Brad Ruden is the director of agronomy technical services for South Dakota Wheat Growers. He grew up in South Dakota and attended South Dakota State University (SDSU) where he received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees in agronomy. He has worked in plant pathology at SDSU and as a professional agronomist for the university, the Allied Industry and currently South Dakota Wheat Growers.

Brad answered questions about working in the agriculture industry and the new technological advances affecting the industry’s success for growers in the Northern Plains.

What is Wheat Growers Co-Op?

Ruden: Wheat Growers is a 100 percent farmer-owned co-op. We were started in 1923 as a wheat-buying co-op, and despite our name as South Dakota Wheat Growers, we are actually really more like co-ops to our east.

South Dakota is much like many of the I-states now, as we are much larger in corn and soybean production than we are in wheat production, but those are our three primary crops: corn, soybeans, and then spring and winter wheat mixed across our territory. We are, as they say, a full service agronomy co-op, providing everything from seed to agronomy inputs, fertilizer and then also providing services all the way through grain marketing for our grower members. We are also a leader in precision agriculture, providing a full range of precision ag services based on management zones, with services ranging from field mapping, equipment setup and calibration through to planting and fertilizer prescriptions to precision application.

Do you enjoy working with growers?

Ruden: Agriculture is a wonderful industry to be involved in. The innovations that are coming along in agriculture are always intriguing to someone who has a science background like I do. Agriculture has just been a fantastic career for me and I’ve been very fortunate to focus my full career on agricultural production in the northern Great Plains.

Are the wheat growers members of the co-op? Are these growers readily embracing the technology?

Ruden: Absolutely! We have over 5,400 active growers that are members of our co-op, primarily in southern North Dakota and down through the eastern half of South Dakota. Through my work here with this co-op, our sales managers and sales agronomy team, I find the growers are very engaged, very involved in the activities of their co-op and trying to look at producing a top quality crop and achieving maximum yield per acre. That is really what it’s coming down to right now. Precision agriculture and the new technologies are allowing us to focus in on maximizing every acre of every field.

The technological advances are coming quickly, aren’t they?

Ruden: They’re coming along very quickly. On the crop inputs side, we do not have a lot of new technologies in some areas, like herbicides, but we’re certainly seeing crop nutritional advances. We are looking at things that are improving the plant’s early root growth, nutrient uptake and response to environmental stresses, so getting into the biological stimulants and helping plants improve nutrient-use efficiency or water-use efficiency. I really think this is the next generation of things that are coming along.

As an agronomist, what is your experience with soybean inoculants?

Ruden: Soybean inoculants are an area I feel very passionate about. Seed treatments and soybean inoculants are an absolute must if we’re going to maximize productivity in soybeans. The work we’ve done here recently has been looking at the value of seed treatments, the fungicide, fertility and insecticide seed treatments. But we are also really focusing on the inoculant side of that business and understanding what new technologies are out there for the inoculants industry.

What’s been the grower experience with inoculants in the area you serve, and have there been barriers to their use of those?

Ruden: Inoculants have always been a solid part of our offering here with South Dakota Wheat Growers. We’ve always offered what we feel is a premium seed treatment package and then a premium inoculant along with that. We have had very good success in getting growers to use inoculants. We’ve been as high as over 90 percent of our seed that goes out the door having an inoculant on it. Although we have seen dips in the inoculant and seed treatment percentages going out the door in recent years, last year was an incredible year for us in terms of grower adoption of seed treatments and inoculants. I truly feel that our growers benefited from the very high percentage of seed that received a full seed treatment and inoculant program. Our test plots are once again proving that value, with very positive ROI for each of these inputs.

What new technologies do you think are going to help growers?

Ruden: The biostimulant market is an area I believe is really providing some new technologies and new innovations for our growers to take a look at. The market for our traditional chemistries has been solid to stagnant, but the newest innovations are really coming from the biotechnology or biostimulant market. There are some exciting opportunities there for looking at plant growth, development and nutrient efficiency. The tolerance to environmental stresses that are also coming really makes it an exciting market to watch.

How are growers responding to these new technologies?

Ruden: We know that growers are really starting to pay attention to nutrient efficiency. I think our growers are catching on to the new technology and looking for products that can help them be absolutely as efficient as they can on any particular acre. And they are also looking to be as environmentally sound as possible.

What would be your recommendation to the grower?

Ruden: I’ve had a very clear mantra on starting with the early season plant development. Early season plant development in corn, soybeans and wheat is absolutely critical. And that begins by having a high-quality seed, working with a professional agronomist to make sure we have the right seed matched to the right acre. If you’re in the soybean market, that means a full seed treatment. It includes a fungicide and an insecticide, along with a premium inoculant that allows the plant to get off to a healthy start early in the season. If we’re dealing in the other crops, it’s a matter of equipment technology, which becomes very important in corn: planting high-quality, treated seed, handling it carefully, getting proper placement, uniformity and downforce with the planter and getting an adequate nutrition program.

Again, it’s all about early season development, especially in the Northern Plains. To get those plants up to those mid-growth stages as stress-free as possible, maximize the potential of that plant to be able to produce a high-quality and high-yielding crop. That’s my recommendation to them. To start strong, and you’ll be able to end strong at the end of the season.