Indiana Farmer Randy Bales, Co-Alliance’s Eric Steigerwalt Receive 4R Advocate Award from The Fertilizer Institute


Indiana farmer Randy Bales (left), who manages Fairholme Ag and farms in Henry and Rush counties, shares the 2023 4R Advocate Award with Eric Steigerwalt (right) from Co-Alliance. Both were recently recognized during Commodity Classic in Orlando in March 2023. Photo: C.J. Miller / Hoosier Ag Today.

An East-Central Indiana farmer and his Co-Alliance specialist have recently received a top honor from The Fertilizer Institute during Commodity Classic in Orlando.

Randy Bales, who farms in Henry and Rush Counties and manages Fairholme Ag in Lewisville, received the 4R Advocate Award from The Fertilizer Institute and shares it with Eric Steigerwalt, YieldPro Specialist with Co-Alliance, for their partnership to put fertilizer management practices into place that are cost efficient, increase sustainability, and improve environmental outcomes on their fields.

Bales and Steigerwalt work together to ensure the 1,770 acres of corn, cover crops, wheat and oats under continuous no-till at Fairholme Ag improve yields and maximize nutrient use year-over-year.

What are some of the practices that Bales uses on his farm that helped him receive this award?

“Over the years we’ve been fairly proactive on soil testing,” says Bales. “We’re also looking at nutrients that provide the most return for the investment. We’re using cover crops—and we’re working with the Nature Conservancy to try to start a demonstration farm to show some things with nutrients entering the water, as well as different types of products can be used to help minimize that.”

“Research and education are important for us in agriculture to continually improve ourselves,” adds Bales. “These improvements then need to be shared with those not connected to agriculture because the public has many misconceptions about our industry. Research allows us to have data to back up the farming practices we adopt.”

From left to right: Eric Steigerwalt, Co-Alliance; Randy Bales, Fairholme Ag; Brad Bales, Fairholme Ag, as they discuss soil conditions and make planting preparations on Bales’ farm near Lewisville, Indiana. Photo: Steve Woit.

The foundation of 4R practices was put in place with 2.5-acre grid soil sampling in the 1950s using a variable rate applied approach by driving the tractor with a fertilizer spreader slower over acres that needed more nutrients. In 1997, the team started using a 1-acre grid soil sampling process to capture the variability of soil types across fields sampling every six to eight years. From this work, they developed a zone-management-based variable rate crop nutrition program that uses soil test values calculated between soil tests by combining the base soil test with nutrient applications and crop removal rates from yield data.

Today, Fairholme Ag uses a hex grid sampling protocol developed by Advanced Agrilytics and sample every four years. They transitioned to 20” rows for corn and soybeans in 2017 and began strip till and fertilizer banding with the no-till. VRT seeding and fertility combined with auto swath controls on application equipment put the right nutrient rates in the right places. Prior to 2017, they employed ridge-till in the early 1980s and in 1994 leveled those ridges and began no-till.

4R practices continue to pay dividends. In the early 2000s, corn yields averaged around 150 bu/ac. They grew to 165 bu/ac by 2010 and 190 bu/ac by 2016. After going to 20” rows the next year, the average yield remains approximately 225 bu/ac. In addition, Fairholme Ag’s corn yield averages have increased to 15 percent above county averages over the last four years.
Soybean yields mirror corn yield trends. They’ve climbed to 15 percent above the county average and came in at 67.9 bu/ac in 2022.

Now in its 12th year, the 4R Advocate Award program was established by The Fertilizer Institute to demonstrate the in-field successes of implementing 4R practices based on the right source, right rate, right time, and right placement of fertilizer. 4R Nutrient Stewardship provides a framework to achieve in-field goals, such as increased production and profitability, enhanced environmental protection, and improved sustainability.

Steigerwalt says he gives a lot of credit to Bales for the 4R Advocates Award they both share from The Fertilizer Institute.

“I’m very proud of Fairholme Ag and all the things that they’re doing and I’m grateful that they get to be recognized for all the things that they’re doing the right way,” says Steigerwalt. “It’s an honor to get to work with people who are progressive and are trying to do the right things. We can learn from them just as much as we can provide things to them, we can take it to other growers with the successes that they’re having.”

Bales says Steigerwalt and his team at Co-Alliance have helped make his farm operation a success.

“I’m pleased with the way Eric and Co-Alliance works with us,” says Bales. “They go out of their way sometimes to provide us product when we need it. They’ve also had answer plots that they’ve used in the past and continue to use that we can gain some data and research from them as we look at to trying some new things.”

You can learn more about becoming a 4R Advocate, just like Randy Bales and Eric Steigerwalt, at

Click BELOW to hear C.J. Miller’s news report and interviews with Randy Bales with Fairholme Ag and Eric Steigerwalt with Co-Alliance as they discuss the 4R Advocate Award they both received from The Fertilizer Institute during Commodity Classic in Orlando.

From left to right: Randy Bales, Fairholme Ag; Eric Steigerwalt, Co-Alliance; Brad Bales, Fairholme Ag, as they assess the soil conditions on Bales’ farm near Lewisville, Indiana. Photo: Steve Woit.



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