#102: Grand Farm– Regional Solutions, Global Impact. Feeding the World Through Tech & Innovation

#102: Grand Farm– Regional Solutions, Global Impact. Feeding the World Through Tech & Innovation

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(soft music) - Today on the Water Table Podcast, we are talking with Dr. William Aderholdt, the program manager at the Grand Farm in North Dakota. About the Grand Farm. What is Grand Farm? What are they doing, and how are they solving global agricultural problems? (soft music) Well, welcome back to the Water Table podcast. Today, I have Dr. William Aderholdt to with me. He is the program manager at Grand Farm in the Red River Valley in North Dakota.

Works out of Fargo, and it's gonna be a great conversation today. Many of the listeners probably aren't aware of what Grand Farm is, but Dr. Aderholdt is gonna to explain what they do, how long he is been there. But just to tell you a little bit about him, he holds a doctorate degree from Montana State University. He's a lifelong learner and there is an abundance of things that he can learn and he has learned from his current position at Grand Farm.

And I'm just excited here on The Water Table to hear a little bit about it and to have a conversation. So welcome to The Water Table. - Thanks for having me. You know, this is, it's wonderful to be here and to be able to talk through the progress we've made just in the five short years, Grand Farm's been around and the partners that have been involved along the way.

- Yeah, yeah. So let's start there. Dr. Aderholdt, how long have you been with Grand Farm? - I've been, I was the first hire of Grand Farm.

So Grand Farm started in a, as a concept in 2018 and around 2019, we decided to move it forward. April, 2019 is when I started, and I've been along for the ride ever since. Now, the executive director of Grand Farm and get to lead an amazing team. We are supported by 45 staff members across Emerging Prairie and Grand Farm. Emerging Prairie is our parent organization, all working towards solving problems in agriculture.

- Yeah, yeah, great. And it is really neat to see and to talk about, you know, five years is really all you've been around and the hype and the amount of press and just opportunities and how this is growing and you know, I think, and that's what I wanna hear a little bit, but you know how some of these ideas from the very beginning having specific ideas, but then they grow from there and they, a lot of 'em have just grown organically through meetings and, you know, out in the countryside and in Fargo. And so talk a little bit about that. - Yeah, so my education's in sociology, and when I heard about this Grand Farm initiative and what we were expected to do or what the vision was, I really, I saw this opportunity and our team saw this opportunity to engage the ecosystem, the people around agriculture, and begin to bring in more people and energy to strengthen that ecosystem, to solve problems in agriculture. So the groups that make up our network, our startups corporations, researchers, government agencies, but also growers, we start with the grower, the growers at the center of what we do, and we talk to 'em about their problems, these bullet point problems. You know, herbicide resistance is bad.

It's hard for me to deal with the change in weather conditions on my farm year-to-year. And then we go in and we start to explore that problem. Why is it a problem? How much of a problem is it? Our team goes in and talks to the farmers. What's the workflow? What's the impact to the workflow so that we can then go into the industry, those startups, corporations, researchers, and talk about things authentically and also encapsulate the solutions into real things that they could actually adopt in terms of their work.

- Yeah, yeah. So let's back up a little bit kind of to the beginning here and just, there's a fair amount of, our listeners will know exactly, they know you personally, but then there's others that have never heard of Grand Farm and so been around since 2018. But let's just ask the basic question and have you onset on what is Grand Farm and what is the goal? - Yeah, the mission of Grand Farm is to build a network of startups corporations, researchers, government agencies, investors and growers to solve problems in agriculture through emerging technology and innovation. Our vision is to enable technology to feed the world. Everything we do is around that mission. So whether it's our events, our conferences, our innovation campus, our work with innovation as a service where we facilitate projects on behalf of the industry, all of those are about solving problems and working with growers to move agriculture forward.

