In honor of National Agriculture Month, KAS is highlighting some of our employees who exemplify what it means to contribute to to agricultural advances.
Tim Laatsch, director of agronomy for North America, not only leads KAS’s North American team of agronomy experts but owns and manages the same farm he spent his childhood and developed his work ethic on.
“All of my memories of growing up in agriculture revolve around my grandfather. He was the guy that had me driving the pickup before my feet could reach the pedals and the one who taught me all the basic skills a kid needs to know to be an effective worker.”
Growing up, Laatsch can remember how beneficial those skillsets were as he spent years taking on more and more responsibility, from tending watermelons to putting up hay for the cattle and everything in between. Eventually, Laatsch was faced with the harsh reality of just how unpredictable and overwhelming the farming industry could be.
“There was one year where my dad got hurt in a farming accident and was in the hospital. I was a young man at the time, and I remember having to seed all the wheat that year by myself. It was the first time I really felt the burden of responsibility. Before then it was fun—then it got serious.”
Once out of high school, Laatsch left the family farm to pursue a degree at Southern University of Illinois Carbondale. However, during his sophomore year he took a job with a soil fertility specialist on campus and decided to change his degree to one in plant and soil science where he could apply his interest in science to an area he was passionate about—agronomy.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 1992, Laatsch went to Michigan State University for a master’s in microbiology which later led him to a job in microbrewing.
“At that time, microbrewing was just becoming hip and I found applying the chemistry and biology interesting. It was a very fun and cool experience to be on that trajectory and it was loosely involved in agriculture with the raw materials being ag products.”
Eventually, in 1999, Laatsch was faced with a life-changing decision and he and his wife decided to return home to Altamont, Illinois to take over his family farm and raise their two children.
“When my grandfather passed away, my dad and his two sisters inherited the farm. My aunts approached me on buying their share of the original farm, so I decided to take the plunge. Almost immediately after the deal was official, my dad and I swapped the land so he could own the fully intact family farm, and I the 55 acres next to it.”
Just like that, Laatsch went back to his roots and became a 5th generation farmer. The only difference was he did so in addition to pursing a career in agronomy.
Laatsch worked as a technical agronomist for Growmark and was responsible for hosting their annual meeting where the top soil fertility researchers gathered to discuss emerging issues in nutrient management. It was there that Laatsch heard the story on CENTURO and knew he wanted to be a part of that venture and pursued an open position within the company.
“Their [KAS] genuine commitment to science-based integrity and decision attracted me and I became enamored once I started learning about MBM and the guiding principles. I set myself on a mission that I was going to work there.”
Laatsch joined KAS in 2018 and after more than four years, he continues to farm full-time in addition to his career.
Currently, Laatsch’s operation is strictly row crop with corn, soybeans and some winter cereal, but they have been cover cropping in every situation they can for the last five years. He is deeply committed to stewardship and innovation on and off the clock—even if it means their operation decreases so their land profitability and worthwhile investment increase.
“Some of the land we currently have in our portfolio is not profitable, so we intentionally got smaller so we could get better. We are currently fighting a learning curve on cover crops and how to make them work, but we are committed because we believe in it as a long-term investment in soil productivity.”
Of course, with science and agronomy playing such a vital role in his career, he also carries that knowledge over into his farm as a way to continuously improve and be a steward of the land.
“Being a small farm makes investing in technology challenging but we are committed to doing it to collect better data to understand the farm and make the best decisions.”
The data Laatsch collects includes yield maps and soil tests, which help support variable rate prescriptions to optimize management.
“Despite our size, we are actively pursuing more technology even though its expensive and I think that makes us unique.”
Laatsch says he hopes to diversify the farm in upcoming years and his wife is not only fully supportive but involved with her own plans as well. Looking to start her own flower business, they are starting pilot beds this year and working to develop processes and a viable market.
As for their children, both attended University of Illinois where their daughter has graduated and currently works for Cargill and their son has accepted a job with Koch Industries upon his graduation in 2023.