10 Lessons I Learned on a Family Farm

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1. Appreciation:
In high school, everyone one says that they are ready to leave this town; however, I can’t wait to come back to my family farm. I want to give back to my family farm. It grew me so much as a person. I learned respect, responsibility, and hard work at a young age. Once you leave the farm you see how different the world is, but you will always have your work ethic to fall back on.

2. Driving:
I was driving anything and everything that my dad would let me drive on the farm. Every experience prepared me for the next. I was always up for the challenge. Looking back, I realized how much confidence I gained through learning to drive and operate machinery.

3. Exercise is Important:
Who needs summer weights when you have 5-gallon buckets? Don’t even get me started on moving livestock. Herding sheep sure feels like guarding a basketball opponent. Those two things alone will get you ready for basketball season more that any weight room.

4. Family is Everything:
Living on a family farm, my family and I spend A LOT of time together. My younger brother and I spend almost every day together doing chores or doing other jobs on the farm. We spend so much time together that we just know each other so well. There are times that we argue while working livestock or when the combine breaks down for the third time in one day, but we know it was from the heat of the moment, all is forgiven, and you keep moving ahead together. Family is the heart of our farm.

5. Nothing Goes According to Plan:
There are days that nothing will go as planned. The ability to be flexible and shift your plans is mandatory. You may make two or three trips to the John Deere dealership because you have broken down several times in one day. You just power through and keep moving forward.

6. There is a Lesson in Everything:
I have learned so many lessons over the years. The Fall of 2018 was a lesson in patience. Harvest was continually delayed because of rain and snow and then more snow. We waited patiently and then helped where we were needed when it was time to harvest again.

Christina Blender7. Animals Become Your Best Friends:
There are many animals that run around on the farm. Whether it is livestock, a dog, or cat, you grow to love all of them. Growing up my family had a farm dog, Shelby. She joined our family when I was a baby, so we grew up together. I will never forget her because we spent many hours together doing everything from shearing sheep to sweeping the shop floors. I may have spent a lot of time by myself on the farm, but I was never truly alone because I always had Shelby there with me.

8. The Cycle of Life:
From a young age, I learned about life and death. It became evident just how precious life is. I have carried cold lambs inside the house and helped them warm up. It is one of the most amazing experiences to watch a newborn lamb get on its feet again. Last year, I had a twin set of Babydoll Southdown rams. They were born on a cold night unexpectedly. When I went to do the night check I found the two tiny ram lambs. They were cold and separated. I put them inside my coat and carried them to the house. My parents and I spent many hours that night nursing them back to health even though there were moments we thought we were going to lose them. We kept the faith, because if you see a glimmer of hope, you can’t give up on them.

9. Passion:
I love my jobs on the farm and I truly believe that I have the best one in the world. I get to see new life come into this world, while taking on the challenge to continue feeding the world. The best part of farming are the days it doesn’t feel like work. I have been truly blessed to grow up on a family farm.

10. Work Ethic:
Rain, snow or shine you have to be ready to work. Sunup to sundown is a way of life. My dad has always worked long days. When we were young my dad would leave early and get home late, my mom would take us to the field to eat lunch with him. Sometimes this was the only time we saw him. My parents gave us responsibility early in life. As we aged, they added more chores and activities that we could manage. There are countless hours in the cab of a tractor or sitting in the lambing barn watching a laboring ewe. These lessons have served me well.

Eliza Hunzeker

 

Eliza Hunzeker is a senior at Pawnee City High School. After graduation, she plans on attending Northwest Missouri State University and majoring in Agronomy. Eliza stays busy working on the family farm and participating in 4-H, FFA, and school activities.

