EMILIE: Welcome to Plow and Pencil the art of American agriculture where like Ike, we recognize that farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil under 1000 miles from the cornfield, the Plow and Pencil podcast will paint a picture of American agriculture. Today, we will tell the stories of the producers the products, the policies and the platforms that provide feed and fuel to our nation and our world. Join the movement of farmers, ranchers and agriculture advocates plowing new ground and pencil us in to your weekly podcast schedule. This podcast is brought to you by HitchPin.com. The tool thousands of farmers and ranchers are using to buy, sell, hire, and work in agriculture.
Hello HitchPin community, what a special episode we have for you to listen to today. If you’re at all familiar with the HitchPin story then the name Will Stroda is probably one you recognize. We joke that younger generations tend to be quicker to adopt new technologies and in HitchPin’s case that’s certainly no exception. Because as a high schooler, Will Stroda completed successfully the very first transaction using the HitchPin marketplace for his family’s farming operation. Now a student at Kansas State University studying animal science, he’s just in our backyard, and we’re thrilled to be able to sit down with him and Trevor McKeeman today to talk about and reflect on that very first transaction and how far both Will and HitchPin have come since then. Listen as Will shares with us how his cattle operation has expanded, his future career aspirations, and what he anticipates the future of agriculture’s biggest hurdles to be. Enjoy.
Hello HitchPin community. Welcome back to Plow and Pencil. We are American agriculture. I’m your host Emilie Fink and while all of our guests are special, today is especially fun to have Will Stroda joining me for this episode of Plow and Pencil. Well, you’re such a big deal that I even have a co pilot I mean, a co host Trevor McKeeman in studio, and we are live and in person today.
TREVOR: Glad to be here.
WILL: Thanks for having me.
EMILIE: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s tell our guests just a little bit about Will, he grew up on his family’s farm just outside of Abilene, Kansas. And one Christmas Will received a bucket calf who is still in his herd today. And as an eighth grader took out an FSA youth loan to buy more cows. Fast forward to his sophomore year in high school Will purchased a John Deere 3020 Diesel loader tractor. So not only helped to help his cows, but to also put up some hay on some ground they began leasing from the McKeeman farms. If you haven’t already surmised, Will’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit was ignited when we heard, Kevin McKeeman talking about an app his son, Trevor was building to help farmers and ranchers buy and sell their agricultural products and services. We’ll dive into the details of that really soon. But first, let’s just talk a little bit about that initial transaction that happened in 2019.
TREVOR: Yeah. Wow. Time has flown, hasn’t it? You know, Emilie, when you’re reading his introduction here, and just how early he started with loans and equipment and all that stuff, you don’t know this Will, but you’re kind of a legend around our office that, you know, I kind of reflect back and think what was I doing? You know, in high school, it’s like, man, he sets, a pretty high bar here. And so, you know, you have that story of kind of the initial transaction. And, you know, the very first thing that happened on HitchPin is something that’s pretty special to me. And it in many ways, it kind of captures what we’re trying to do here to consider this, somebody starting out their career, and really getting a foot in the door and then on the other side of that equation was my father, 74 right now, and you know, he’s trying to figure out what to do with the farm and kind of that transition and so we think about what makes us proud and HitchPin is this idea that we’re connecting these generations that we’re giving a chance for people to get involved in agriculture. And we’re also allowing folks that have been in the field for a long time to have new tools for them. So you don’t know what but you’re part of the ethos of our company, and I’m grateful for it.
WILL: Sure thing. I am always more than happy to help out and start, especially once I heard you and your dad and it’s very interesting you need especially learning by the back then. Same words come today even.
TREVOR: It’s come a long ways.
WILL: It has.
TREVOR: I remember being in you know in your Etcher, you’re kind of homestead there and we’re out, we’re out looking at cattle and it’s pretty cool event.
WILL: Yeah, it was.
EMIILIE: So tell us Will, where are you today?
WILL: Well, I started out with that and just kept growing my herd and my cows and started a job working for Dr. Casey Barnett at Bluestem Embryo Transfer Center, and been working there for 3 years now and just learned about A.I. and learned more a lot more about an embryo transfer. That’s actually what I’m looking into getting into for career in the future and transferred my first embryo here into one of our own cows here, a couple months back and but just getting lots of experience and time, meet people, traveling, lots of good experiences.
EMILIE: So you’re a sophomore at Kansas State.
WILL: Yes, go into K-State here in Animal Science degree in pre med track and sophomore right now and hoping to apply to vet school apply next year. And if I don’t get in, I’ll just do a fourth year undergrad. And apply again after that.
