It’s with mixed feelings that Darren Littleton guides a bulldozer through an abandoned farmyard to add to his family’s farmland in Dalton, MO. Yet, to Darren and his dad, Robert “Bob” Littleton, this land also serves as a reminder of the diminishing number of farmers.
Due to the effects of the flood of 1993 and the consolidation of farms, the population of Dalton had declined to just 17 people in the 2010 census. Ironically, that flood 30-plus years ago almost put Darren out of business, too.
“That was the first year I farmed full time,” Darren says. “And between Dad and me, we lost all but 6 acres of crops in the flood. Dad even lost his house due to all the water damage.”
Today, this father-and-son team continually looks for ways to control costs, all the while expanding the operation, which now consists of about 2,500 acres of mostly corn and soybeans. For instance, they’ve purchased parcels in the area that need some work. Equipped with their own hydraulic excavator, tracked dozer, skid-steer loader and land leveler, they’ve cleared land themselves. They also run Massey Ferguson and other farm equipment, because, in part, of its versatility, durability, and fuel efficiency, say the Littletons.
Then, too, in order to conserve costs and preserve the land, they’ve changed the way they farm. For example, instead of disking fields as they once did, they now use a Sunflower® Model 6631 VT for vertical tillage. As a result, they’re able to leave the majority of residue on the soil surface, while still providing minimal tillage and creating channels for moisture penetration.
Also, with only 500 or 600 of the 2,500 acres leased or rented, they prefer to own their land. “Every time you look at cash-renting a field,” says Darren, “there are usually three guys in line ahead of you who are willing to pay more. Our feeling is if you’re going to have to pay $300 or more per acre for rent, you might as well go through Farm Credit and own it in 20 years.”
It’s just one of those talks that you have while you’re milking the cows,” says Todd Schnarr. “You know, ‘What do you want to do next?’” he recalls asking his dad and business partner. “‘Where do you think we’re going?’
“We were just way too overcrowded,” says Todd’s father, Murray. “We had to get these cattle moved into an area where they had a lot more freedom, a lot more space and a lot more cow comfort.”
The Schnarrs, who live and work near Alma, Ontario, found what they hoped would be a solution, consisting of two main parts, each working hand in hand with the other. One was a compost-pack barn that would give the cows the freedom to move about inside, which, in turn, would allow them to essentially milk themselves at the second part of this equation: a robotic milking system.
Pioneered in Europe some 20 years ago, significant numbers of dairies in Canada, and more recently the U.S., have begun installing robotics, also referred to as automatic milking systems (AMS). The robotic system the Schnarrs purchased cost them about $400,000. Even with a total cost of $1.7 million, including construction of the new compost pack barn, Murray and Todd hope the system will pay for itself—mainly in the form of increased yields and lower labor costs—in six to seven years from time of completion.
In addition to operating a dairy, Murray and Todd Schnarr run a custom hay cutting, raking and baling business. Farming a total of 550 acres, some of which is planted in cash crops, Todd says he and his dad don’t farm enough land for many new equipment purchases “to make financial sense. So we do custom work.”
That way, he says, he and his dad can spread the cost over multiple uses and “we can get top-quality equipment for our farm. I like helping neighbors, and this way it’s a win-win for us and for them.”
The “top-quality equipment” to which Todd refers is AGCO, including a Massey Ferguson® 8660 tractor, and a 2150 large square baler and 9770 windrower, both of which are Hesston® by Massey Ferguson. Todd says the fuel economy is excellent on the 9770 and MF8660, and the CVT transmission on the tractor makes “the equipment more efficient to run. You can get that exact mile per hour that you’re looking for. Half a mile an hour might not seem like much, but through a whole day or a week, you know you can get a lot of extra work done with that.”
In 2007, Ron and Diana Mellon erected a handsome cherry-red barn perched on a swath of neatly manicured land. The plan was to use the structure for machinery on their farm, where they run anywhere from 180 to 200 head of Angus-cross cattle, chop silage, rake hay, and raise corn and beans on their rolling 300 acres.
Those plans changed, however, when a couple approached Ron and Diana and asked if they could get married in the beautifully rustic structure. The Mellons’ “Yes” sparked a new venture on the couple’s Lawson, Mo., farm: a booming barn wedding business.
After management and production, land payments, equipment purchases and employing seasonal help, producers and their families often decide to seek out additional revenue streams. Sometimes, it may be agritourism or hunting leases, or even niche markets. The Mellons entrance into the weddings business was a wise one.
Overall, weddings are a whopping $54-billion-a-year industry in the U.S. alone, and $5 billion in Canada. Then, consider that the Bridal Association of America reports 47% of all 2012 weddings were held outside of a church, 35% of which were outdoors. Barns can offer the warm, rustic charm and back-to-basics feel many [wedding] couples crave.