The American Family Farm

Family farms are the perfect example of roots. Many of us may have memories of riding in the tractor with grandpa or going out to feed the cows with dad. Those memories create roots, and we grow from our roots. Establishing a positive beginning is key to a positive experience. Without family farming, we essentially wouldn’t have anything. People who work in most ag fields today got their taste of agriculture through family farms. Continue reading

Keeping the Values Going and Growing

March 25 - 2Grandparents, Parents, Children, Grandchildren. If you were raised on a family farm, think about where it all started. Has it been a generational farm for 80 years in the making? Or is it a new farm with just your father or mother at the start? Generational farming is a family farm that has been passed down from generation to generation to keep the values of it going and growing. Generational farming is a very important factor in today’s agriculture community. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2012 Census of Agriculture, of the 2.1 million farms in the United States, 97 percent of those farms are family owned. Small family farms, actually make up 90 percent of the U.S. farm count Meanwhile, nearly eight percent of farms in the United States are midsize or large family farms, whether big or small, family farms are beaming with success. However, here and now, we need to realize that if we want to continue having successful family farms, we need to remember the importance of passing down the family farm. In this blog, I will discuss the need for generational farms, the challenges of generational farming, and finally, we will learn what it takes and how to prepare future generations for this difficult task.

FullSizeRWhy do we need generational farms? Well lately, I’m sure we have all been hearing this famous question: “How will we feed the world by 2050?” According to www.fao.org, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.1 billion by the year 2050. That is nearly a 40 percent increase from where we are now. This statistic could very easily frighten farmers into thinking there is no way I can contribute enough to help, but that thought is wrong. family farms together produce 86 percent of the value of farming and ranching. What would we do if family farms suddenly began to fail? According to www.start2farm.gov, the average age of the American farmer today is 57, and according to the USDA, the average age of the farmer has increased in each census since 1978. Former Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack stated that “We have an aging farming population. If left unchecked, this could threaten our ability to produce the food we need” (GenNext 2015). With the average age of the farmer increasing, younger generations need to step up to the plate and not just take over the farms but rather continue to increase the value of the farms. Not only is the aging farmer an issue, but financial values are as well. The USDA stated that the U.S. farm real estate value has averaged $3,020 per acre in 2015, and that’s only the average. It is virtually impossible for someone to get into the farming industry without having the preceding generation help. We also need to look at the increasing amount of technology available to the agriculture community. Aging farmers are less likely to feel the need to make technological advancements on their farm, such as auto steer and digital yield mapping. This is where, again, the next generation needs to step up. We have the skills and knowledge needed to make advancements in technology that can be useful to farmers. The importance of passing down the farm is extreme. As agriculturists, we will never be where we want to be by 2050 without generational farms.

Now, although the needs are great, the challenges can feel even greater. E.M. Tiffany wrote in the well-known FFA Creed, “for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life.” There is no doubt that passing down a farm from generation to generation is one of the most difficult tasks. One of the major problems that arise is how to treat all family members fairly but keep the farm as one unit.  In fact, this is often where the thought of the “generational farm” gets lost. Another important responsibility that can be difficult for the current generational farmer is having to educate the next on crucial information about the farm. All too often we hear about farms and ranches that get passed down only to be lost. If communication takes place between the generations before the farm is passed down, the farm has a better chance of surviving. Keeping up with technological advances is also a challenge that generational farmers face.

FullSizeR (1)Early mornings, late nights, long days in the field. Any hardworking and dedicated farmer will take on any task; but what does it take and how do you prepare? Well, dedication and determination doesn’t just come from anywhere. It’s a drive from within you that must act. It’s a beating in your heart that says “this is what my job has called me to do.” According to www.agweb.com, 56 percent of farmers report spending at least 10-14 hours a day on the farm. If you don’t have an interest in working long hours on the farm, then you won’t be able to find the joy in the job you do. When you stop, and think of the challenges, you can realize that generational farming isn’t easy. In fact, it’s something that just can’t be done unless you have the passion for it. However, there are group efforts in our nation that are working to prepare those who have a passion and dedication but just don’t have all the knowledge they need yet. Kevin Moore, a professor at the University of Missouri, teaches “Returning to the Farm.” This is a class that prepares students to overcome the financial and personality hurdles of becoming a farmer. Dr. Tom Field from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln also teaches a “Family Business” class that equips students with the tools they need to have conversations with their parents about things such as succession planning. I personally believe that we need more efforts like these to help prepare the next generation.