EMILIE: Well, I think it’s quite fitting that we’re recording this in the vet school at K-State, and our friends at the Beef Cattle Institute have been so kind to let us take over their studio here this afternoon to have a chat with Will. So Will, tell us in your own words about that very first transaction on HitchPin. What was it like for you?
WILL: Well, it started out with talking to Trevpr’s dad, Kevin, and just learning about the app and how he’s wanting to start it. And we were already doing Kevin’s hay, and so we would do his hay for a third/two thirds. So we keep two thirds and his dad with a third. But normally what are needing the hay, so we just buy the hay off of him. And usually and so doing that it just worked out just perfect. And especially being able to help Trevorr out and help the HitchPin app, it is a great experience and then getting to know Trevor a lot more too is real good.
TREVOR: Yeah, we kinda, he said he’s an Abilene Cowboy and Chapman are the Fighting Irish, our high school rivals here. But we put all that aside. Now we’re all K-Staters here. But it is interesting. He was a great guinea pig in the first part of this, but I think even back then we could see the promise where this could go it’s like just in a matter of a few seconds, we could do something that would have been would have taken quite a bit longer to do. So HitchPin was a lot different development back then. But it’s come a long ways. But even then it’s the kind of that spark of where this could go. So grateful, grateful that we had a chance to do that.
EMILIE: Yeah, so Trevor, to refine your perspective, as our founder, talk to us about the importance of just being able to test some of those ideas out early on when developing your product.
TREVOR: It is tremendous, especially, you know, when you’re trying to build something with a meaning to it, you know, that you’re actually trying to build something that truly helps people when it’s not just a financial aspect to it, having having folks like Will and others that are on the ground floor. This is not a theoretical exercise that’s dreamed up by some tech guys sitting in a disconnected office somewhere. These are real people and, and we’re trying to build real products here. And and the only way that you really learn how to how to build things that are helpful and matter is to have folks go through it and say, Hey, this worked really well, is this something we can improve, and it’s something that I think we’ve tried to keep in the company culture from the very beginning. It’s like, okay, how do we make this systematically better every day? And ultimately, how do we serve the people that we really care about, which is folks that produce our food? And that started with Will, and certainly it’s carried on for several years now. And hopefully will continue in the future.
EMILIE: So Will, your transaction that very first transaction was for products, right for hay?
EMILIE: And as our users well know, we have products and we have services, and we were just talking about your interest in embryo transfer and our listeners are getting really accustomed to me starting podcasts is way but I like to start up here at this 30,000 foot level. And in the event one of our listeners maybe isn’t as familiar with livestock production. Can you share this at a pretty high level what and why embryo transfer technologies are utilized by livestock producers?
WILL: Well, the embryo transfers first use just to help improve genetic potential of livestock and cattle especially what I’m into and so you’re taking your top cow and you take suck out the embryos and you fertilize them with your best bull out there or whatever A.I. bull you usually use, but instead of getting just one calf and the best out of you year, you can get 20 calves or more just depending on their production and everything and then also when you go and take out the embryos, you can, there’s two forms of taking them out, you can do traditional flushing, which is you go in and you super ovulate the cow and you AI her, and then you flush out the embryos and you freeze them, or you can transfer them fresh also into a cow that’s already been set up. And then the other ways, the new and upcoming way, kind of and it’s IVF. And we work with a company called Vytelle and they don’t use any drugs or super ovulation drugs to help grow the follicles, they just go in directly and you can go into your cow, and you can repeat it every two weeks. And you go and grow your the unfertilized eggs, ovocytes. And then after a day, they become mature, and then you can fertilize them with your semen. And then you let them keep maturing in the dish for a week. And then you can freeze them and let the nitrogen or transfer and fresh into another cow. But it’s really great for just seeing the potential and how quickly kind of growth in genetics especially has grown in the past few years. And especially seeing that with where I’m at today, seeing all the different top genetic minds and have everybody’s just grown so much more rapidly be able to get that top quality product out there to general users and consumers.
TREVOR: I think I would add to that does know more about the subject than I do. But I think I would add in all this as part of that a whole lot more people to see. And so how do we how do we improve the efficiency of power producing food. And I see this as one of those steps towards a better conversion of our feed. That’s a more efficient use of our resources. And more efficient use of resources helps feed the public. So that’s my simple way of breaking down what you’re trying to do. There’s obviously some amazing science behind it. And that’s what’s also cool about agriculture is just how much science goes into this, and how thoughtful these producers are.
