Efficiency in the Genes

January 13, 2010 09:33 AM

All Jon Holzfaster has to do to get a little inspiration is look across the office. Seated there, near a wall filled with photos and plaques, is his father, Ralph. The two are partners in a multicrop operation and run a 1,000-head cattle finishing yard.

Holzfaster says his father's leadership and futuristic vision is the motivation behind their highly efficient farm near Paxton, Neb. The elder Holzfaster pioneered center-pivot irrigation in the area, shouldering big risk when he opened an irrigation dealership. The technol-ogy helped transform southwestern Nebraska's sandy loam dryland wheat fields into more productive irrigated corn and soybean acres.

The Holzfasters also have been ahead of the curve in developing their grain-handling system. They constructed the initial phase in the mid-'70s, expanding it several years later. Like building blocks, the father-son duo added 5% to 10% more capacity each decade. By 2007, they had added enough bins to carry 100% of the farm's capacity. 

"Our initial reason for building the bins was to handle irrigated corn, which was new to the area,” Jon Holzfaster says. Commercial elevators lacked the drying capacity, and the larger grain-handling and
drying facility allowed for uninterrupted and economical harvest.

Now, on-farm storage allows for market carry and the ability to avoid harvest basis, Holzfaster says. Being able to store identity-preserved grain has added marketing opportunities, he adds.

Innovation for Survival.
Technological advances have always fascinated the Holzfaster men, who have tinkered with different ways to push yields—the farm was producing 150 bu. corn as early as 1970. They were among the first in the area to plant a community test plot, with about 80 varieties of corn. They repeat the effort every year.

During the past decade, the Holzfasters have evolved from minimum tillage to strip-till and no-till. Dryland fields, in particular, get a stringent residue management program with a three-year crop rotation of wheat-corn-fallow ground. Good irrigated ground tends to stay in corn. They average 200-plus-bushel corn on fields that have been in continuous corn for 15 years.

Yet the Holzfasters take a holistic approach toward overall farm management, matching everything from tillage through harvest and marketing. Now they grow a mix of crops including corn, popcorn, alfalfa, wheat and soybeans.

Equipment Upgrades. For 20 years the Holzfasters have traded combines annually, building their production system around combine capability. Bigger, more powerful combines let them cut back to one machine on the same acreage that three previously worked.

By trading every year, the machine is always under warranty. "It gives us a fixed cost per acre. If we're wiped out by hail and there's no crop, we would carry the machine over a year,” Holzfaster says.

Another farmer is always waiting in the wings to buy the Holzfasters' one-year-old combine. The dealer and farmer can plan accordingly and know what has been done on the machine.

Getting a higher-capacity combine meant everything else had to get bigger to keep up with it. They have transitioned to larger equipment to match the combine.

"The combine is the cheap part,” Holzfaster says. "Buying bigger carts, trucks and increasing bin capacity is what gets pricey. But it's what we need to do to be efficient.”

Consultant Help. The father-son team admits they could not push the technology envelope without help from their consultants.

"We meet every Wednesday to talk with our crop consultant and our irrigation man,” Holzfaster says. The consultant has been working on the farm for 20 years.

"With the different varieties, there's a fast turnover and I don't try to keep track of them,” Holz-faster says. "My philosophy is to develop a relationship with suppliers and seed dealers and consider them as partners.”

Those professional relationships have proved invaluable over the years, he says, especially as the farm continues to grow.

Bin Benefit
The stepped-up grain-handling system on Jon Holzfaster's farm gives him marketing opportunities his competitors don't catch. For example, Holzfaster recently participated in growing an identity-preserved corn product, a genetically modified organism, designed for the ethanol industry. The farm could grow and store the corn under Environmental Protection Agency and USDA restrictions with no problems, he says.


Top Producer, January 2010


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