Started in 2002 by two Washington state producers, Shepherd’s Grain now includes about 60 wheat growers, mainly in the Northwestern U.S., with a few growers located as far away as Southern California and the Canadian Prairie. Although they’ve begun offering some of the milled grain at the retail level, the vast majority of what the group sells is to bakeries in Portland and Seattle. In 2015, the Shepherd’s Grain farmers produced a total of 673,000 bushels of wheat, a growth of about 720% since 2005.
“It really started,” says Mike Moran, the Shepherd’s Grain general manager, “when a lot of growers in our region realized that the way that the land had been farmed over the last few decades was not sustainable long term. In fact, because of wind and water erosion, particularly in the hilly areas of the Palouse, they were losing topsoil at a rate that meant that their families wouldn’t be able to continue to farm there if they kept doing what they were doing.”
To combat the losses, as well as improve soil health, Shepherd’s Grain farmers often work together, sharing information on what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. As a result, many have minimized, if not eliminated, tillage. For instance, Garry Esser and his son John use rotational and cover crops, and say they only till the ground every three to six years, unlike their previous practice of churning up the ground almost annually.
In addition to farming methods, Shepherd’s Grain also promotes a business model that is sustainable. Selling to bakeries via longer-term contracts, the group of farmers not only forge business relationships, but build bridges between different groups of people who often do not have much contact with each other.
“It’s really about … connecting farmers with consumers … and without that,” continues Moran, “we wouldn’t have that information flow from the consumer back to the farmer, and on the other side, really helping the consumer understand all of the complexity of farming.”
“The end users who have bought into Shepherd’s Grain have done so for a variety of reasons,” says John Esser, a Challenger customer who recently became a partner with his dad. “But I’d say at the top of the list is they’ve loved the relationship that they have with the growers.
“You know, for so many people, you go to the store, you buy bread, you go home, you eat it. Nobody really connects the farmer to the bread,” continues the younger Esser. “Shepherd’s Grain offers an opportunity for people to know the information behind where their food comes from.”
For more about how AGCO customers are involved with Shepherd’s Grain from our exclusive customer magazine, FarmLife, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/shepherds-grain-bridges-built-alliances-forged/.
“We’ve been farming here since the 1840s. It’s definitely part of who I am,” says Dan Baum. Yet, the Illinois producer continues, “Realistically, I am not in the business just to say I am farming. I am making a living.”
Making that living, however, is a whole different scenario than it was even in his father’s generation, as the need for good communication and efficient machinery has become paramount for today’s farmer.
In west-central Illinois, farmland is typically held closely, especially the highest value land. With area land values having more than doubled since 2004, it’s attracted a lot of investor interest and, as a result, increased competition for farm properties. That’s one reason why the Baums’ acreage base extends almost 120 miles from their home farm near Geneseo, Ill.
For the Baum family, such a sprawling operation has spawned the need for new farm management ideas. “It does cause some of our operational costs to be higher for things like fuel, but we try to think about all of that when planning for those farms” Baum says. This approach puts a premium on performance, and that’s a big reason the Baums chose the Massey Ferguson 9545 combine to get the job done.
“We’re looking at fuel efficiency, ease of maintenance and simplicity of design,” he says. His AGCO-made equipment fits that bill.
Another challenge Baum and other farmers face today is that newer generations of landowners have less direct ties to the land. As a result, producers can find themselves hammering out farmland lease and ownership deals in a much different way than in decades past. As a result, Baum takes care to devote more attention to education and information-sharing with his landowners.
“We are working on a land deal right now that is only happening because of our focus on communication,” says Baum. “It’s a lot of time and energy. And, it can be tough at times of the year when you really need to be out planting corn.
“We’ve had land opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise because of our communication levels,” he continues. “We’re aware that we need to continue this work to keep those opportunities growing in the future.”
On Cody Waters’ first day of basic training, sirens sounded the lockdown of Fort Benning, Ga. “We’re going to war, boys,” a fellow soldier solemnly said.
It was Sept. 11, 2001. Waters, then an 18-year-old farm kid from Illinois, had followed family tradition by enlisting. Both of his parents served in the Vietnam War, while generations before them had enlisted as well. A desire to protect and serve the homeland was ingrained long before he was issued his dog tags.
What was not known at the time was that Waters would become part of a generation of soldiers who has never known peacetime service. He’s now also part of an armed force that has served more tours of duty than soldiers of any other era.
Back on 9/11, confusion, and then ire, set in for Waters as details emerged of the attack on U.S. soil. “It made me angry,” he says. “It made me feel more justified in being there. I wasn’t just serving my country. There was a need to serve.”
