More hands equals big success
Twin brothers plus six sons plus three employees put this Anselmo, Neb., farm in a position to expand. The Bartaks have capitalized on the opportunity. They’ve managed to bring their sons into the mix while adding acres and cattle.
It’s rare to find the entire Bartak clan together, but if you do, hold on. You will quickly be engulfed by an intense energy parallel to that of a rock concert and a level of enthusiasm that can only be
created by the dynamics of one big family working together and living out their dream.
Twin brothers, Joel and Bruce Bartak, along with their six sons, Adam, Evan, Zach, Blake, Jeff and Tyler, comprise Bartak Brothers Inc. Together they raise cattle, corn, soybeans, hay and alfalfa on their central Nebraska farm. A purposeful growth strategy, smart business decisions, strong communication skills and a lot of hard work has allowed two generations to seamlessly work together and prosper.
Starting Strong. In agriculture, timing can be everything. At the foot of the Nebraska Sandhills, the Bartaks’ roots run deep. In 1916, Joel and Bruce’s grandfather bought his first piece of ground in Custer County. It wasn’t until 1980 that Joel and Bruce began their farming careers on that same sandy soil.
"When we started, we didn’t have much debt," Joel says. "We went into the 1980s with a lot of opportunity. There were a lot of guys who started five years ahead of us who didn’t make it. Our dad always said it’s better to be lucky than smart."
The twins’ sons have also been able to start their careers during agriculture’s good times.
"The boys coming back to the farm has been driven by profitability," Joel says. "The last few years have been as good as I’ve ever seen."
These money-making times have allowed the Bartaks to steadily grow their operation to provide enough income to continue folding sons into the operation. Anselmo, Neb., the Bartaks’ tiny hometown, is perfectly situated between prime pasture ground and corn-growing country.
"We’re in a really good position because we are located on the end of the farm ground and have the Sandhills to the north of us," Joel explains. "We’ve had two options to grow—crops and cattle. We could expand in both directions, and that’s exactly what we’ve done."
In total, the Bartaks’ operation includes 1,300 cow-calf pairs, 15,000 grazing acres and 6,000 crop acres. Due to the area’s dry climate, the Bartaks irrigate 85% of their crop acres, as well as a small portion of their grazing acres.
Expanding the cattle herd has been the best way to grow in recent years. Each of the sons and the hired hands own a portion of the herd.
This means everyone has an invested interest. It also means everyone gets a share of the work, which guarantees lots of family bonding time. Adam Bartak, 28, says working with his family has its ups and downs, especially when cattle are part of the mix.
"Working with cattle brings out the worst in everybody," Adam says. "You get frustrated with the animals because they’re not working the right way, so you start taking it out on each other."
Fortunately, he says, that’s when the benefits of being a working family kick in. "You can yell at each other all day and the next day it’s no big deal," Adam explains.
Two is better than one and for the Bartaks, eleven is better than two.
Helping Hands. In addition to the twins and their sons, Bartak Brothers Inc. has three full-time employees. Derrick Tucker is excellent in the shop, and Neil Spanel oversees activities at the
feedlot. Their latest hire, Cody Seitsinger, is taking on the challenge of learning the entire operation.
Even though the Bartak sons tend to focus on certain aspects of the operation, the day-to-day responsibilities are treated with a divide-and-conquer attitude.
"Everybody does everything," explains Jeff Bartak, 26.
To take full advantage of all the labor on the farm, the Bartaks own two of all of the critical equipment.
Not surprising, the two generations of Bartaks have different aspirations for work-life balance. Joel says the sons like to work five or six days a week and then have a day or two off.
"We didn’t do that," he says. "But, now we do, and that’s a lot better. When you have more help, you get more done through the week and can enjoy the weekends more."
Since the Bartaks’ operation is large and diverse, the six sons have all been able to find a niche.
Zach Bartak, 29, is the oldest son and a natural third man in charge. Blake, 28, is a social media guru and is constantly updating Facebook and Twitter with the farm happenings.
Adam works with the cattle, while Jeff, 26, is a jack-of-all trades and is always ready to crack a joke.
Evan, 24, recently earned an agricultural economics degree at the University of Nebraska. Since then, he’s started marketing some of the operation’s grain so he can develop his understanding of the business side of farming.
Tyler, a 22-year-old student at the University of Nebraska, focuses his time studying and managing the farm’s forage and hay quality.
Twins have been known to share a sixth sense, and Joel and Bruce are good examples. Their ability to work together is a key to their success. Their sons also have a clear bond, which isn’t surprising since they’ve spent countless hours together.
"You get to the point where a lot of things don’t have to be said," says Zach. "You just kind of know what another person will get done, and a lot of things don’t have to be said."
Pay It Forward. The ability for Bruce and Joel and their six sons to earn an honest living together on land that has now been in the Bartak family for four generations is their version of utopia.
"It’s nice that these guys will carry on what we started and what our dad and grandparents started before us," Bruce shares. "Farming is not an easy life, but we want to let whoever wants to come back, come back."
The twin brothers say they are planning a 10-year wind down.
"We are enjoying these good times, too," Joel says, paying tribute to his parents. "All of our success goes back to my uncle and our dad. We view our farm as a pay-it-forward deal. What was done for us, we are trying to do for our kids."
Lights, Camera, Action
In addition to their daily tasks, the Bartak crew now takes the time to explain what they do and why.
This year, the Bartaks have been the subject of "Growing Season," a monthly web-based series produced by CPI, the family’s local agronomic and grain cooperative. The first episode hit "YouTube" in April.
The goal is to provide a real view of farming, says Anthony Pingel, advertising manager for CPI. "We wanted a family with a lot of young members and a long history," he says. The Bartaks fit the bill.
Pingel and his videographer, Dale Brooks, studied everything from "Duck Dynasty" to "Swamp People" to find inspiration on how to film and showcase life on the farm. The show’s quality and content could easily earn it a TV spot. The two-man crew spends 30 to 40 hours shooting per month and then they edit footage to 20-minute episodes.
While they haven’t changed how they interact with their animals or run the operation, Jeff Bartak, 26, says starring in the series has made them all aware of how they do what they do. Joel Bartak, agrees. "It’s been educational," he says. "It’s not a bad thing to think someone is looking over your shoulder."
The Bartaks chose to participate in the series because they are proud of their contribution to American agriculture and that they work hard to provide safe and sustainable agricultural products.
The episodes showcase everything from tagging calves and spreading fertilizer to having a little time to relax as a family on the 4th of July.
Some topics such as branding cattle and planting genetically modified seed have raised a few eyebrows from those outside of the industry and even some farm groups. Instead of shying away, the Bartaks address these potentially controversial topics head-on and explain their decisions and methods.
Overall, the Bartaks agree that the series has been a positive experience. They are happy to open their farm gates and tractor cabs and have enjoyed meeting new people through the process.
To learn more about the Bartaks, watch the Growing Season, a web video series, at www.TopProducer-Online.com/Bartaks.
- January 2014