(Photo: Joel Reichenberger - DTN/Progressive Farmer)
Innovator in Production Research | AJ Blair
March 1, 2023 | Kriss Nelson
This award recognizes an individual, organization or company who has demonstrated commitment to improving the competitiveness of Iowa soybean farmers, shown outstanding leadership in the use of precision agriculture tools and technology and has worked to discover, validate and effectively manage practices to improve profitability.
AJ Blair of Dayton has significantly contributed to the Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) understanding of managing profitability when adopting soil health-promoting systems.
Since Blair’s involvement with ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) began in 2008, his commitment to on-farm trials and collaboration with staff agronomists has grown.
“AJ is a very innovative farmer,” says Scott Nelson, ISA senior field services program manager. “As an RCFI collaborator, AJ continues to assist us in discovering new management practices to increase yield under cover crops, no-till and more.”
No matter what’s involved, Blair is always willing to be an innovative voice who works collaboratively with researchers, including RCFI staff, to improve the competitiveness of Iowa-grown soybeans.
Blair became familiar with RCFI opportunities while serving as a director on the ISA board.
“I trust the people at ISA; they provide unbiased research and agronomic advice,” he says. “They have taught me to look at data, ignore a lot of the noise and advertising, think more critically, and be open to trying things. We do what we need to do to be better. We push that envelope.”
For the past six years, Blair has conducted a long-term cover crop trial allowing RCFI researchers to measure soil health changes that may accompany continuous cover cropping.
He is also a leading Iowa farmer in drainage water recycling. In 2022, structures were completed on his farm to collect drainage water for later season irrigation.
“The benefits of this system are significantly reduced nutrient losses from his farm and increased yields via irrigation in the summer,” says Nelson.
Blair has also participated in tile monitoring, seeking to validate changes in water quality and soil health resulting from his in-field efforts as well as other conservation projects.
These are farmer decisions that impact profitability and improve the future success and competitiveness of all Iowa soybean growers.
“I don’t look at it as me helping other farmers. I look at it as other farmers helping me,” he says. “There is a lot of value coming back to me from other trials and the analytics ISA has behind the data.”
This information aids in decision making, he adds.
“You can talk to a neighbor about various practices or trials, but you really can’t compare; there are too many aspects,” Blair says. “I need to do a trial on my own farm to understand the data, and if there’s enough data to support the change, then I can make the changes. I look to the bigger group of trials and data when I’m debating a change in a practice.”