When you’re trying to make your farm more sustainable and profitable, finding the right partners is critical, especially if you’re looking for answers beyond the industrial ag system. Dr. Jim Ladlie, founder and CEO of ProfitProAG, understands where you’re coming from.
“I know farmers have some big questions on their mind by the time they connect with us,” said Jim, a Minnesota native and lifelong agriculturist.
Jim and his team take a holistic approach to provide these answers. “ProfitProAG is inspired by faith, moved by nature and grounded in science,” says Jim, who founded the company in his hometown of Albert Lea, Minnesota, in 2000. “If you want to be more sustainable, profitable and enjoy farming more, we want to grow with you.”
Growing from humble beginnings
Jim has been rooted in agriculture his whole life. This love of the land started when Jim and his eight siblings were growing up on a 160-acre farm about 4 miles east of Albert Lea. The Ladlie family raised crops, pigs, dairy cattle, chickens, fruits, vegetables and more on their diversified farm near Albert Lea Lake.
“All the food we ate was grown on the farm, and we never went hungry,” said Jim, who attended country school and walked to a schoolhouse a mile and a half from his family’s farm. “It wasn’t until 1st grade when I had my first Oreo cookie.”
As he grew older, Jim enjoyed his years in 4-H and FFA. “Those activities opened up a whole new world for me,” said Jim, who recalls the days of close-knit, rural neighborhoods where everyone helped each other. “When I got to attend the state FFA convention, it showed me a wealth of opportunities.”
This inspired Jim to attend the University of Minnesota, where he competed nationally with the crops judging team and earned his bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 1970. While still a college student, he began working with Elanco over the summer period. A new first of its kind, incorporated weed control product for soybeans, called Treflan. The company put a performance assurance guarantee on the product and an 800 number the grower could call if they had a performance concern. This was a launching pad for Jim’s career in agriculture and drove him to pursue a doctorate degree in crop and soil science.
It also taught Jim the importance of the interaction with people based on their personality (style of behavior) first and secondarily on the technical side of the interaction. In fact, he ended up co-authoring a book for career people in agriculture on the four styles of behavior. Jim uses this book to train many new comers in the ag industry on creating a win-win interaction regarding product complaints or on a sales opportunity.
Switching from industrial ag to sustainable farming
Jim earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in weed science at Michigan State University. During the 1970s, he worked for some of the largest ag chemical corporations in the country. He managed a research farm in Nebraska, where he conducted seminars on topics ranging from weed growth to ag chemicals. “I enjoyed teaching people about how to manage crop production challenges, like diagnosing diseases and weed problems by looking at symptoms and patterns,” Jim said.
Other aspects of the work were troubling, though. “The more I started learning about industrial ag and corporate America, the more I felt like I was being brainwashed,” Jim said. “The problem with industrial ag is that it thinks it’s in control, not biological systems.”
By 1979, Jim was ready to move on from corporate America. He and his wife, Fran, also wanted to move back to Minnesota to be closer to family. He started his first business in the Albert Lea area with 5 acres of land, a few sheds and a small office. His jobs included small-plot work, writing technical manuals and doing various jobs for major ag chemical companies and groups like the United Soybean Board. “Some of this work was a precursor to the certified crop advisor (CCA) program,” Jim said.
Big changes in ag were occurring by the mid-1990s, however, that propelled Jim’s business in a new direction. The introduction of glyphosate seemed like a silver bullet for weed control, although overuse of the chemistry ushered in an era of serious herbicide resistance challenges. In this new era of agriculture, major ag companies were also starting to consolidate rapidly. “Industrial ag was starting to look like a dead-end road,” Jim said.
As he reflected on things he’d learned from growing up on his family’s farm and 15 years of work experience, Jim began to envision a different approach to farming. He developed relationships with growers like Ray Rawson from Michigan (known for triple-digit soybean yields) and Francis Childs from Iowa (whose corn yields exceeded 400 bushels per acre) to learn their methods for shattering yield records. Jim envisioned a holistic approach driven more by soil health, not endless chemical applications.
By 1995, he started transitioning his company from the industrial ag model to a more sustainable system. “I wanted to help show farmers there’s a viable, sustainable, profitable alternative to the industrial ag model,” Jim said.
Coming full circle for greater farm profitability, sustainability
In 2000, Jim created ProfitProAG. The company is based on the Full Circle System, which helps crop and livestock farmers get more from every acre, every animal and every gallon of manure.
“The heart of the Full-Circle System revolves around healthy soil—the kind filled with earthworm holes, nutrient-rich worm castings and aggregated soil particles with a texture like coffee grounds,” Jim says. “It’s all about the microbiome.”
The microbiome consists of microbes that are both helpful and potentially harmful. “When a microbiome is in balance, it’s filled with a diverse population of beneficial microbes that help you build healthier soils that help produce healthier crops that nourish healthier livestock that produce healthier food,” Jim said.
The Full Circle System acknowledges that there is divine design and divine order in the world. “The natural system is embedded in the Full Circle System,” Jim said, who believes it’s important to be grounded spiritually. “If you ask what guides ProfitProAG, that why I say we’re inspired by faith, moved by nature, and grounded in science.”
While Jim was committed to building ProfitProAG around this holistic philosophy, it wasn’t always easy. “For the first five to eight years when I started focusing on a more sustainable approach to farming, I felt alone. I would wonder, ‘Am I the only one who sees things the way I do?”
It turns out the answer was no. Jim was able to grow the ProfitPro team with skilled, knowledgeable agronomists and livestock specialists. As they shared the Full Circle System with more farmers, they emphasized that the Full-Circle System fits a wide range of farming operations.
“We work with conventional and organic growers,” Jim said. “We serve crop farmers and livestock producers, including swine, beef, dairy and poultry producers. We work with farms of all sizes across the country.”
To make the Full-Circle System even more useful for growers, Jim created the Recipe for Success. The Recipe for Success, which is tailored to each grower’s specific needs, is based on practical farmer wisdom.
“I think of advice like ‘See what you look at,’ which I heard from Dr. Carey Reams, an ag researcher who studied the principles of producing nutrient-dense crops,” Jim said.
Reams emphasized the correlation between Brix levels (a measure of sugars, amino acids and other soluble solids in a solution) in plants and nutrient density. Measuring Brix levels is part of ProfitProAG’s 3-phase Recipe for Success, which includes:
“Our “Recipe for Success” system of biology-based crop production helps you build healthier soils that help produce healthier crops that nourish healthier livestock that produce healthier food,” Jim said.
While plenty of ag companies sell products, few, if any, of them bring everything together in a farmer-friendly system like the Full Circle System and Recipe for Success, Jim adds. If you’d like to lower your input costs, raise your profit potential, produce nutrient-dense food, contribute to a healthier environment, create a business that’s sustainable for the long run and enjoy farming again, get connected with ProfitProAG.
“There’s no greater satisfaction than to see the lightbulb go on for a grower,” Jim said. “Every day can a positive learning experience. Change is coming in agriculture. If we do it right, the opportunities are unbelievable.”