Waters, who’s been deployed overseas two times in his 15-year career with the Army National Guard, has helped Afghan farmers improve their farming operations when he served as part of an Agribusiness Development Team. While in that war-torn country, where he witnessed an ingenuity similar to farmers back home, Waters helped teach Afghans to improve farming methods, including use of more modern machinery. Previously, many used water buffalo or older tractors, often borrowed and in scarce supply, to pull plows.
These days, the company commander of the Forward Support Company of the 1140th Engineer Battalion of Missouri Army National Guard, Waters spends one weekend a month on Guard duty and two weeks in summer training camp. He walks a tightrope of working full time by day, farming small acreages in two states, Guard duty, education and family—he and his wife have two young sons. “We try to be good stewards of our time,” he says. “We don’t waste any.”
Nationally, 2.4 million veterans returned to civilian life in the United States in the past 13 years. Another 1 million post-9/11 veterans are expected to return in the next five years, and more than 40,000 to Canada.
Only 17% of the U.S. population lives in rural America, but 44% of the military comes from the countryside, according to U.S. Census data. In rural Missouri alone, where Waters now lives and farms, some 300,000 vets are expected to come home in the next decade. Many expect to return to their rural roots where a rooster’s crow—not mortars exploding—wakens them.
To all service personnel, those currently serving and veterans, and to all our customers and readers, we wish you a happy Independence Day and Canada Day.
Dave and Kim Everett rely on a Massey Ferguson® GC1705, a 22-HP sub-compact tractor suitable for a variety of jobs. Seven months of the year it mainly helps mow 4 acres worth of grass on Big Sandy Mush Farm. “With a belly mower, the 1705 is just what we need to make short work of the lawn around the farmhouse and the grass on uneven terrain between our roads and fencelines,” Dave says. The tractor has also been used to skid steel feed troughs around their livestock pastures. “Ours has industrial tires, which provide great traction without damaging the ground,” he adds.
“It has the pulling power to handle the gamut of small tractor chores, including those requiring PTO attachments. “The diesel-fueled 1705, in terms of build quality and control setup, is entirely compatible with the bigger boys,” says Dave.
He also uses a 6-year-old MF1540 with 4WD. “The bucket attachment has moved many tons of dirt and manure and, literally, a couple of million pounds of field rock—all without problems,” Dave says. “The 1540 is our go-to tractor for use on sloped terrain,” and, he continues, the shuttle shift provides instant availability of proper speed ranges for the conditions on his farm.
Dave is just as effusive about his dealer, Western Carolina Lawn & Tractor in Sylva. “This business understands that great products need commensurately fine dealer representation in order to earn customer loyalty,” he says. “They couldn’t be easier or better people with whom to do business.”
In the bucolic Sandy Mush area, such preservation efforts are not as easy as they may sound. The region—actually two valleys with several coves in each—is within 15 miles of the bustling mountain tourist mecca of Asheville, N.C. Nearby mountains and valleys are prime targets for vacation and second home developments consisting of 3,500-square-foot “cabins.” Kim and Dave themselves first used the area as a getaway when living near Washington, D.C.
Simply put, the value of the land in the area is worth a lot more for development than it is for farming or open space.
Despite that, owners of nearly 25% of the valley’s land (approximately 7,000 acres) have placed their property in conservation easements.
“To me this is the embodiment of what we’re trying to do with our land,” Dave says, nodding toward the fields, woods and streams spread out below, much of which he and his wife have helped restore and preserve. “We said that we want this farm to be recognizable to folks who lived here 100 years before us.”
See more about their story at http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/preserving-a-farms-beauty-in-north-carolinas-big-sandy-mush/, and find out more about how conservation easements work at http://www.myfarmlife.com/asides/how-a-conservation-easement-works/.
As the owner of Bristow Landscaping in Wake Forest, N.C., Logan Bristow relies on his Massey Ferguson tractors and Woods Equipment Company landscape implements virtually every day of the year. While the most often used machines are a MF1540 compact tractor and a Woods counter-rotating tiller, he also owns several other pieces of Massey Ferguson and Woods equipment. All of the machines, he relates, were purchased from Louisburg Tractor & Truck Company in Louisburg, N.C.
“Part of the reason I have so much equipment from both brands is the good relationship I have with the dealer,” he says. “But I also like the durability and versatility of the equipment. We’ve never once had a problem with Woods implements, and the MF1540, in particular, is small enough to get in tight areas, yet powerful enough to run the tiller in tough conditions.”
While Massey Ferguson dealers and Woods have had a long-running affiliation, that relationship has expanded at the company level, says Alistair McLelland, AGCO vice president of marketing, North America. In an effort to provide Massey Ferguson customers with the highest quality implements available anywhere, AGCO Corporation and Woods have joined together to market a full line of Woods rotary cutters, finishing mowers, flail shredders, rear-mounted snow blowers and landscape equipment through participating Massey Ferguson dealerships.