By Sara Schafer and Jeanne Bernick
These young leaders are the new faces of agriculture
For the past 30 years, Top Producer has introduced countless note-worthy producers. With the majority of U.S. farmers older than 50, a dramatic shift is on the horizon in terms of farm leadership. Luckily, the future is extremely bright. Here’s a glimpse at the next generation of farmers.
Jeremy Jack, 30
Jeremy Jack says the hardest part about being a young producer is when people underestimate what he can do with technology. Jack farms 8,500 acres of cotton, corn, rice, soybeans and wheat, with his parents and sister.
Technology allows Jack to achieve more with less. For example, he has moved his farm to 100% variable rate twin row corn and soybean seeding rates to make every acre reach the peak of its potential.
"Even though I am a young producer, I am well equipped with technology and have a fresh thought process compared to more seasoned producers," Jack says. "Plus, I can learn from those seasoned producers."
Sustainability is a key component to Jack’s mindset. "To me, sustainability is safely and efficiently producing high-quality raw food and fiber commodities, while maximizing profitability and supporting our rural community," he says. "Our method of sustainability is sustainability in action. We believe with outreach and education we can make sustainability interesting and do a better job of educating people in urban areas."
Jack plans to implement a demonstration farm, which will have a total water reclaiming system with flow meters, automatic relift pumps and water quality monitors. He hopes to make this part of his farm tour, and writes about these new initiatives on his blog and the farm website.
"We have ample opportunities as farmers to share what we are doing," he says. "As an industry we have come a long way, but we have to do a better job of showing people outside the industry what we are doing."
Brayden Wagner, 26
Brayden Wagner knew he would return home to his family’s 6,000-acre wheat, corn, soybean and dry edible bean farm in southeast North Dakota. After high school, Wagner weighed his options and figured he could develop the needed agronomic skills with on-the-job experiences. So Wagner decided to major in accounting at Saint John’s University. This decision has paid dividends.
"I knew right away it would be an invaluable skill," he says. "Accounting has brought a wave of fresh knowledge to our farm." Wagner says his degree choice helps him make better decisions because he is more analytical. "I am constantly asking myself: How can we be more efficient? I make fewer decisions based on gut and more on data."
Wagner has been farming full-time with his father, Chad, since 2009. His role on the farm centers on financial planning. He pays the bills, organizes tax documents and makes crop insurance decisions. He is also the resident precision ag guru.
The future of farming looks bright to Wagner. "I believe the opportunities in grain production are great right now, and farmers should position themselves for when times might not be so great."
Wagner has several goals for the farm. He strives to stay on top of the ever-changing technology. As production needs increase, the Wagners make sure they are good stewards to the land, even when pushing yields to the next level.
Tim Zweber, 30
What some people see as an obstacle, Tim Zweber labels an opportunity. After earning a bachelor of science in animal science – dairy production from the University of Minnesota, Zweber wanted to return, with his wife, to his family’s farm.
"We sat down with our financial adviser and ran through the options in how we could support two families with our farm," he says. They narrowed it down to two options: double the operation’s size or get more value out of their products.
Zweber says their dairy leaned toward organic methods, but it wasn’t certified. "We were doing 90% of the work and not getting any of the extra profit," he says. "So, we did that extra 10%, which was mostly paperwork, to collect the full value."
In making the shift to organic, Zweber Family Farms, which includes Tim’s parents, Jon and Lisa, and his wife, Emily, found its niche. The milk their 100 Holstein and Brown Swiss cows produce is sold exclusively to Organic Valley Cooperative. With premiums received, they’ve been able to weather some dire economic times.
Another challenge-turned-opportunity is their proximity to Minneapolis, to which Elko is a bedroom community. This gives them access to a lot of people who want farm-fresh products. The Zwebers have added a direct-marketing meat business, which includes pork, beef, poultry and eggs.
Zweber’s open mind has been key to the family’s success. He believes other young farmers can also succeed. "As a young person, you might not have a huge amount of capital, but you have the newest knowledge and you don’t have the ingrained, ‘I-can’t-do-that’ mentality," he says. "You can take advantage of low-capital, high labor or high-knowledge opportunities."
Paige Wallace, 21
Stotts City, Mo.
For the last 12 years, Paige Wallace has clocked numerous hours in show barns and rings across the country. She and her family raise registered Angus cattle, which have been featured in hundreds of state and national shows.
The Wallace Cattle Company comprises her parents, Ernie and Tammy, and brother, Sam. Together, they run about 150 head of cows of which Wallace owns 30. By staying involved with livestock, she has been able to earn money and keep a pulse on what’s happening in ag, even while she’s away at college. Wallace’s rural roots and strong people skills led her to major in agricultural communications at Oklahoma State University.
She says being involved in FFA, serving as the 2011 Miss American Angus Queen and showing cattle all helped seal the deal—agriculture is home. She believes her communications focus will be an asset in the future. Livestock production, Wallace says, continues to see heightened regulations, which can be discouraging for young producers.
Yet, Wallace remains positive. "I’m optimistic about the future, especially as people in ag join together and tell our story," she says.
Still a year away from graduation, Wallace is already developing her professional skills. She is interning with Oklahoma Horizon, an ag-based television station in Stillwater, and is co-host of "The Angus Report," a news report for cattle producers.
Wallace hopes to have a communication-related job and someday own her own farm. "Growing up on a farm provided me with invaluable skills, and I want my family to have those same experiences," she says.
AgDay Spotlights the New Crop of Farmers
Meet more outstanding young farmers. According to USDA, only 5% of farm operators are under the age of 35, and roughly one-third of U.S. farmers are age 65 or older. However, that might be changing as more young people are making the decision to return to the family farm. For the past several months, AgDay has profiled young farmers from across America. Watch them now at www.agweb.com/a_new_crop.