews” show.
“Grandpa calls it ‘funny farming,’ ” Mauck recently tweeted above a photo of “intercropping” — a method where he grows soybeans in the normally empty space between rows of wheat in one of his fields. “The future is Hilarious IMO.”
On June 21, Mauck’s “Constant Canopy” farm — the name refers to keeping something growing on the soil year round — is hosting its second annual field day, “Not Your Grandfather’s Field Day,” which will attract visitors from as far north as Canada.
The demonstrations, field tours and speakers will feature ag robots, chicken tractors, rabbit tractors, a golf scramble on the 18-hole course Mauck built in his backyard (“Agaston National,” a play on the words Augusta and Gaston) and a live show by the East Nashville, Tenn., Flying Buffaloes alt-country/rock band.
“We want to have robots that go in between rows and plant while other crops are growing,” Mauck said. “Our tractors are too heavy.”
Chicken tractors are bottomless chicken coops on wheels in which the domesticated fowl dig, weed, fertilize and control pests in the soil.
“You can only make a difference by being different,” Mauck says in one of his tweets.
Pam Smith, the crops technology editor at DTN/The Progressive Farmer, reported in February that if you Google the passionate, still-boyishly enthusiastic Mauck, 38, you will find YouTube videos of him “diagramming cropping concepts on a farmhouse kitchen chalkboard with the fervor of an offensive coordinator in the last minute of a playoff game.”
“So right in here,” he starts, diagramming a crop field, “we have seven-inch rows with the big gaps, and the big value here is my ground floor, which in that situation is seven inches. And then this is about 30, but it’s half pi, so pi is 3.14. You divide that in half, 1.57, times that by this, you get a surface area of 52 inches . so each plant when these plants have space over here to here, then each leaf actually catches sunlight.”
Before relinquishing the chalkboard, and a photo album, Mauck went on about the wheat “working like an eagle’s wing” to protect the soybean plant; “burying the manure and planting a reduced seeding rate right underneath there;” the “stuff that people smell that go to a meeting and fight against (hog farming) is ammonium;” planting radishes and oats in the wheat-soybean field in the fall; and driving sunlight down lower in the soybean plant so it makes more blooms and pods.
All of which relates to marinating the crop in sunshine so it will produce from head to toe.
Where did you learn all of this math?
A graduate of Wes-Del High School who earned a marketing degree from Ball State University in 2003, Mauck sold insurance for seven months, then worked as a home-improvement salesman, then started a landscaping/mowing business before returning to the farm where he grew up.
“Just experiments,” he said of the math. “And I just think that way. Most people think so short term they don’t let things manifest, and they don’t look at derivatives. If you focus on the derivatives you can do math backwards and it’s easier to figure out.”
One of his experiments sought to break the Guinness World Record of 16 ears on one corn plant.
He planted one corn plant in the garden, cleared out a spot eight feet around the plant, and told his son the plant was his “p---ing target he could take a leak on. He was potty training.”
“What happened was it grew up, and then it grew a plant out of that plant over here, a plant out of here, and every leaf can collect sunlight, so it started firing off ears on all these nodes,” Mauck said. He thought it was done at about 13 ears.
“Well the ears came out, and they recognized the light, and the leaves started growing on the ears, so it got even more energy, so the plant is constantly figuring out with its plant brain how many family members they can put in the minivan, if you will,” he said. “So when it’s collecting nutrients and water and all of this sunlight, it started producing ears off of ears, and we got 31 off of one plant.”
However, the problem was “it had daddy issues, meaning this is the daddy up here — the tassel — and it didn’t have enough money to feed all of its kernels, there’s only so much pollen to go around. So we got about 12 ears, a bunch of grain, and the rest (of the ears) were spotty, but that mechanism really opened up my eyes. You can go wider.”
What did MSNBC interview you about?
“They’re trying to drum up a story on tariffs with Trump’s policies,” he said. “I think they’re following farmers doing different things.”
Mauck has referenced being a Libertarian on Twitter.
“I’m all for small government,” he said in the interview. “It seems like both sides get bigger — the two-party system. One’s a little sneakier.”
After scouring the country, Successful Farming named Mauck to its “10 Up & Comers in Agriculture” list in 2017 for his eagerness to research, innovate, collaborate and experiment with methods to keep his soil busy growing and interplanting crops.
“The biggest waste in agriculture is the space between the rows,” he was quoted in the magazine.
Mauck’s mission is to rebuild the agriculture industry “literally from the ground up” by proving that extraordinary things can happen when you “work with mother nature instead of dismantling it.”
In addition to Twitter and media coverage, Mauck-the-maverick gets the message out via podcasts such as Working Cows, Agripreneur and others, as well as speaking across the country and in Canada at numerous conferences, such as the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference, the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario annual meeting, the AgEmerge conference in Monterey, California (“this guy has a passion for farming that’s contagious,” the speaker biography says), and the Soil Diversity conference in Bismarck.
How did you get 10,900 Twitter followers?
“Marketing people always trying to get dollars out of you are ruining the internet,” he said — as he jokingly grabbed and shook the wrist of the person interviewing him in his kitchen and shouted in his face, “They just want to sell, sell, sell, hey, hey hey!”
“The stuff I’m talking about,” he went on, “is not sponsored by anyone. My motive is to empower farmers. I lost my dad to cancer (at age 53). My uncle who was like a second dad, he got cancer and died very young. I’m very motivated to figure out better solutions than just nuking everything.”
Mauck is the husband of a school teacher and the father of two young boys.
In a 2016 story about him headlined, “Relay intercropping: What’s old is new again,” Indiana Prairie Farmer reported:
“The only thing about relay intercropping is that it’s not really new. The idea has been tried for likely as long as Mauck has been alive. Other editors, and even myself, have done stories about farmers figuring out how to seed soybeans into standing wheat as far back as at least three decades. Some made their own equipment to do it. Others adapted narrow row tires on small tractors to drill soybeans into standing wheat.”
It’s true, Mauck told The Star Press:
“But farming went to ‘tech first,’ where everything is policies, paper, insurance and pushing buttons. All I’m saying is, ‘Hey, we’re going down the interstate at exit 64. Let’s go back to exit 20 and see if we missed a turn or two.’”
Source: The Star Press
Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com