From time to time one needs to look back in order to move forward in the right direction. In my case I see things in articles and talking to growers that seems like cutting edge, but in fact it is stuff we were talking about, or doing, or a part of 25-30 years ago. The big difference now is that things are much easier to quantify given the advances in technology. I came across an article on an outfit that is touting its “coaches” and their network. It struck me as funny that this is something new. I’ve been a part of a network like that for over 30 years.
The laboratory running our clients samples is Brookside Laboratories Incorporated. I don’t discuss it much because I’m not sure how much interest there is in knowing the fine details. Well that look back kicked in so just a refresher in case you are curious. The total organization as it is today actually got its start from an observation on a dairy farm in New Knoxville OH. Mr. E.R. Kuck observed his dairy calves were eating the new plaster off the walls in his barn. He came to the conclusion that this was related to the mineral content (calcium and magnesium) of the plaster. He added the minerals to his rations and later to his soils. It was determined in the end that as magnesium was lacking in his soils, it was affecting his herd health.
His findings were published in 1946 in an article “Better Crops with Plant Food” The interest was so over whelming that a giant move to more research in agriculture at the farm level was put into motion. The Laboratory was started in 1951 and the field force of consultants started with gentleman out of the soil conservation service to “recruit” consultants. It was rough going at first as the concept of a private organization to provide something that was being given for free from Land Grant Universities, and the consultants had to support themselves entirely on commission.
Names associated with Brookside in the early days were those such as Senator Robert A. Taft, Dr. William Albrecht, and Dr. Rudolph Ozolins. Today there are over 200 consultants in the Brookside Network that provide services to over 16000 clients 48 states and 17+ countries. Up until January of 2013 the laboratory had been in New Knoxville OH at the same physical location. Today a brand new state of the art laboratory is located in New Breman OH. The field force of consultants both in agriculture and turf provide consulting services on millions of acres and 1000’s of golf courses and sports fields.
The experience of these consultants is SHARED every year at our annual conference, which has been going for 62 years straight. That shared knowledge is passed directly to our clients in the form of sound recommendations based on science and observations from across the country. We strive to keep informed on technology, markets, on farm innovations, fertility trends, tillage practices that improve soil quality and structure, fertilizers that work to improve the profitability of your farms. We also pride ourselves on our “INDEPENDENCE”. When you are involved in product sales, your focus becomes too narrow. There is so much more to crop production than the nutrients that are applied (remember…Chemical, Physical, and Biological). We want to keep focusing on all that fall within our control and scope. And today, “PROFITABILITY”, in a far more global economy, and “SUSTAINABILITY”, in an ever increasing regulatory intrusion into our operations is paramount to decision making.
Our network of consultants is there for our clients to tap into. If one of us does not have an answer to a question they have, maybe one of the other guys does.
Can you get data from other labs…of course. Is it good? There are a lot of good labs out there. I use Brookside because I believe it is the best in the business and I know the people who run it on a personal level as do all affiliated consultants.
The Brookside organization is unique. I don’t work for the Lab. It is its own entity. I am a customer of the lab. The Consultants organization is separate but connected thru the Lab. It’s a screwy setup and unfortunately one of the best kept secrets in agriculture. For the most part it provides services to consultants and universities only. The business model by todays standards, is ridiculous, but somehow it works.
This year we are rolling out a new test for soil quality. This summer will be a year of collecting data for our clients and for the entire consultant’s organization as we compile numbers and continue to calibrate this test. Its potential is mind boggling. It will not replace the regular soil tests but may give explanations that the regular test numbers do not give us. Get ready for terms like “carbon burst” C:N ratios, Solvita, soil respiration. This is not a test to be run every year on every sample zone, it’s too expensive for that right now. However I have the feeling that one benefit of this test may turn out to be the key to variable rate nitrogen which could be huge. Brookside is one of only 3 labs in the country that are set up to run this test.
Although they may not see it or think about it, there is quite a bit that goes into providing the service and the recommendations our clients get. A lot of it very new….and some things more than 60 years old that still apply.