MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio — John Kempf believes farmers who focus
only on increasing yield may be missing out on a lot more.
The founder and chief executive officer of the company
Advancing Eco Agriculture instead emphasizes plant health and nutrition. Results
come not just from planting and fertilizing, but by paying close attention to
plants’ needs and meeting them.
“The usual approach is to try to optimize for yield. We’ve
taken a different approach,” Kempf said in a telephone interview with
“Instead of trying to optimize yield, we attempt to optimize
quality in plant health. What we find is when nutrition is balanced for plant
health, quality goes up significantly. You get better test weights, reduced
moisture content, greater protein content. As quality increases, you can’t stop
the quality from increasing, meaning more yield.”
AEA was formed in 2006 as a crop consulting and service
company, but was expanded in 2009 to include input formulations. It operates
dually, providing minerals and on-farm service.
A number of crop consultants work throughout North America,
with the core regional focus in the Midwest, including the Corn Belt. Fruit and
vegetable operations comprise a large portion of AEA’s business.
The holistic approach to agronomics is paying off for AEA’s
customers, according to Kempf.
“One of our core strengths is that we help farmers produce
crops that have a functional resistance to plant pests, both fungal and
bacterial diseases, as well as insect pests,” he said. “We’re able to accomplish
this utilizing mineral nutrition and ensuring that the plant has adequate
nutrition so that it has a completely functional physiological system to
counteract any disease or insect pest that might become a challenge during the
“We’re talking about making sure that plants have adequate
nutrition, including trace minerals at different points in the plant’s life,
which we refer to as critical points of influence. At various critical points of
influence, plants are determining a great deal of their genetic yield potential
within a very narrow time window. Any time plants have deficiencies or stress
levels at these points, it greatly depresses the yield potential it might have
The origins of AEA came from Kempf’s own farm. A member of
Ohio’s Amish community, he began looking for alternatives to conventional crop
management practices when his crops stopped responding to pesticide
Although AEA is not an organic farming company, Kempf
eschews genetically modified plants. He also believes the herbicide glyphosate
does more harm than good.
Annual soil tests are important, according to Kempf, but
they don’t tell the whole story. He said he believes the key is efficient
absorption of nutrients by plants.
“Obviously, the soil is the foundation,” he said.
“Laboratory soil analyses are an indication of how that soil is balanced. What
we’re finding today is that with the rapid climate shifts we see happening,
nutrients may be held in soils, but are not necessarily absorbed by plants.
“When we look at a soil analysis, we’re seeing adequate
levels of trace minerals and yet the plants are very deficient on trace
minerals, especially manganese and copper. We’re finding that to achieve high
levels of quality of plant health, the soil samples don’t give us a good enough
indicator of where we are.”
A typical field plan is comprised of a carefully formulated
planting solution, followed by one to three foliar applications, depending on
crop and agronomic practices.
“We accomplish that by using a systems-based approach to
plant nutrition, and we work with both nutrition and soil biology,” Kempf said.
“Also, if needed, we will work with foliar applications timed to fit these
various crops’ timing points.”
Systems such as those developed by AEA are essential for the
continued increase in yields and efficiency, according to Kempf.
“There has been a lot of discussion about sustainability in
agriculture, especially over the last five or 10 years,” he said. “My contention
is that we are too far down a slippery slope that we need to have regenerative
agriculture until we reach a plateau where we can have true sustainability.”