- Talk a little bit about, you know, the beginnings and with the land purchase that, or I don't know if that was a gift or a purchase, but how that kind of came about and you know, how that leads you into the future because that's a big part of what you're doing and a big part of the momentum. - Yeah, I mean that concept Grand Farm started with in 2018 was this question, what is our region able to excel at? And we took that authentically, we took that that deeply and we wanted to talk about it. And then we brought together a steering committee of community leaders, regional leaders to talk about what we could do about it. And that's where the Grand Farm concept came from. When Brian Carroll and Greg Tehven, our co-founders brought that concept forward to the community on day one, a community member, Kevin and Stacy Biffert said, "We'd love to help, what do you need?" And they donated a lease for 45 acres of land in Horace, North Dakota. At the time, you know, the team being those two, they, that's when I was brought in to figure out what do we do with 45 acres to accelerate technology and agriculture.

And so we began to look at that location, brought on projects, and very quickly realized to actually make an effect here, we would need more land. And so when we received the $15.1 million of our prev or of our capital campaign from private and public donors, we were able to go out and purchase 140 acres in Castleton, North Dakota, which is now the home of our innovation campus where we do this work. - And, you know, one of the neat things about that that I see, you know, in envision longer term is as you build this out and just the location in Castleton right off the interstate, not very far from Fargo, you'll be able to do a lot of field days, a lot of educational interaction with people from, you know, the Greater Fargo area, but also from around the world that is easy to get to 'cause they can get to Fargo and call that home base for a few days, but be out at your site for whatever presentations or education or initiatives you have going on. And so, you know, it doesn't always happen that way that you have the opportunity to have, be gifted or to purchase something in a such a strategic location like that.

- Oh, absolutely. The location, there were a few communities that were interested in bringing Grand Farm to their community to, for us to call home. One of the criteria we had was they had to be within 30 minutes of our international airport in Fargo, North Dakota. We wanted people to be able to get here. Our innovation campus allows us to do testing, demonstration, research and validation on regional, on solutions for regional problems in agriculture.

But we host people globally all the time. And so the ease of access to hotels, to the city, to the technology companies in Fargo was really important to us. But yes, being in a rural community of North Dakota, being right off the interstate, ease of access for farmers to come in for other communities to come in was absolutely important to terms of that location selection.

- How often do you see, when you talk about just, you know, solving regional problems and some of the things you're working on, and I don't know, you know, how far that's gone and in regards to results, but it has to be that some of the things we're working on for a regional solution is much broader than that. When you find the solution that it actually works in other geographies and other areas potentially, you know, across the world. - Yeah. A lot of what we work on, while it it's regionally a regional problem as well as, as you're saying, become a global problem, I think I made the assumption early that what we were solving were North Dakota's problems.

And you know, when we had delegates from Africa last year show up from 14 or so different countries, we learned that the problems were the same and that maybe they were a different type of the problem, nutrient management, water management, these were things that they were dealing with as well. Costs rising for inputs, how to manage those, looking at how do we bring in connectivity so that they can realize ag tech, agriculture, technology and the digitization of agriculture in terms of the work they were doing. All that was really important to them as well.

And so it really made sense that, you know, we are solving global problems, but really with that regional emphasis. - Hmm. Yeah. And that's gotta be, that's gotta be really exciting to see your footprint, you know, much larger than what you're actually, how you started and what you think you were solving. You're a passionate guy.

You've been there five years and you know, it seems like from the indications I get talking to you today and from other inputs I've had across the last several years, you know, that this is a passion not only for you, but for your team and for stakeholders in North Dakota. And what drives that passion for you personally? What makes you get out of bed every morning in regards to Grand Farm? - You know, I married into a farming family. I'm originally from San Diego, California. Moved up to Montana when I was 18, 19, and then came to North Dakota when there was an opportunity for my wife to work at John Deere.

Marrying into a farming family. I got to see a lot of challenges that agriculture communities and rural communities were facing. The town that she's from saw some of the outmigration patterns of people moving away in terms of farming. You know, how do we deal with a lot of the changing pressures as things like maybe input costs rise or fall or, you know, those were questions that they were asking.

