Corey Nikkel

    December 14, 2018

    Corey Nikkel, the Iowa Hub Manager for Indigo Research Partners, visits fields within his domain to survey and question, without expectations.

    Regardless of his familiarity with a specific grower’s land, with the practices, inputs, and history that shapes those acres, Corey knows that the most significant influences could be unforeseen, uncontested, stealth. The installation and use of novel, third-party technologies through IRP — soil sensors, weather stations, and drones, among others — creates abundant data streams, ones unlocking potential insights. Any one strand within those streams, when parsed over by Indigo’s data scientists, might establish a corollary, a causal relationship within a statistical degree of certainty. Any one strand could provide insights to help work towards an elusive riddle: What works best for this acre?

    Any one strand of information, too, cannot be analyzed in a vacuum. Understanding data gathered from those 11 growers Corey works with, spread out across Iowa and even into northern Missouri, necessitates awareness in every facet of an operation. This is why Corey shows up to those fields without expectations. In that absence, he’s free to speculate. Ask dozens of questions, even those that are obvious, listen, and then ask dozens more. Get into the fields, fingers into the soil, eyes on the crops. Farming isn’t algebra, but calculus; not the study of generalizations, but of continuous change. And Corey wants to account for every variable with the grower’s lens.

    “That’s the key to all of this,” he says. After collecting hundreds of data layers for a single field, it’s easy to feel a sense of security, as if you are in a place to make outright assumptions. But the grower, Corey says, from such prolonged experience, knows many of the reasons that crops perform well on a certain part of the farm — reasons that may not exist in any data stream.

    “You’ve got to take those insights from the technologies,” he says, “and ground them in the grower’s truth. That’s how you really improve modeling. How you give back the most useful information to that farmer.”

    Sometimes, this pursuit leads Corey into the passenger seat of a combine, where he is jostled around while talking with the operator. This particular morning, both men were going back and forth on tillage, herbicide, and fungicide practices, when they noticed one field’s uneven performance. Perhaps a different Indigo microbial treatment, variation in topography? The operator could offer no more than musings. At the farmer’s shop later that day, Corey got his answer — hog manure. Just the manure’s application to the field’s eastern half led to a significant performance uptick.

    “It’s little details like that that I’m out there trying to compile,” Corey says. Over thousands of acres, every detail counts.

    Indigo line break

    Even before joining Indigo in June of last year, Corey was no stranger to agriculture. Twenty years of experience preceded his role, studying soybean breeding, speciality grain marketing, and overall seed operations for organizations both large and small. Corey graduated from Iowa State, where he received his BS in agricultural business and agronomy. Some of his classmates became bankers with their degrees, but Corey knew he was going to stay close to the research and development of seeds. His childhood in rural Iowa still held a lot of sway; the “farm boy at heart” persisted.

    “From the age I could push a shovel,” he says, “I was working on my neighbors’ farms.”

    After those twenty years working for different agricultural established players and start-ups, Corey began looking for a honed-in position, where he could make a significant contribution to an organization while only wearing a few hats. When Corey started reading up on the company, Indigo’s “star-studded” leadership team appealed to him, along with the company’s commitment to grower profitability, and not to mention the chance to work with farmers right in their fields. Since joining, Corey’s been thrilled with the ambitious learning culture. He sees Indigo Research Partners as the “best agriculture testing lab out there,” and is amazed at the potential insights that can be delivered to the farmer. With greater potential insights, Corey notes, comes more sustainable practices, and, in turn, greater consumer health.

    “I’m not trying to sell the grower on anything,” he says. “We’re out there, in the field, with a pure desire to learn, experiment, and bring the grower along for that ride, to help him or her see results. Here in Iowa, Indigo is helping cement greater profitability for farmers, and helping to do more with less.”


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