Quite possibly better educated and prepared than any generation before them, young producers still face major challenges in getting off the ground. For this FarmLife Special Report, we asked several young farmers about their challenges and goals, then listened as each spoke of hard lessons learned, their passion for farming and hopes for the future.
Three families are featured in profile stories and video interviews: the Skobergs, who grow peas, wheat and canola on Twin Oaks Farm in Lougheed, Alberta; the Robertses, who farm and run a fencing and custom gate business in Pittsylvania County, Virginia; and the Boeres, whose dairy operation is in Modesto, California. Each has a unique story to tell, including the innovative ways they have made a life and a living on the farm.
To go along with the family profiles, the Young Farmers Special Report includes advice from parents, resources to help young and new farmers, a look back at our previous special report and more.
In the article “Raising Farmers,” father Jerry McDonald and son Jon—now a father himself—offer advice on preparing the next generation for a career in agriculture. You’ll also read about how the National Young Farmers Coalition works to connect beginning farmers with resources, such as information on loans and subsidies.
See the entire special report, including video interviews: Young Farmers: Growing Their Future And Ours
Brian Fuller plows snow and maintains right-of-ways, the kind of work that is often not seen and/or noticed by most of us. It’s hot, it’s freezing. It’s mind-numbingly tedious. It’s treacherous. And, yes, it’s often overlooked, until he and his crew at Fuller Landscaping clear the way for the rest of us, who might just be stranded otherwise.
Fuller and his crew, who primarily work for the city of Fort Collins, Colo., and the state’s Department of Transportation, have encountered rattlesnakes, cars and trucks piloted by drivers who are texting, and very steep hills. Altogether, it’s a diversified bundle of services that keeps him and up to 10 workers employed.
He accomplishes his tasks on the job, on his ranch and on others’ land where he custom bales with several Massey Ferguson® tractors—an MF2605, MF4608 and MF4610 with a cab. Fuller says they perform equally well in each of the ways he uses them.
Again, it’s that combination of services and an industriousness that keeps him and his employees busy throughout the year. It is, however, a fiercely competitive market in which he operates.
“A lot of these guys come in, they low bid this stuff, these contracts, just to get their foot in the door. But they don’t know what it’s about, and [after] about a year to two years and they’re gone.
“I go out and I buy good equipment,” continues Fuller. “I spend the money. For me, to be able to do this 20 years later and still be in it really says something.”
And when asked what else differentiates his company from others in the business, he replies simply, “I think it’s me—I’m at almost every job site … and I think it’s my name. I’m using my last name as the name of the company.” When something’s not done right, he says, it’s pretty obvious who’s responsible.
See the full story and video: Scape & Scrape: Working In Extreme Weather
What do White Pines and World War II relationships have in common? They’ve both been carefully cultivated by Paul Sailer. Since 1983, Sailer has been successfully planting and harvesting those white pines, Norway pines, balsam firs, eastern larches, white spruces and black spruces on his 85-acre tree farm in Wadena County, Minn.
In addition to harvesting the trees, Sailer has also made good use of the paper they produce by writing historical nonfiction books about fighter pilots flying missions over France and Germany. His latest effort, “I Had a Comrade,” is a study of the lives of the men, their families and even the people caught in the crossfires of battle in Europe.
Sailer came by both vocations honestly. He planted trees on his father’s farm as a boy, and heard many war stories from those who lived it. “My father served with the Eighth Air Force in England during World War II,” he says. “Sitting with me and my siblings on a winter’s night, he would talk about his war experiences while showing us his scrapbook and memorabilia.”
Sailer says he also saw through veterans’ eyes how the war affected rural families. “Many of the young men and women who served in the military and in defense plants came from farming and ranching country. Few returned to rural America.”
After college, Sailer enlisted in the U.S. Army. He flew helicopters for a year in Vietnam. Back home, he’s had a long career in the human services field … and tree farming.
Today, he uses a Massey Ferguson® 2605 and its many attachments for mowing trails, creating fire breaks, removing large rocks, lifting logs and clearing snow in the winter. And while studying the war lives of the Greatest Generation remains a passion, when the weather permits, a perfect evening now is, he says, “Enjoying a cup of coffee with my wife on the front porch of our home as a gentle breeze whispers through the trees we planted all those years ago.”
