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 AgriNews.

“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 growing season.

“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 later.”

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 treatments.

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.”