EMILIE: And from an economic standpoint to right, and one of the things that we help our users that HitchPin will benefit from is just saving time. Right. And so as we were getting set up for the podcast, Trevor, and Will, we’re talking about getting those embryo transfer services listed on HitchPin, and so it’s really cool to see again, you go from one of Trevor’s most famous folks, if Amazon started with books HitchPin started with hay, and here we are right here and look at the evolution.
TREVOR: I think we might have some services on that already.
EMILIE: Will, as a young and enthusiastic entrepreneur, he is so passionate about agriculture, what excites you most about being in this part of the livestock industry?
WILL: Well, it’s really just great to see how much growth we can do and seeing where we can go to in the future. And especially like what you said, the population in the world is growing and how are we going to do it? How are we going to feed everybody? And where I’m working today where you’re trying to take your top quality genetics, which you’re taking feed production, you’re taking your milk quality, and all that and just spreading it across to be able to have your top producing animals, wood, and meat or milk or any other products. And also, they’re starting to try and do some research on testing for genetic potential with reproduction. So like, every year, you have calves that are open, or you keep a heifer back, and you take her all the way up towards she ready to produce her own calf and she doesn’t get pregnant. That’s just a lot of the waste of resources for producing your calves. And so with that research what they’re going into now, it’s just crazy to see where where we could go in the future and being able to feed everybody with the same amount of resources or less because cities keep growing. So resources are getting less and less and less. But we got to feed more and more people.
TREVOR: That was the question Emilie sprung on me in our podcast, she said, how much are we going to have to increase the food supply? I guessed, right, was 70%. It’s pretty amazing.
EMILIE: I love that you called out how different you are reflecting your high school path was than Will’s, I was thinking the same thing as we were getting ready for our time together. And I love the fact that there are some bright, bright minds like yours, Will, who are not only interested in the science of agriculture, and also those who understand the business side of agriculture and who are really open to new technologies. And I think you know, when we think about generations returning to agriculture, you give me so much hope, because it’s so cool to see that you’re really just willing to try new things. And, you know, I think sometimes we think that the former generations or the those who are maybe still running the farm are going to be less open to some of those new technologies, or some of the resources are practices. And it’s guys like you who make me really, really smile when I think about the future of agriculture.
WILL: Yes, you got to continually be willing to change and adapt to everything in life, in agriculture, everything just got to continue to adapt, and grow.
TREVOR: Well, and part of that your ears have probably been burning the last couple of years. Because in part of the origin story, one thing I usually mentioned about how we got started, and all this is, is I say, Hey, here’s an example, our first transactions a guy named Will, and he’s a brilliant student, I think I did really well, this is kind of a great state level type wrestler. This guy gets up in the morning works, he does chores, he works hard in school all day, he wrestles after that, and, and then he comes home at night, and works on the farm more. And I’m like that. And here’s the guy that could do anything he wants to do, you know, work ethic to do anything. And he wants to be involved in agriculture. And so you don’t know this. But I have said that sort of many times. And to me, that’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here. It’s like, there’s, there’s obviously a love for this space, there’s interest in it. And so how do we create those opportunities that allow for people like Will, and another bright, hard working back in space? I guess, if we can accomplish anything as an organization Emilie, I hope that’s something.
EMILIE: Will, this might make you smile, like, you may have been one of our youngest people to complete a transaction on display. But we recently worked with a 94 year old gentleman, who is listing a tractor for sale, using the HitchPin app. And so there is no excuse for anyone out there. Young or old, it’s HitchPin for you.
TREVOR: Pretty cool.
WILL: Yeah it’s pretty cool.
EMILIE: Yeah,it’s really neat. It’s a sweet story to hear him talk about, you know, having a tractor that he bought as a young man and hoping that it can be used by the next generation. Yeah, absolutely.
EMILIE: Enter code podcast when you sign up, that’s PODCAST. And when you complete your first transaction, we’ll waive your platform fee. Remember, it’s free to sign up. It’s free to list and it’s free to browse, join the community of HitchPin users today at HitchPin.com.
EMILIE: Okay, Will, so now think forward, think ahead with us a little bit, what are some of the hurdles you anticipate you might have to face as someone going into agriculture in the future?
WILL: Well, there’s always hurdles, especially with agriculture, you’re buying at retail, and you got to sell at wholesale, there’s very small marginal issues for that can occur to be able to produce a profit. And it’s hard, especially for someone trying to grow. Or if you look at statistics over the past 50 years, farms have just continually been dying, but the big farms are only getting bigger, but the small farms, they become less and less and less. And it’s pretty much your either small little hobby farmer or your huge rancher. And it’s hard to grow and produce and become something of yourself in agriculture that way, and just being able to make money and make a living.
