Farmers and Ranchers Deserve Real Options

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When John Pullis was growing up in Michigan, one of ten children of Kenneth and Ann Marie, the family didn’t quite know what to think about their son’s choice of football teams or life goals.

“I loved Nebraska football,” Pullis said smiling.  “I just remember loving the triple option.  I played a lot of football with my brothers and my forte was to run the option to try and win our backyard games.  I would be the one watching the Huskers play by myself on the small black and white TV in the kitchen, while the rest of the family watched Michigan and Michigan State.”

Pullis is passionate about options in another arena too – agriculture.  Today he serves as an agronomist for Agoro Carbon Alliance U.S. His role is helping farmers find options that benefit their pocketbook and improve their farm businesses through implementing practices that sequester carbon and help save soil and water resources.

While Pullis loved Nebraska football during his formative years, when he was a kindergartener, he wrote down another love too, “My mom kept the paper.  I wrote down that I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up.”

The Pullis family didn’t farm, but the outdoors were deeply valued by the family.  He said his father, who served in the military, taught them all to balance work and play, “Growing up, I loved the outdoors and really appreciated nature.  The worst thing my parents could do was give me a job inside.  Everyone had chores to do and most of us had a paper route.  We would ride our bikes delivering newspapers, even in the snow, before we could go to sports practice in the morning.”

He took that work ethic and curiosity with the natural world with him to high school where a science teacher inspired him, “For the first time, I fell in love with science.  He had a big impact on my life and developed an excitement within me.  We did everything from dissecting frogs and pigs to learning about what goes into all animal and plant life.  That was the boost I needed.”

Pullis attended Oakland University in Southern Michigan, with a clear intent to go into an agricultural field.  He chose the chemistry route and earned his bachelor’s in chemistry, “I investigated different graduate schools, always knowing studying soils was my ultimate goal.  I fell in love with South Dakota State University in Brookings.  There were beautiful farms all around there and everyone had an agricultural mindset.  That’s where I pursued my Master’s in Soil Science.”

While he earned his master’s degree, he also taught introduction to soils to undergraduate students, “I taught about the larger geologic aspect of soils and how they are formed.  Then I worked on a thesis project looking at the impact of water stress, light stress, and nitrogen stress on corn and velvetleaf.  We studied how plants react to stress and tied that back to chemistry looking at the impacts of different isotopes of carbon based on the types of stress the plants were undergoing.”

“In grad school, I also had a really good friend studying remote sensing of carbon pools in the soil,” Pullis went on. “This was an aspect of study not many were looking into at that time and before carbon markets were really starting to take off.  He was looking at the soil health and quality of the soils and what areas would have higher pools of carbon.”

The next stop in Pullis’s adventures was heading to Maryland to work for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Ag Research Service, “A big reason for the move was to work with world-renowned manure management researcher, Dr. Jack Meisinger.  Dr. Meisinger was looking into how poultry and dairy manure was impacting subsurface water quality on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  It was a great opportunity to do applied research directly with growers and see how cover crops affected nutrient retention and cycling.”

Working directly with growers on options and solutions motivated Pullis the most and he continued this when he took his next role for Michigan State University Extension, “This is also when I met my beautiful wife, Wendy.  In this role, I was working mainly with livestock producers and potato growers.  The livestock producers in this area were challenged with bovine tuberculosis.  It was heart wrenching to see some of them have entire herds depopulated.  While this was going on, the North Country Beef Producers group was formed to bring producers together to reduce the spread of the disease.  It was a great way for producers to put competition aside and work on solutions.”

During this time period, Pullis also had the chance to go on a study trip to Germany and the Netherlands through Michigan State University where they were investigating animal welfare issues and manure management.  Once again, it was great to see a farmers’ working group coming together to face common issues and to solve problems, from measuring emissions from cattle to how to change their operations to impact the air quality in a positive way.

“My last stop before Agoro Carbon, was working for an independent ag retailer for a decade doing sales work, precision ag, and data management.  At the ag retailer, I was also introduced to projects around food ingredients and was able to see the consumer and investor demand for products more sustainably produced,” he explained.  “It was encouraging to see how certain growers were willing to adapt to changes and reap the fruits of the changes they made – both environmental fruits and economic.  Our role was ensuring we had the accurate data to back up the claims to justify premiums on products produced differently.”

The Journey at Agoro Carbon Alliance

As an agronomist today with Agoro Carbon, Pullis thrives on not having to sell products while enjoying a generous, solutions-based bandwidth to truly help farmers and ranchers succeed, “At Agoro Carbon we really have great freedom as employees not to be tasked with a product to sell.  We are sharing solutions and have the freedom to encourage growers to try things they have never done before.”

In his position, Pullis works with the Grower Success Team signing growers up for the program and helping oversee the field boundary collection, laying out payment options and explaining the program, “I also work with the team organizing and planning the soil sampling. We physically sample fields to set a baseline for soil carbon levels.  We use a third party to collect soil samples and also a third-party lab to analyze the samples. We are tasked with getting the information and field boundaries necessary to conduct the initial sampling and we will do so again in five years to assess the change in carbon levels based on the sequestration from the new practices farmers and ranchers implement.”

“Some of the excitement I get on a daily basis is helping growers through the process and making the process less scary,” he said.  “It’s really about creating an opportunity for them.  A lot of farmers and ranchers are shocked by the minor changes they can make and still generate revenue from – changes such as splitting pastures to move cattle more often or reducing tillage.  It doesn’t have to be an overhaul of everything they do – it’s just taking the next steps that generate things such as more feed for cattle and better soil health.”

Pullis said he is most passionate about carbon markets because they positively impact the rural areas, he loves so more kids can grow up loving college football and the outdoors, “Carbon markets are creating an opportunity for growers to make changes they may already be interested in and just haven’t been ready to make yet.  These practice changes have positive agronomic benefits, and we are not sacrificing what is good for the soil and for the crops.  We are working on an investment that has long-term benefits for the farm.  What’s most exciting to me is seeing additional revenue flow into rural communities.  That’s really the rewarding part for me.”

Agoro Carbon Alliance works diligently with farmers and ranchers to grow a permanent carbon solution through ag carbon credits. We strive to enable all farmers and ranchers to sequester carbon in their soils and decarbonize their farms while boosting profitability.

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Kerry Hoffschneider
Kerry Hoffschneider
Graze Master Group - Founder
Hoffschneider has more than two decades of communication, journalism, marketing, and public relations experience. She has both global corporate and non-profit experience in a host of areas, especially focusing on agriculture and rural community building. Hoffschneider has served as a corporate communications person for the western half of the United States as well as a development/public relations professional in the non-profit realm. She also has a background in news reporting and currently is a newspaper columnist. Hoffschneider excels at helping clients articulate their dreams with effective words that help bring goals to fruition. Solving problems and building bridges through the science of impactful, results-driven communication is her passion.
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