By Kathy Hanks, Freelance Writer for MKC
The statistics can be grim. There are fewer farmers every year as young people pull up their rural roots for a future anywhere but on the farm. Even current USDA statistics show that more than a third of U.S farmers are 65 years old or older, and half of the current farmers expect to retire in the next decade. Across the U.S. only five percent of principal farm operators are under the age of 35.
But around central Kansas there are young, determined producers who believe their family farms are worth saving. After college they headed back to the fields where they first learned to drive a tractor sitting on their mentor's lap.
Growing food, raising livestock, living surrounded by nature on the land their descendents first owned, gives their life purpose. But, they also depend on family for their support and the modern technology provided by Mid Kansas Coop.
Jason Gaeddert wouldn’t describe his return to the family farm, near Buhler, as following a dream as much as sticking to a plan that has been part of his life.
Today, at 40, he farms with his father John, Uncle Leon, and his cousin, Phil Burckhart. Some of the ground was the original farm first planted by Jason’s great-grandfather. Today Jason can stand on one spot of land and be in Harvey, Reno and McPherson County.
Jason was always riding along on the farm as a child, and by the time he was 10 he was driving a tractor.
“They would open the field for me and turn me loose, and then come back when they thought I would be done,” said Jason. “I enjoyed what I did, but was probably undecided about farming up through high school.”
Growing up he recalls his grandfather and father hauling their crops to MKC elevators. He’d ride along, but never gave the coop much thought.
But even back then he began to understand the marketing side of ag, selling sweet corn at stands around the area. “It was a little extra summer income,” Jason said. Working with his cousins, the sweet corn venture has grown over the years.
After graduating from Kansas State University with a graduate degree in agronomy, Jason headed to western Kansas where he worked for Monsanto.
“I wanted a chance to experience something else before I made farming a life-long career,” Jason said.
Things moved quickly and by 2000 when he returned to the farm, technology was rapidly advancing in agriculture.
Now, a decade later he is relying on the expertise and services of MKC to help him be more successful in his operation.
He feels it’s important to stay current on the latest advances in agriculture. During the winter months when things slow down on the farm, he will attend meetings and seminars, some sponsored by MKC. He also looks to his elders for advice, especially during the current season.
“This is my first bad drought,” Jason said. “My dad remembers the 1980s and some of the older farmers remember the 1950s.”
He is learning that it’s cyclical, and he is learning the importance of knowing how to manage in good times and bad. What has been beneficial is utilizing risk management tools, including locking in a profit and ensuring there is crop insurance.
MKC’s President and CEO, Dave Christiansen, noted that the utilization of risk management tools is much more widely accepted by the younger generation.
“This group generally doesn’t have the equity to put at risk like they will when they’ve been at it a while,” stated Christiansen. “Our efforts to develop new tools that can help all growers manage risk are another major way the coop has evolved to serve the needs of the grower.”
Younger generations of farmers are utilizing the lessons learned from their elders and implementing them into their current operation. Gaeddert has also learned an invaluable lesson, farmers are optimistic about the future.
“Or you wouldn’t want to stay in it,” he said.
Making it happen
Moundridge farmer Gary Regier has two dreams.
The first is that one of his two sons, Josh or Nick, would return to his farm near Moundridge some day and work alongside him.
The second dream may take several decades to materialize. Gary dreams of farming with one of his grandsons. Currently, Gentry (4), Lantry (5 months), and Mason (1 month old), are all too young to enjoy anything that has to do with agriculture except perhaps a brief ride in the tractor.
Gary’s first dream is becoming a reality as Josh, 30, has returned to the farm. While the first dream is becoming a reality Gary and Josh will tell you they aren’t 100 percent there yet, there isn’t enough ground for Josh to farm full time. So, the Kansas State University agronomist works full time as a crop consultant with CropQuest and helps his dad on evenings and weekends.
“He’s working into it, acquiring ground,” Gary said.
But for now he must have the full time job. Gary says the work Josh does as a crop consultant compliments their farm, Gary says.
“It works out beautifully with what he is doing as crop consultant,” says Gary. “Josh has brought our farm into a new era with a fresh start and new ideas. I benefit a lot from it.”
However, Gary jokes, wondering if there are times the farm is a guinea pig for Josh’s ideas. But his son has educated ideas.