EMILIE: I know that’s something you think about a lot to Trevor.
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing what it takes to have a viable farm. And we’ll talk about the famous alarm of what scale that needs to be in order to have a reasonable wage now, it’s, it’s amazing. And that’s something that I hope also we can do with what we’re doing at HitchPin is how can we instead of everything being sort of just vertically integrated and commoditize? How can we allow producers on a farm kid to a student of economics and price takers, which are saying on both our inputs and our outputs? That’s the worst economic position. And so how can we change that? Is there is there a way to change that and, you know, as you were talking about some of the quality things that are now we’re able to do, is there a way create market conditions where you don’t have to just take at what’s out there, where we can start to begin to price, our products that we sell. And we can start to have more flexibility on the things we buy and where we buy them from. And so I’m excited about that. That’s certainly something that the HitchPin community is trying to figure out. How do we, how do we create conditions where I know what my costs are, I know what I need to get, I’ve now opened my market up to a much bigger audience. And maybe I can start to get some premium prices, or on the flip side of that, maybe I can find something cheaper, because I’m buying it direct from somebody. And, and I’m excited about that. And I think that’s a healthy thing for the industry. It’s happened in other industries. And I’d love to see, farmers have more control over how they buy things, how we sell things.
WILL: Yeah, I’ve seen things like that when we sell product, especially like, if you’re completely finishing out a beef, you can post them and market and talk to people because a lot of people there one, locally grown and raised beef. And it also a lot of times can be cheaper than buying directly from the grocery store. Because you have a lot of mark up because analysis market up and the retailers, the supermarkets, they all mark it up because they got to make money too. So if you do that, you just completely cut out middlemen, you can sell direct to a consumer and they’re getting a better product in their own mind, too. So you can get better premiums that way as well.
EMILIE: I think farmers and ranchers are thinking about how they can diversify their operations and produce other income that maybe they their farm hadn’t traditionally done. And, Will, you were talking about that, we’re getting started about people who are potentially providing birds for the receptionist for embryo transfer, do you want to tell our listeners a little bit about that?
WILL: Okay, so you have these top genetic producers were people with a lot of money in the best cows out there. And they’re producing all these embryos, but you need lots of land, and you need lots of cattle to put those embryos into. So what they’re continually looking for is recent urgencies recipient cows that you put the embryo into, and then you raise the calf, and then we’ve taken on wheat calf deal or something similar, and then they’ll buy the calves back and then or then they’ll give you top premium market price plus, a lot of times they’ll give you a premium on top of that, for raising that calf, because it’s their genetic potential to seed stock producers so much higher. And so it’s a great way for, say, someone you’re out there, you only you got a smaller herd, or you’re just wanting to be able to make more money with your herd and you’re struggling as it is when just buying your bull, and having to make money that way. And so there’s a lot better way to help increase profits from your herd and your livestock.
EMILIE: Trevor, we have people who are doing similar types of diversification or things like equipment and services. Can you share some of those examples?
TREVOR: Well, you know,Will brings up a great point earlier about how expensive all this is, and just the challenges associated with having password confined stuff and equipment, only mentioned equipment, that equipment keeps getting more and more expensive, and the equipment that I grew up on, you could kind of fix with pliers, duct tape, probably a lot of our equipment, but you know, pretty humble, humble machines and the equipment that’s coming up now, it’s so expensive, and so complicated, you need software technicians to work on it. And so I think what we’re gonna see this is, Will pioneered this when he was doing some some early swapping custom work, I think we’re gonna see a lot more of that. And the folks that have the machinery are going to keep it running in order to pay for it and sort of justify that level of technology. And then I think there’s gonna be a whole group of producers who say, Hey, I don’t I don’t need to own that half million dollar planter, you know, or I don’t need to, I don’t want to spend that kind of money, I can get that service done by somebody that’s coming along and offering it so on the surface decided that there’s something there. And then certainly the ability, there’s all these assets on farm. And is there a way to digitize those assets and use them in a way that maybe, maybe we’ve got green bits that we can print or other other things out there just to help those incremental additional value pieces for the producer that help keep them in business. That’s the exciting stuff for us, because you wouldn’t have been able to do that without a marketplace before.
EMILIE: Will, you’re an ag student here at K State. So I’m sure a lot of your peers aren’t quite familiar with agriculture, but what do you hope that someone maybe everyone knew about agriculture?