And so when there was an opportunity to be, to join Grand Farm and be a part of change, I jumped on it immediately. When we moved to, when we decided to move to Fargo, North Dakota from Bozeman, Montana, one of the criteria for our communities that we wanted to move to was that the community would be large enough that our change would matter, but small enough that we could also impact change. And this was the perfect location for that.

And that's what's living out in this work. I have amazing team of problem-solvers, people who wanna be a part of building an ecosystem, who wanna facilitate, demonstration, research, validation, conversations around problems and collaborations. It is just amazing to see how things can form up that you never would've imagined could happen. Whether it's pulling together agricultural research service and the researchers from the USDA with researchers at North Dakota State University or working with universities like University of Nebraska Lincoln on some of their problems. All of this together. And we're organizing that work and it's helping to accelerate the solutions coming forward.

- Yeah, isn't that, I'm super glad I asked that question because I didn't, that wasn't a prepared question. I didn't know the answer to it, but I just, you know, very recently have been talking to my kids who are getting ready to get into their careers and outta college and into the job world. And you know, that's one of the things I basically said is find a place that has an appetite for change, but a place where you can see the difference that you're personally making.

And if you can find that, which isn't always easy, but when, if you can, it's very rewarding not only to for the entire system or the entire company, depending on what, but for you personally. And so, I'm glad I asked the question 'cause I can sense it, you know, and just in the conversation and in your voice that you're pretty passionate about what's happening at Grand Farms, and that's a perfect answer of why. So thank you.

- Yeah, if I could just in terms of what you were just saying, it's why education's a what you're describing is also why education's a core part of what we do. We have about 13 programs this year events and conferences we're hosting specifically around K through 20 students, to excite them about a future in agriculture. We held, it's a really strange conference.

It's the Space Agriculture Conference. And the reason why we do that is not just about farming a space or cool concepts like that. It's because it gets students excited to come to something where we're talking about careers in agriculture, careers in communities like North, like Castleton, North Dakota, and helps them see themselves into that feature as well. - Yeah, I, you know, that's another whole subject that I would love to have a conversation about sometime, but just about, you know, the need in rural America for educated people and people that are interested in staying there and working and having a career. And that goes both ways, right? You need people that are willing to do that, but then you need jobs for those people.

And I think usually ,it's the jobs that aren't there, there's more people that would enjoy those careers, but they have to move to Fargo or to Minneapolis or wherever, because that's where they can make a living. And so that drives me too. And we've talked about that on The Water Table at different times around, you know, what is available to rural communities and kids that are going to rural high schools but maybe don't have the farming background and wanna stay there. So, you know, it's just, to me, listening to you, it's probably something you didn't necessarily expect in this role or wasn't necessarily a driver, but now is showing up as a part of how you can make an impact. - Yeah, one of the things that's top of mind to a lot of the farmers we talk to is succession.

We have an aging workforce in agriculture. Who, where is my farm gonna go when I retire? How can my kids be involved in that? You know, how can my kids', children and community members have meaningful careers if they don't have jobs there? Like you're saying, those are problems that we take on headfirst because we believe that that's part of agriculture. Part of agriculture is the interface with the rural community and the technology that empowers that community as well.

It includes connectivity, not just for connecting the farm, but connecting the schools and connecting the community resources and making sure that all those are in place, so that people can live fulfilling lives and quality lives in these communities as well. - You know, one thing about Grand Farm that, I don't know what it feels like when you're living it every day, but you know, it's only being in existence for five years. It feels like from the outside, like funding hasn't been a major issue along the way that it's maybe at times it has short period of times, but it seems like it's fallen into place. But what does that look like going forward in regards to how much are you, what's your plan and how much do you need yet to kind of fulfill the vision that you guys have? - You know, that's what I would say is the impact we're having is increasing daily.