Grandparents, Parents, Children, Grandchildren, and the list can go on. These are just four of the possible generations that can thrive on a family farm. Think of the sense of accomplishment someone could get from knowing that their farm has never died and never will. Generational farming is more than just land getting passed down. It’s a way of helping our world work more efficiently. It’s a way of learning and earning. It’s a way of life. If more people could see the need for generational farming, overcome the challenges of generational farming, and find the passion and drive to keep passing down the farm, then as agriculturalists, we can and we will succeed in the farming community and keep the values of our lifestyle going and growing.

 

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A Tale of Two Farmers

Peterson Family in hog barnThere’s a guy in Illinois who’s a farmer.  He farms 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans over several areas.  He is responsible for all of the business decisions for the operation, including which varieties to plant, when to sell what he harvests and for how much. His tractors and combines are huge machines. They are equipped with laptop computers and the latest GPS technology. As part of his income, he sells seed and cattle equipment to other farmers. He sits on the board of directors for a statewide farm organization, often traveling to meetings and conventions and providing input on the operation of County Farm Bureaus in his district. During busy times, he hires outside employees to help get the job done around the farm.

There’s another farmer, also from Illinois. A fifth-generation farmer, he takes environmental stewardship seriously, maintaining buffer strips next to water sources on his land. He uses contour planting and no-till farming. He and his kids drink water from the well on his farm.  He tends to his animals daily, taking special care when they’re sick. He’s up in the middle of the night – every night – during calving season to check on birthing cows and heifers and their newborns. Hundreds of school kids visit his farm each year for personal tours to understand how their food grows.  Three generations of his family work on the farm.

If you were forced to label one of these farmers as a “family farmer” and one as a “factory farmer,” which would be which?

Here’s the catch:  these two real-life farmers are brothers, in charge of different operations on the very same farm.

How can that be, when everything about the first farmer appears to describe a factory farm?  The answer is simple—the term ‘factory farm’ doesn’t mean anything. It’s a term used by activists to make people assume facts not in evidence. They know you’ll hear or read the term and assume it means something bad.  But do you know what they mean?  Do they mean a farm over a certain size?  If so, what is that size?  A hundred acres?  Five hundred?  Is it a farm that raises animals for meat, instead of just milk, eggs and companionship?  A farm that plants biotech crops?  Is it a farm that makes a certain amount of money?  Does it have to be all of the above—or just any one of the above?

If you Google “factory farm” you get about 260,000 results.  The first entry, from dictionary.com, defines a factory farm as “a farm in which animals are bred and fattened using modern industrial methods.”  Conjures up the image of robots forcing animals to mate on a conveyor belt while they’re being stuffed full of food, doesn’t it?

Wikipedia’s definition is this: “a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology and global trade.”  By this definition, a farmer trying to maximize efficiency to turn a profit – and using anything but horses and oxen to work the fields – is a factory farmer. As Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times wrote earlier this year, “farming without a financial motive is gardening.”

We are blessed in this country to have plenty of food and many options … conventionally-produced food, organic, locally grown. The truth is that no matter the size of the producer or the type of food produced, a profit must be made so that money can be re-invested and the farmer can provide for his or her family.  Yet, the organic farmer with 20 acres or 20 animals is celebrated, but the conventional farmer with 500 acres or 500 animals is vilified.

Activists would have you believe that because someone farms a large number of acres or raises a lot of animals, he does a bad job; he endangers the environment and mistreats his animals. Not true. Quality assurance programs, regulations and inspection programs keep farmers accountable. And when someone tells you that America is being over-run by “factory farms,” know that 94% of the farms in Illinois are family farms. Beware of labels. They can be misleading, vague and even meaningless.

The above post was drafted by the Illinois Farm Bureau originally for their blog, Standing Out in a Field.