Mellon’s Banquet Hall officially opened for business in 2008. Diana’s already busy days on the farm became even busier. That new barn is now used for weddings, as well as birthday dinners, reunions and corporate retreats.
“We’ve had more than 200 weddings here, not including corporate dinners, birthdays and reunions,” says Diana, who works every event herself. She also hires seasonal employees to help, but laments, “It’s hard to find good help.”
Diana does have terrific help, however, coming from her granddaughters, who pitch in to help, while the Mellons’ grandsons assist Grandpa Ron on the farming side of things.
“The wedding business has become our income,” Ron says, adding that they have a big cattle sale coming up. Farming still remains the bedrock of family life, and, it should be noted, Massey Ferguson equipment helps the Mellons meet their typically tight schedule.
Most Saturdays, Diana can be found checking in with staff, directing photographers and guests, and soothing the jangled nerves of soon-to-be brides.
“Remember, you are working with brides, and trying to keep their stress level down is sometimes impossible,” she says. “When a bride asks, I always smile and never tell them something can’t be done. I just say, ‘Anything is possible; however, there may be a small upcharge.”
White haze filters the bright light around Freedom Hall in Louisville on the first night of the National Farm Machinery Show. Thousands of fans shout approval as 12,000-HP monsters drag a weight-transfer sled down a 245-foot dirt track on the arena floor. The sled weighs 15 tons when the tractor driver hooks up to it. By the end of the run, it weighs triple that. The modified tractors pulling that sled are burning more than 20 gallons of alcohol fuel in the eight-second trip.
“Call it the Super Bowl, the World Series, whatever,” says the event’s announcer, Dave Bennett, a former puller who was also the parts department manager at Livingston Machinery, the AGCO dealership in Chickasha, Okla., for 25 years. “It’s the only pull of its kind.” Eight classes of tractors compete over the four-day event, with preliminaries on the weeknights during NFMS and the finals on Saturday night.
“Run what you brung,” says four-time Louisville Grand Champion Joe Eder, “and hope you brung enough.”
Besides his own pulling prowess, Eder, now 43, is a renowned chassis builder (his customers count among them 21 Grand National championships) and he runs a two successful ag businesses—a custom harvesting enterprise and a mulch operation. And, when he’s in the field or atop a mountain of mulch, what brand of tractor does the power-hungry tractor-pull champ use? Massey Ferguson.
In fact, Eder has just taken delivery on two brand-new Massey Ferguson 8727s. In the mulch business, the MF8727 pushes material, and he uses it for mowing, merging and fieldwork in the custom harvesting business. “Going up the steep slopes of this mulch [mound] requires an immense amount of traction and power to ground,” Eder says. “And other ‘colors’ that don’t have this transmission, they’re not putting the horsepower to the ground, meaning there’s slippage.
“The CVT transmission and the horsepower in these big-frame tractors is the ultimate combination,” says Eder, who knows something about horsepower and chassis design. “It’s the same idea as 12,000 HP in the chassis design we produce” with Eder Motorsports, he says, which has built 92 pulling tractors for teams around the world. “I don’t care if one is 225 horse and another is 12,000 horse; you have to get it to the ground,” Eder says. “That’s where this transmission and motor combination is paying off.”
For Deena and Larry Coleman, and the staff at Pokagon State Park Saddle Barn in Indiana, keeping 14 horses happy, healthy and well-fed, all while maintaining the surrounding property, is no small task.
Enter the 42-HP Massey Ferguson® 1742 tractor the Colemans purchased last spring. Able to haul and load feed as easily as it pulls wagonloads on hayrides, the machine is an all-purpose workhorse.
“We go through a ton of hay every three days,” says Deena. “Those bales weigh about 1,200 pounds, so we have to use a tractor to get them out to the feeder. When we put hay in the feeder, it has to be lined up just exactly right and it has to be level.
“It’s like threading a needle,” she continues, explaining that the integrated loader joystick helps immensely. “It’s quite precise,” says Deena.
Indiana is notorious for its hot, humid summers and snowy winters. Yet, the ergonomically designed, climate-controlled cab, complete with heat, air conditioning and doors on each side, keeps the Colemans comfortable.
“The cab really fit their bill, between working at the Saddle Barn in the summer, doing hayrides in the winter and clearing snow at home when the park is closed,” explains the couple’s dealer, Don Harter, of Harmony Outdoor Equipment in Arcola, Ind.
“Larry loves it because of the cab,” adds Deena, about her husband. “He can put hay out in the winter and stay warm and dry. The tractor is well suited for what we bought it for,” she says.