“I am willing to do this because I have seen him turn ground into highly productive crops,” Gary says.
Josh grew up on the family farm where his great-great grandfather arrived from Russia in 1874 bringing red turkey seed wheat and settling on a section of ground that is still in the family. Farming is Josh’s link to family and his past. Some of his earliest memories were spending time with his dad and grandfather Albert Regier.
Gary still does most the work planting and harvesting wheat, corn, soybeans, and milo. Josh helps in his spare time, often bringing Gentry out to the field with him.
Like his dad and his grandfather, Josh is a member of Mid Kansas Coop. While the name is the same as when Albert Regier was a member back in the 1960s, MKC has evolved just like the ground they continue to farm.
Josh appreciates the ownership he has in the coop.
“It’s good to know when you’re paying bills, a portion is going back to you,” Josh said. “We use the coop for most of our crop inputs, fertilizer, fuel and crop protection products. As well as helping with the marketing of grain.”
Josh says people have to love farming to make it one’s life occupation.
“I can’t imagine doing it only for the money,” Josh said.
Earning his stripes
Four miles south of Abilene Todd Kohman farms his family’s land where he is the fourth generation to live in the same 100 year-old farmhouse.
Todd’s first lesson on the farm came when he was four. His granddad, Henry Kohman, was feeding hay bales to the cattle and told Todd he needed to drive the truck alongside the bunks, while Grandpa stood in the truck bed tossing the bales.
“He told me if I hit the bunk, to just turn the wheel right, and when I got to the end just turn the key off,” Todd said. “I thought it was pretty neat.”
Todd successfully mastered his first farm task, now at 34, the lessons keep coming.
All his life, the farm has been a laboratory for learning, with his dad and granddad serving as the instructors. His father, Leon Kohman, encouraged him to get training off the farm so he would always have something to fall back on if there were a few bad years farming. So Todd attended Kansas State Vocational Training School in Salina and learned auto body work. It’s a trade he still works at during the slow winter months on the farm.
In today’s world, Todd knows he’s lucky.
“I love to farm and this is what I want to do,” he said. “There is no way I could go out and start a farm on my own.” He appreciates the opportunity to work with his father growing alfalfa, wheat, corn, soybeans, and raising feeder cattle.
While there are lessons to be learned, Todd said his dad will “ride him pretty hard.”
“He doesn’t want me to fail,” Todd said, and he respects what his father is teaching.
He also appreciates the knowledge he gains working with employees at MKC.
“I like the way they come up with new programs,” Todd said. He appreciates that the people he works directly with at MKC are close to his age and they can relate to each other.
He’s concerned with farmers who are stuck in their ways, “The ones who say I’ve done it this way for 200 years, and I am going to keep doing it this way,” he said.
Farmers need to adapt and move forward with change and he appreciates that thinking at MKC. He also appreciates that they travel out to the farm, ride along in the fields and talk shop about how he can make certain changes that would help increase his yield and increase their bottom line.
The Kohman’s take advantage of MKC’s soil and tissue sampling and appreciate knowing when they need to up the nutrient levels.
|Kohman (at left) meets with Justin Jenkins, Grain Marketer for TMA.|
Justin Jenkins, Grain Marketer for Team Marketing Alliance, comes out when Todd is busy and doesn’t just stand around, he helps fill the drills. Then the farmer and grain marketer hop in the tractor and as Todd plants the 2013 wheat crop, Jenkins suggests better ways to market his grains. It’s the same when Jared Miller, his Field Marketer, comes out to take soil and tissue samples.
“They do an excellent job and they are both my age,” Todd said. He likes that there is a mutual respect for each other, despite the fact that they are new to the field.
The kind of service Todd Kohman is coming to expect (or becoming accustomed to) has become the company’s standard operating platform, according to Christiansen.
“We have highly skilled people in every division of the company that call on our producers every day,” Christiansen said. “The primary responsibility of this group is to call specifically on the growers farming so many acres that they don’t have the time like they use to or are less inclined to come into the coop to get answers. We make it easier for the producer by going to them.”Christiansen commented that each person will generally have responsibility for 25 to 40 accounts. “Many companies are doing this today,” stated Christiansen. It’s not really that unusual, but to separate ourselves we have to have the best of the best in these positions and then back them up with superior execution.”