Quint Pottinger’s Kentucky farm heritage dates back to the 1780s, but the White House recognized him for molding farming’s future. The Champion of Change Award recognized him for “going above and beyond to bring change to agriculture and building the bench for farming’s next generation.”
Quint and wife Leah added vegetables and herbs to their Kentucky row-crop enterprise to connect with the public about how food is grown. “We have to produce what consumers demand,” Quint says, “but it helps if they also understand why we farm the way we do.”
The New Haven, Ky., couple were named to the American Soybean Association/DuPont Young Leader 2014 class, and Quint also holds many commodity group leadership roles that recognize outreach and industry support.
One acre of vegetables represents a small patch of the Pottinger’s 800-acre corn-soybean operation, but it is an enormous investment in consumer face time at the local farmers market.
“It’s a chance to answer their questions and invite them to the farm to see the whole story,” Quint says. “One customer, for example, asked whether a huge zucchini was genetically modified; that was an opportunity to explain GMO crops and invite them to our farm. That in turn led to explaining why we spray, and how we do less with more.
“You can’t impose your opinions on consumers, but you can answer their questions and understand why they believe what they do.”
At the farm, “visitors freak out when they see spray or fertilizer tanks, and ask what we spray on their food. They’re amazed to learn that most of what’s sprayed on crops is water; just 1 pint per acre is active ingredient,” Quint says.
Farm visitors are surprised to hear positive GMO examples, such as high-oleic soybeans. “We explain how turning off a soybean gene translates to healthier soybean oil and much lower trans-fat content,” he says. “And we explain how the rootworm Bt gene saves us a field pass to kill rootworms with soil insecticides, and how glyphosate is a more benign contact herbicide than many other herbicide options. A lot of GMO ill will and fear of ag chemicals come from ignorance.”
New frontiers: No-till and soil health
Growing vegetables has taught Quint and Leah a lot about soil health. On farm tours, they explain their use of the Cornell University soil-health metrics to assess their soil carbon, soil microbe and soil carbon levels. They explain how long-term no-till preserves vital soil moisture, spares farm energy use and greatly reduces soil loss.
“Soil is the new scientific frontier, and we need to learn how to unlock its powers,” Quint tells visitors. “Soil health is key to increasing our productivity. We’ve only cracked the surface of what soil health can do for farming’s efficiency and human health.
In 1965, his family was the one of the first local farms to no-till, and the farm is still 95% no-till today. “No-till saved us just last year when we had a dry spell at pollination,” he says.
As the owner of a local premier precision-ag equipment dealership, Quint weaves in technology when targeting farm-input use by zone and building sustainability.
“We also touch on the concept of our food chain and where the energy comes from in the food we eat,” he says. “Livestock is a dietary energy source derived from cellulose, which people can’t digest, so that makes meat a more sustainable food source than people might think. There’s all kinds of information like this that we take for granted that people just don’t know. Information is free, but we have to share it in order to benefit.
While people are concerned about our competitiveness, they don’t always connect the dots to know that the United States is No. 1 in the world, Quint says. “American agriculture improves our balance of trade and global competitiveness, people are pleased to hear. We remind them how vital our infrastructure is to preserving that advantage. U.S. farmers have to focus on being the best, producing the highest grain quality. We might not always produce the most, but high grain quality is our competitive advantage.”
Local corn markets include Maker’s Mark Bourbon and other craft distilleries. When hosting visitors, the Pottingers connect their corn marketing to agricultural issues near and far, from bourbon to livestock to the vital role played by U.S. infrastructure in global competitiveness. They tour distilleries, tying the farm’s heritage to the Kentucky bourbon tradition: The Pottinger’s farm began centuries ago as an 8-square mile land grant rewarding an ancestor’s Revolutionary War valor.
Quint shares how his farming career began as a teenager with his father’s gift of 50 acres to farm, from which he could learn from his mistakes and earn college tuition. The life stories from those years are poignant tales about the school of hard knocks.
“If it hadn’t been for my family or friends, I wouldn’t be farming today,” he tells visitors. “Everything you learn in college is theoretical, but the real world is about relationships you build. I’m using those lessons about relationships to build farming’s image, one person at a time,” he says.
How do the Pottingers justify the time this takes?
“Perception fuels innovation, and that fuels progress,” he says. “You can’t innovate without perspective. For example, if my dad hadn’t invested in learning about no-till and begun no-tilling when he did, I wouldn’t have that leg up on soil health today. Today, 70% of our area is no-till.
“These things take time, but they pay off.”