And if you had asked me five years ago what we would be doing on 45 acres of land, I would say we've already achieved what my biggest dreams could possibly have been. I think it would be doing a disservice to the agriculture industry for me to say, this is where we end, or that my dreams about what the next two to three years is where we end up. It's amazing to see the opportunities that have unveiled themselves just by solving problems and by solving problems in agriculture. We learn about new ones, we learn about companies who wanna be a part of this, partners who want to trial things out at the farm or demonstrate them, new ways we can test things, new emerging technologies. It doesn't end at AI, machine learning, digitization, biologics.

There will always be the next technology, the future that people are curious about. And so I think our team is gonna continue to grow. I think that we're gonna continue to see our innovation campus mature and develop and then being able to see that we can also begin to take on new problems and with bigger scope, bring in more collaborators and move faster. - Yeah, yeah. And move faster, which means solve problems faster and basically, find new ones because of that. So, it's a journey that doesn't end.

- Absolutely. - Yeah, yeah. So tell me a little bit about the grant from the 2022, grant from the state of North Dakota and you know, how that's propelled you guys. - Absolutely. So the American Rescue Plan Act gave the state a substantial amount of funding.

I think it was 1 billion to allocate into economic resiliency projects in North Dakota. Many of the states received this funding and when we were asked what we would do with a certain amount by state legislature, we put together a proposal, our state legislature brought that forward and allocated $10 million to Grand Farm, which would need to be privately matched to be able to realize the vision of our phase one of our innovation campus and what that would look like. Upon receiving that $10 million, it gave us leverage to go out to community partners and ask them, can they be a part of this vision too? Can they help us solve problems in agriculture? And we were able to work with them to raise $5.1 million in private capital that was used to match those funds to build the phase one of our innovation campus.

And that has included a 25,000 square foot innovation shop, which will open up on June 10th and included the purchasing of 140 acres of land in Castleton, North Dakota. It included bringing on a team to execute on the farm management across the entire farm. And, but then also put an infrastructure like last mile connectivity, last acre connectivity, tiling, things that are infrastructure pieces that are coming forth on modern farms and things that people are wondering what is the impact of these of last acre connectivity? What is the impact of tiling? And so our partners want to also test their products against those things and see how they operate so that they can go to a farm that has last acre connectivity and say, "This is how this would work." And so all these things have come together to really help us achieve that first step of what we wanna see with Grand Farm in terms of the solving problems, we're now at 590 acres, contiguous land. We had an announcement by AGCO about the launch of Dakota Smart Farm, which is gonna take up with the southern half of that land track.

And Dakota Smart Farm will begin to look at automation equipment and sustainability and agriculture and how all these emerging technologies that are enabling farmers can be looked at in terms of cost of production, economic analysis. So all this is coming together and it was all kicked off by that initial grant that the state provided. - What is the plan in regards to a grand opening potentially happening this summer? - Yeah, that June 10th grand opening of that innovation shop, we cannot wait.

We have community and agriculture leaders that we've begun to bring in and curate for announcing that. It is the grand opening is the start of AgTech week. There will be five straight days of agriculture technology discussions, convenings our of our cultivate signature conference. But that June 10th opening will be the launch of that innovation shop, which will be open for the use of by partners and community members as a venue to host conversations, to host events and to bring together teams to be able to talk about how to solve problems in agriculture. - Yeah.

Yeah, that sounds like a great week and a lot of fun for you guys to, I don't think the journey ever ends, but to take a little bit of a step back and enjoy the accomplishments that have happened so far, because you should do that, you know, congratulations on a job well-done. - Yeah, no, thank you so much. And thank you for being a part of it.

