Engineers turned farmers apply technical know-how to agriculture
Father-and-son duo John and Kurt Hohenberger took similar paths to get to the farm—in different decades, of course.
Both have a mechanical engineering degree from Purdue University and both worked as an engineer for an equipment company. Kurt, 26, worked for Case IH during the week and farmed on weekends before recently joining the operation in Leland, Ill., full-time. John, 61, worked for John Deere for eight years before starting his farming career 30 years ago.
Both men, despite or possibly because of their scientific background, knew they would always farm. Having engineering experience helps them solve farming’s technical challenges, such as how to use precision farming tools.
"Farming has a technical side as well as a financial side," Kurt says. With their scientific knowledge, "we do all our testing here," he adds.
Together, Kurt and John manage 1,600 acres. Kurt represents the fifth generation involved in the farm, which has been in the family of his mother, Sue, since 1908. In 2005, Sue’s father died, creating both an opportunity and a challenge in dealing with the farm’s legacy.
"It’s important to manage relationships and handle assets," says John, who works for a family
limited liability company (LLC) and manages his own corporation and acreage.
When it comes to working with Kurt, John says, "it is day-to-day mentoring." The father and son share labor and brainstorm ideas. For example, after attending a weeklong farm management workshop earlier this year, they returned to the farm and within a few days developed a business plan.
Kurt has purchased some of his own farmland and trades labor with his father. He also does custom work, such as tillage and tiling, and works as an employee for John when spraying corn, for example.
Salary Plus Incentive. When it comes to working for John and the corporation, Kurt is paid a salary as well as an incentive. "The more you do, the more you make," John says.
John says one advantage of having Kurt farm full-time is that they’re able to get work done faster. "For example, this spring we had the labor and capability to work around the clock," he says. "What before would have taken nine days we can accomplish in five and a half."
Kurt is enthusiastic about the future of agriculture. "I think there will be opportunities for younger people to farm," he predicts. "The average age of a farmer is 61, the age of my father."
With the future in mind, John and Kurt are expanding grain storage capacity and adding a grain leg and dryer so they will be able to handle more grain in the future.
"The next 20 years will be very exciting," Kurt says.