See the full story and order the book at http://myFarmLife.com/sailer.
“All the farm work, from tillage and weed control to cultivating and the planting process, is done with the Allis Chalmers 185 tractor,” says Gene Mealhow, owner of Tiny But Mighty popcorn, who farms near Shellsburg, Iowa.
He brags on how the older model tractor still “runs great. We keep the oil changed, and we’ve had to fix hydraulic hoses and put on new tires and a muffler, but even in the winter, it starts fine.”
For a time, he had his neighbors do the harvesting. His small acreage, though, was a problem. “No farmer wants to quit harvesting thousands of acres, change his combine over, come to me and do a five-minute pass through a field to harvest,” says Mealhow.
So he borrowed a neighbor’s 300 Massey Ferguson® combine and does the work himself now. “It worked great so I ended up buying it.” Mealhow says his corn is “an heirloom, ancient old seed, and it seems like this ancient heirloom combine does the best job of cleaning it. Because it is a small-capacity combine, it does a more efficient job harvesting the popcorn seed and cleans our smaller seeds better than a larger combine too.
“When I first got it, there were some parts on it that needed updating—bearings and all of that,” Mealhow notes. He called on K & A Farm Equipment, Inc., in Strawberry Point, Iowa. “I asked them if they had parts and they said, ‘We might be able to put our hands on some. We service about three or four of those.’ They did have all the parts: sickle blades, bearings and just little things. They still maintain a wonderful selection of parts for the older equipment.”
Mealhow readies the combine about one month before harvest begins, checking the oil, filters, hoses, bearings, chains and belts. “You don’t want to go to the field and have it break down,” he says.
See the full story: The Tiny But Mighty Popcorn King.
Farmers on the U.S. High Plains have managed one of the great feats of modern agriculture—turning semi-arid prairies into some of the most productive land on the planet. Overcoming obstacles of less-than-ideal climate and soil, producers in the region have been significant players in efforts to push the world’s crop yields to new heights.
Now, however, farmers and others are concerned with the decrease in water remaining in the Ogallala Aquifer, a key resource for agriculture in the region. There are numerous efforts under way to conserve water—endeavors with positive results that apply to farming in many regions of North America. While the diminishing amount of water in the Ogallala is cause for alarm, there are certainly reasons to be hopeful.
The Ogallala, or High Plains Aquifer, ranks as the largest such groundwater source in the U.S. Stretching from Texas and New Mexico to South Dakota and Wyoming, it underlies eight states and represents more than one-quarter of the nation’s entire irrigation water. In terms of agricultural output, it supplies an area that produces approximately one-fifth of the annual total of U.S. corn, wheat and cattle.
New technologies and approaches to water usage may hopefully one day solve the problem of dwindling water resources, or at least buy more time. Brent Rogers, who farms in Kansas’ Sheridan and Graham counties, and serves on the board of directors for Kansas Groundwater Management District (GMD) 4, is working with other farmers and leaders in his groundwater management district.
Some of the measures they’re undertaking are to apply water probe technology on a wider scale to first track water use, then implement practical conservation measures that can cut usage, while attempting to maintain crop output. Through a combination of federal cost incentives like USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), farmers have started retiring unused or outdated irrigation wells and better monitoring those still in production to find where they can make cuts.
“We saw the value of water probes and started funding them. They will save you water. We went through our GMD members and said, ‘Hey, we will fund up to $1,000 per probe,’” says Rogers, whose GMD4 covers three full counties and part of seven others in northwest Kansas. Farmers have started to respond, with more than 100 new probes installed in the last year alone.
“By saving water today, you’re also providing more time for the people who develop the crop irrigation and genetics technologies involved in increasing water-use efficiency,” says Kansas State University water resources and civil engineer David Steward. Already, he says, crop genetic improvements are adding to water-use efficiency at around 2% per year.
“Water probes, variable-rate technology, gene shuffling, crop drought genes … these are all just pieces of the puzzle that we need. They’re just tickling the cusp of what’s coming,” Rogers says. “It’s going to work if we can all just stay on the horse.”
To read much more about this complex issue and the measures farmers and others are taking to save this valuable resource, see the full story: Saving the Ogallala: A Sinking Feeling