Prinsco was involved with the tiling project we have with ellingson, we're really excited about what that will mean for us to be able to test out different soil moisture technology, water management technology, controlled environment technology, and actually being able to have consistent conditions for heavy equipment and autonomous demonstration and testing. All that's gonna be necessary to make sure that we have a great environment for people to come out and experience what the future of agriculture could look like. - Yeah. It's really exciting and there's so many things, and you kind of mentioned this already, but there's so many things in agriculture that you look at it and you say, "If we wanna get here or we can get here.'

But it takes, you know, so many different stakeholders along the way to be part of that in order to accomplish what you really wanna accomplish. And just in a very simple form, what you're talking about now is, you know, you have to manage your water on in your water management if you're going to be able to maneuver on the field the way you want to. - Absolutely. This, the clay-like soil, the Red River Valley is like nothing else. - Yeah.

- And it gets a little bit of moisture and you're not going anywhere. And we've experienced that for the last few years. We are so excited about being able to test out different, the technology that we're working on with USDA, the startups, the corporations that we work with, and being able to see how that this can enable our site. - Sure, sure.

What do you see, you know, lots of lots going on. You guys have solved a lot of problems and you talked a little bit about the funding and that seems to have, you know, satisfied you guys and it'll continue to be needs of course. But what's your biggest challenges that you're facing right now and that you'd like to share and with our listeners? - Like problems we're solving or challenges organizationally we're facing? - Problems we're solving.

- Okay. Yeah, absolutely. The biggest one that we've been involved with more recently is herbicide resistance.

That is one that is, when I talk to growers, it's a top three problem no matter who you talk to. They're concerned about where weeds are going, what's gonna happen, how do you deal with them, how do you manage them? And so a lot of our attention has been on how do we do these things. The the next one is with, I mean, the last five years since I've been doing this, and I don't have a lot of background in agriculture beyond that, we have had ups and downs in terms of the water we have on our site and farmers around the region, whether it's drought conditions or too much moisture.

And it's been every single year. And, you know, when I talk to farmers that is on top of mind, how are we gonna deal with these drought conditions? How are we gonna deal with this extra moisture we're getting in the fall season and now I can't harvest? And so talking about how different technologies are coming out that can help with both decision-making, but also water management and consistent environment is something we're managing as well. And then the third one is in digitization. This amount of data people have. What do we do with it? How do we work with it? What decisions can I make with it? And part of that is the raw data, and part of it is generalized artificial intelligence, machine learning that may or may not be more effective than the farmer who's been on their farm for 30 years, who has had the history with their land, the fields, the patterns that they see in the land, and then they're given something and it doesn't work.

And so the data side has been very interesting to work with in terms of talking about how these things get trained, developed, implemented, and then also working with the industry to talk about, "Hey, we need to look at accuracy, we need to look at usability." And that's the same across any of the technology we work with. But data has been absolutely top of mind as well. - Yeah. I just wanna back up a minute. First of all, thank you again Dr. Aderholdt

for being part of The Water Table today. It's been great discussion. And I just wanna note something that you said that I thought was pretty neat. You know, I asked you about challenges you're facing and you rephrase that into, do you mean problems we're solving? And I think just the attitude in which you guys come at things and your whole team around a challenge is really an opportunity to solve a problem. And you didn't say those exact words, but that is, that you phrased it and, you know, I wanna kind of leave our listeners with that, right? There is, you know, for our listeners that don't know much about the Grand Farm, it's pretty easy to find you guys online and to learn more.

I'm assuming the June 10 grand opening is open to the public, is that right? So those that aren't aware that are from farther away, if you wanna head to the Red River Valley for Ag Week, it'd be a great opportunity for you to learn more about what Grand Farm's doing. But also, just to take, the big takeaway for me is that's what you guys are doing is you have an attitude of solving problems and you've already demonstrated your ability to solve a lot of 'em. So thank you for what you guys are doing in the Fargo-Moorehead area and the Red River Valley and for how it's impacting global agriculture. And thanks for being part of the podcast today.

- Thank you for having me and the great conversation. - Yeah, thank you. (upbeat music)

2024-05-24 15:26

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