WILL: Well, I kind of wished it everyone would just see how much it takes how much work and labor and time it takes to put in to grow something. And it’s a lot of pride factor and cattle and livestock and farming and ranching all of it, it’s a lot of pride. And people put their whole lives in something that live with nothing their whole life. But by the end of it, you might have something to pass down to your kids.
TREVOR: I think he says about as well as you can say.
EMILIE: Yeah, absolutely.
TREVOR: Hardwork your entire life. So you’ll have something to pass, is not only physical items, but also a great way of life, to your kids do this.
EMILIE: And I think, you know, just given our current climate in the world today, um, food production is kind of top of mind for everybody. Food security, is being talked about everywhere. And I think, not only appreciating what goes into producing that food, but then also having a deep respect for the people who are putting the blood sweat and tears into that product. I think it’s something that…
TREVOR: I couldn’t agree more. And certainly, we turn this over to Will here in a second, but when I think about the two things that really drive our team, one piece, you know, a lot of us coming from farming backgrounds. And so how do we fill the personal connection for how we help neighbors and our own farms, which is a wonderful thing to be able to actually take a proactive thing in that area. But then the second piece is what we touched on a little bit earlier, which is macro conditions. And so if we’ve got to produce this much more food next 20 years, whether HitchPin’s doing that or anybody else somebody needs to be worked in, it’s critical that we’ve got people out pushing the limits, trying to figure out how we’re going to do this, because I’ve got four kids that if we’re not able to meet that, that’s a big deal for the world. And so, the team has always talked about these sort of supply shocks, and needs a need far more efficient food production system. And now, you know, all that’s come faster than you would have thought you got current conditions with Ukraine and Russia. And it’s kind of hit me a little bit more. We’re so busy building a company and trying to farm and raise kids that I don’t watch a ton of news, I’ve been fascinated by Ukraine. And the reason for it is, I feel a lot of empathy there. This is the breadbasket of Europe. I just learned the other day, their flag in case blue skies over fields, that’s the blue and, and the yellow, and that they’re essentially the Kansas of that part of the world. And so, you know, I watched some some items where producers aren’t sure if they’re gonna be able to get their crops in with jets streaming over the top of them. And you know, it’s shocking, because this, that could happen, I guess, in other places. And so I love the idea, I wish we were further along, even we are today, moving fast. But I love the idea that we might be able to make a difference on something that we might be able to help move through more efficiently. And we’re certainly as a company will keep how we go both domestically with increases in prices that we’re going to see. And how can we do something there, again, for that domestic producer, and waiving fees, or trying to do something, and then internationally, there’s going to be a lot of challenges. So is there anything we can do internationally to help the people of Ukraine to help the people that depend on the farmers, Ukraine, and it’s exciting to be in a position where we can start to look at some of that stuff.
EMILIE: So eyes on the horizon, Will, think forward 20 years. Where do you think agriculture is going to be? First of all, you’re gonna have to do the math and see how old it might be 20 years from now, don’t say your age.
WILL: I’ll be forty in 20 years. And a lot of times, there’s stuff where you can’t even imagine because technology and everything are so much faster in the background that you don’t even notice it. Because like when you look 20 years back from now, and seeing where we’ve come today, it’s way more than people 20 years ago would even expect. And it’s just crazy to think where we can go in the future with just being able to pretty much globalize everything. Instead of being directly local and smaller, you can be able to just deal with all kinds of productions across the world and especially by the HitchPin app have been able to put that across the world, people being a we use it to trade agricultural commodities and services and it’s just…
TREVOR: You’ll have a farmer in Abilene and that’s transacting with the buyer in Singapore. Exactly. I think that’s where we’re going. And we’ll have 2.2 billion lucky….
EMILIE: No small feat ever And Trevor and i’ll be retired. Yeah, absolutely. Will, thank you so much for not only believing in HitchPin at the very beginning, but for spending some time with us here today. Good luck in your classes. We appreciate all that you’re doing to champion HitchPin and make sure you go and tell all of your friends to sign up and get an account.
WILL: I’ve been telling people whenever I get a chance.
TREVOR: We’ve also got a hat for you too.
EMILIE: Trevor, any closing thoughts for you?
TREVOR: I appreciate you putting this together. Emily. I really these these podcasts are so much fun for me to listen to because, you know, I get to I get to think about all the stuff I’m doing on a daily basis. But there’s so many stories in agriculture. It’s it’s exciting to
hear that from others perspectives, and I’m grateful for Will joining us on this podcast. Possibly kicking off with could be something that changes the whole landscape in agriculture. That’s pretty cool.