For Andrew Fansler, agriculture is a passion. He counts on the sustainable cultivation of corn and soybean to secure his farm’s future. The 36-year-old U.S. farmer received the Bayer CropScience Young Farmer Sustainability Award for his modern and innovative approach to agriculture.
The USA is the number one in world agricultural trade.
During harvest season, Andrew Fansler is tough to get ahold of, but easy to find. You can meet him in person amidst Indiana’s swaying corn fields stretching all the way up to the horizon just like a green ocean. From early morning to late evening, Andrew is out here to coordinate his heavy machinery cutting through the rows and harvesting bushel after bushel of corn and soybeans. “Cell reception is often a problem out here,” he says. “But that’s part of my job – and I like working right at the heart of my fields, away from everything else.”
The farmer rotates corn and soybean on 4,600 acres of land in the USA’s Midwest where a gigantic patchwork quilt of farmland covers the fertile plains. His corn goes into food and ethanol production. The conventional soybeans are processed into food and to produce seeds.
Fansler has been in business for 20 years – and ever since he has been committed to sustainable cultivation. That’s why the 36-year-old farmer received the 2015 Bayer CropScience Young Farmer Sustainability Award. The company awards this prize to young American farmers who face up to the greatest challenges in modern agriculture with innovative and ecologically compatible planting methods as well as long-term feasible business models: to produce high-quality food for a growing population – something which is also one of the crucial goals of Bayer’s Sustainability Program.
Fansler sees the prize as an important confirmation of his work: “I was very happy about receiving the award,” he says. “It shows that I am thinking in the right direction.” Even though, his parents probably would have never guessed that their son would go for agriculture.
of the United States’ surface is accounted for by cultivation areas.
At least if it hadn’t been for the pedal tractor that Andrew was given on his third birthday. That’s when the little boy started to drive his wobbly set of plastic wheels around the house and up to the edges of the fields to watch the huge agricultural machines for hours and hours. “It was fascinating for me how these gigantic vehicles moved over the soil spitting out plant residues,” he recalls. “Maybe this is where my passion for agriculture came from – or maybe I simply had it in my blood.”
As a young teenager, Fansler helped family friends who were farmers and learned about the basic principles of cultivation. At the age of 17 he bought his first fields: 87 acres on the outskirts of Shelbyville, a small town in Indiana, right in the middle of the so-called Corn Belt. “The beginning was tough. There were so many things that I didn’t know and as a newcomer, you don’t exactly receive a lot of encouragement from other farmers,” he explains. “I quickly learned not to lose my spirit because of others and to simply follow through with my plans.”
Many of the established farmers looked askance at the teenager’s peculiar ado: Fansler experimented with completely new methods, including direct seeding – today, a widely spread cultivation method, which was still an innovation 20 years ago: By tilling only the seed rows and leaving the rest of the field untouched, Fansler not only saves time and fuel, he also improves the soil quality, avoiding erosion on his fields.
To build up an agricultural business with success, you also have to know about things like marketing and business management today.
The rotation of soy and corn makes sure that weeds can be kept at bay and improves the quality of the soil. During the winter months, the farmer covers his fields with fertilizing cover crops. He applies herbicides and pesticides in a targeted and selective manner, supported by modern technologies such as GPS. “To build up an agricultural business with long-term success, you have to know about many things today,” says Fanser, “including areas such as marketing, business management, engineering and technology.”
“No food security without sustainable agriculture”
How important will the issue of food security be in future?
“Food security is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The United Nations says a highly productive and sustainable agricultural sector will be key to overcoming worldwide hunger and poverty. Its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls for stepping up global agricultural production by around 60 percent before 2015, in order to be able to meet the rising demand for food and feed as well as renewable raw materials.
And this has to happen on limited arable land. For Bayer, the only suitable approach is therefore sustainable agriculture. That’s why the Group has defined the ambition of ensuring “high-quality food for all” as a major objective of its Sustainability Program.”
How does Bayer CropScience contribute to rising up to this huge challenge?
“Climate change is a big problem for farmers already today: soil erosion, water scarcity and extreme weather conditions increasingly pose risks to their farms. We work on chemical and biological solutions to help plants toughen up, so that they can also grow perfectly under less than ideal conditions.
In addition, we always try to keep our actions’ impact on the environment as low as possible and to further reduce it. And we want to contribute to making sustainable agriculture possible with our products.”
Why did Bayer CropScience initiate the Young Farmer Sustainability Award?
“Modern agriculture is extremely important to ensure food security in future. Especially for young children, not having enough to eat can have devastating consequences: under-nutrition can impede behavioral and cognitive development, educability and reproductive health.
With recognitions such as the Young Farmer Sustainability Award, but also with initiatives like the 2015 Youth Ag-Summit, agricultural scholarships and hands-on learning programs, we want to encourage the young generation to learn more about sustainable agriculture and to try innovative cultivation methods.
The detailed interview with Liam Condon can be found here.
His courage to explore new territory paid off: The 87 acres turned into 4,600 acres and Fansler Farms employees six people. For Jim Blome, Head of Bayer CropScience in the USA, that made the successful young entrepreneur the ideal candidate for the Young Farmer Sustainability Award 2015: “Andrew Fansler embodies the passion, instinct, technical know-how and business savvy needed to be a successful and sustainable farmer today,” he says. “His love of farming and the entrepreneurial approach to business are truly inspiring.”
The Young Farmer Sustainability Award
With this award, Bayer CropSciene recognizes the work of young farmers from continental U.S. states who successfully run their companies while applying environmentally friendly and sustainable practices.
An expert jury judges the candidates’ entrepreneurial initiative and their innovative approaches to farming (50 percent), their commitment to environmentally friendly and sustainable ways of working on the farm (30 percent) as well as their economically sustainable management (20 percent).
Farmers who are 40 years of age or younger and generate at least half of their income through agriculture or agriculture-related activities are eligible for the prize.
Now, during the harvesting season, Andrew Fansler hardly comes home before midnight, but in winter he spends a lot of time with his family. He picks up groceries with his wife and his two daughters, thoroughly studying the labelling on the food. “My job changed my entire approach to nutrition and food production,” he says, “I want to know where my food comes from, how it’s being produced and what it contains.”
Whenever possible, he takes five-year-old Marie and three-year-old Molly with him to the field, sits down with them between the swaying corn plants and breathes the fresh air with its unmistakable smell of moist soil and grass. He feels the wind on his skin and listens to his daughters’ playful shrieks. In the distance, the agricultural machines are droning, a sound he’s known so well since his early childhood days. It represents the eternal circle of nature. “These moments are the best part of my life.” He wants his children and grandchildren to experience all this, too. He wants to maintain all this for them: for the next generation.