Kirk Stueve, a remote sensing scientist and grower, talks with ag industry veteran and Ceres Imaging colleague Michael Burdick in the office.
Q. Kirk, what’s your family’s history in farming?
Kirk: The Stueve family, we have a rich history of farming in Minnesota. I am a fourth generation farmer and I just started four years ago in what is mostly a corn and soybean rotation.
My great grandparents began farming in western Minnesota around the time of the Great Depression and it slowly evolved from there over the years. Various Stueve families have been farming ever since between their kids, the grandkids, and now some of the great-grandkids.
The original farm is southwest of Dumont, Minnesota, a large metropolis of 100 people or so. They initially started with a mix of wheat, barley, oats, sunflowers, and some soybeans; improved genetics, longer growing seasons, and economic realities facilitated a transition to mostly corn and soybeans.
Q. Mike, what’s your background?
Mike: I do not have a traditional ag background, at least a row crop background. My grandfather moved to Battle Creek, Michigan from Chicago to open Burdick Packing, a meat packing facility.
I think my father ran it for 40+ years after it was around 20+ years prior to that. So I certainly have a little bit of an ag background in the meat side of things, but my background focuses much more on the sales aspects of agriculture in very different markets.
After high school, I moved to Ames, Iowa, got an ag business degree from Iowa State. I figured that if I was going to go to Iowa State, one of the better ag schools in the country, I might as well take advantage of my current situation.
The commodity market at the time was through the roof.
It was 2011…
Kirk: That’s when corn was gold.
Mike: Yeah, corn was pushing $7.50.
Kirk: At one point it was pushing $8 a bushel cash.
Mike: That’s right, and beans were upward of $14, $15, $18. So with that said, some pieces fell together. Ag business at Iowa State is very much an economics degree. It’s just, instead of counting, worldly markets from a macro perspective, it’s focused much more on the commodity market.
Since I graduated, I've been immersed in digital agriculture, from insurance products to being on front lines of new markets for data and imaging.
Q. What did you do for Climate Corp?
Mike: I was a district sales manager as well as a business manager. Initially my district was southeastern South Dakota, northeastern Nebraska, then it was all of South Dakota and North Dakota. Then it was eastern Nebraska, all of South Dakota and North Dakota, and then eventually I picked up a little bit of Minnesota and southwest Iowa.
Q. That’s a lot of corn and soybean territory, so you’ve been serving those growers for a long time. Were you basically an all-product guy?
Mike: Initially I was hired on the insurance side of the business. Total weather insurance was a product, a parametric insurance product, created by the Climate Corporation in 2011. Eventually I was brought on to start their data analytics sales team.
Q. Kirk, what’s your path been like?
Kirk: I’m a scientific thinker at heart. I have a Ph.D. in geography and remote sensing from Texas A&M University, and was a first author of articles in publications like Remote Sensing Environment, and others. I worked as a federal research scientist, you know, did some work in Washington D.C. and Saint Paul, MN with the feds.
I also helped build GIS programs and taught geospatial classes at various universities. I thought Ceres sounded like a cool company, I talked to (Ceres Imaging founder) Ash, and a few months later got brought on board. I came on board because of the unique space that Ceres occupies.
It’s that space between economics and environmental science that really intrigues me. And that space is really exciting for me because it’s applied science and we can bring it to the grower and demonstrate how they can use science to make money, but then at the same time...it’s also better for the environment, and sustainable farming.
Ceres Imaging expert Kirk Stueve, planting corn.
That’s really my space right now. I’m part geek, part farmer. That’s what’s cool about this company, and the job.
Q. When did you start actually farming on your family’s property?Kirk:
Kirk: My grandfather Gene Stueve had his retirement party at 65 but he farmed for almost another twenty years. He finally retired--I got a call when I was working as a research scientist, asking if I wanted to farm, and I quickly said “Well, sure.”
They hadn’t mentioned anything, and this came out of the blue four years ago when I was driving to work.
“Hey Kirk, how’s it going?”
“You want to farm?”
“All right, you can start next spring. Here’s how much it will cost you to rent the land and work out the machinery rental with your uncle.”
So, 2014 was when I first started farming and managing my own acres with my uncle Mark and aunt Becki.
Part of the farm formerly run by Kirk’s grandparents (Gene and Mary Jane Stueve). His uncle Mark and aunt Becki currently own the farm site.
Q. What’s your perspective on the players in remote sensing, and what Ceres do differently?
Kirk: I built a GIS (think layers of soil, yield data, satellite data, etc.) for my farm using the best science. I tied in to the RapidEye satellite which has an index similar to our Chlorophyll index because that’s the best out there, but there’s something else that Ceres offered in addition to the satellites and most of the other aerial providers--the thermal, and what we call the Disturbance Index. That’s something that most other providers, they’re not doing it.
That’s part of why I came to Ceres, you’re using cutting edge imagery and science.
It’s data and imagery that I want to use on my farm. Even with my skill set, this is something I couldn’t easily generate for the farm to make it better.
Q. What other practices do you use at the family farm?
Kirk: We’re progressive in that we’re always looking for something to save us money and maintain the longevity of the farm. Right now we use minimum tillage. We found out that if you go no-till, our heavy soils, they don’t dry out in the spring, so you’ve got to have a little bit of black dirt showing, we intentionally leave 60%-70% residue.
We also do variable rate applications for key inputs of fertilizer and seed. We apply less fertilizer next to waterways and on unproductive ground.
Q. Mike, what’s your perspective on why Ceres Imaging is different from competitors?
Mike: Some of the advantages that Ceres has, is that we are a much more innovative and scientific organization than all of the rest. We would rather deliver something very innovative and scientific and groundbreaking rather than cash checks, at the end of the day, which is a complete paradigm shift from the rest of the industry. We’d rather do that than have a race to the bottom line.
To get to know the Ceres team even better, reach out to Mike and Kirk about aerial imagery or anything else related to Midwest ag:
Kirk Stueve, Ph.D. Michael Burdick
Scientist & Crop Consultant Strategic Account Executive
U.S. Midwest U.S. Midwest
Gene Stueve unloading corn from the combine at age 83.