New Generation of Top Producers

December 10, 2012 07:14 PM
New Generation of Top Producers

College friendship extends to advisory group

With one notch in their belt marking their first year of full-time farming, these young bucks already have stories to tell and experiences to share. Iowans Josh Lammert, Zach Lynch and Nathan Whitehead are all in farming—and their friendship—for the long haul. They’re hard-charging under farming’s ropes, and it has already proven to be quite a ride.

"To have the first year be the worst drought in decades will be something I talk about for many years," says Lynch, of Redding, Iowa. He’s not complaining, though, noting that his first year couldn’t have been better on the money side. The past two years were the best ever for his family’s farm. He had some corn that yielded triple-digits, while some did not.

This same story was echoed by his two good friends. Genetics and soil type make the difference in a year like this when drought was relentless, agree Whitehead, of Riverton, Iowa, and Lammert, of Treynor, Iowa.

The three met on a crisp autumn day five years ago at Northwest Missouri State University. They discovered that they shared the same ag business major and all had plans to return home and farm. Since graduation, they’ve informally formed a peer advisory group and frequently talk about farm and nonfarm issues.

Farm Talk. "We talk tillage, equipment, technology, what works and doesn’t work on our farms, and we give each other honest feedback, which is invaluable," Whitehead says. The three also talk about preparing for technological developments to come, such as planters that will carry several different kinds of seed, allowing the right seed to be planted on the right soil.

"One hot topic of conversation the past few months has been the need to switch to 20" corn rows," Lammert says. All three were challenged with selling the idea to their fathers that the switch would boost yields. It isn’t just a matter of narrower rows but thousands of dollars in equipment modifications.

When college graduates return to the farm with new ideas, there is bound to be a little conflict. All three young producers say that while they don’t win every battle, they feel respected and a compromise is generally reached.

"My father values my opinion, but we don’t see eye to eye on everything," Lammert says.

For instance, Lammert and his father were looking for a tractor. His father wanted an older tractor with more horsepower, and Lammert wanted something newer with AutoTrack. His father ended up purchasing an older tractor with more horsepower that had the AutoTrack feature.

When Lynch returned to the farm to work with his father and grandfather, he quickly found his niche. "Dad is still in charge of finances and marketing, but I’m the go-to guy for technology," he says, having added AutoSwath, automatic row shutoff clutches and Precision Planting meters to all three planters.

Knowing he has to pull in his share of income for the farm, which focuses on crops and cattle, Lynch just wrapped up the paperwork for a beginning farmer loan with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and is leasing his first piece of farmland. "I told the FSA loan officer that if money was any cheaper, they’d be giving it away. I’m very excited," he says. As for equipment, Lynch will use his grandfather’s in exchange for labor—one perk of a multigenerational farm.

For Whitehead, farming is as much about managing nine full-time employees, some almost three times his age, as doing the work himself. Even with the age difference, Whitehead says he’s comfortable in this role. "I’m knowledgeable about the new stuff, such as field mapping, and I can teach that," he says. "I’ve learned management skills from my dad, taken useful college classes and worked for people."

Having been on both sides of the fence, one thing Whitehead has learned is that workers need time off. "We take every Sunday off, no matter what," he says.

Reflections. While getting year one under their belt and sharing experiences has been important, reflecting on their expectations might prove most beneficial to the friends.

To date, farming has tracked well with their expectations. "I grew up on a farm and pretty much knew what to expect, but it’s actually beat my expectations," Whitehead says. "I’m able to plan and study more, and I do more research and testing."

This past growing season, Whitehead developed spreadsheets for different practices such as fertilizer rates to track amount used, costs and yields. He’s also been able to budget per-acre costs and update them regularly, a skill he attributes to his college coursework.

"When I’m older, I’d like to do marketing," Whitehead says, already looking toward the future. "Today, I wouldn’t even have the time on top of my other work. I did some marketing in college and really enjoyed it, but it would take three to four hours a day to do it the right way."

Beyond valuable record-keeping and agronomy skills, college helped Lynch develop his  communication skills. "I’m able to introduce myself to suppliers and others we deal with, not just as someone’s son and grandson, but someone in my own right," he says. "That’s important; I’m part of a family farm but an individual, too."

Along with their college friendship comes some heckling. Lynch explains that Lammert and Whitehead farm on good ground and he’s in an area better suited for pastureland. "I get poked   about that," he says. "They call me the rancher, and I call them the big farmers."

Opportunities Abound. Jokes aside, all three have had to boost income to join the family farm, and that’s serious business. Lynch is investing in a land base. Lammert works part-time as a sales representative for a seed company and talked Lynch and Whitehead into planting test plots, which outperformed the competition. So he already has two eager customers for next year.

In keeping his eye out for opportunities, Lammert also grows 200 acres of wheat. He sells the wheat straw in local markets for $45 per bale. "It’s sold before we bale it," he says. "We have to take advantage of every opportunity we get."

Lammert doesn’t just sit and wait for opportunity, he goes after it. He was recently accepted into the I-LEAD program developed by the Iowa Corn Growers Association. The program accepts 20 young producers and grooms them to be state leaders. Selected candidates get to attend high-level meetings both domestically and abroad. Recognizing the importance of the global marketplace to U.S. exports, Lammert hopes to visit China to learn about their culture and  production ag environment.

This is an exciting time to enter farming, Whitehead adds. "Think of the change. We are told we have to double yields by 2050 with more fertilizer regulation on top of it."

A new generation of top producers in Iowa

Josh Lammert, 24
Treynor, Iowa

  • Farms with father and brother
  • Corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle, hay
  • Part-time seed rep.

Nathan Whitehead, 23
Riverton, Iowa

  • Farms with father
  • Responsible for nine full-time employees

Zach Lynch, 23
Redding, Iowa

  • Farms with father and grandfather
  • Crops and cattle
  • Responsible for technology

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Spell Check

12/14/2012 08:39 AM

  leave the money for 20 inch rows in the bank. I switched 20 years ago and it had a profitable advantage then. Doesn't seem to be any better than 30 inch rows any more.


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