For this young farmer, being humble is just as important as doing things right.
Driving by this Wisconsin farm, there’s more to the red paint and scenic landscape than meets the eye.
"Perception is reality," says Michael Daniels, who farms in southeastern Wisconsin and a portion of Illinois. "If you drive past a dumpy farm, how they can expect what they’re going to put on their table is a quality product?"
At the age of 35, Daniels has already been farming for more than two decades. At the age of 15, he rented his first piece of ground, farming with his father and brother. By the age of 26, he had become the sole operator of the farm. While he’s grown, it’s been with dignity, taking a great deal of pride in not only what he does, but how he does it.
"You don’t cut corners," he says. "You do things right."
This has helped propel him into a successful farming career, growing the farm to more than just row crops.
"We have some alfalfa, also," Daniels says. "And then our custom service side, which has grown rapidly in the last couple of years. That’s spraying, every aspect of production agriculture including planting and combining, and then we got into forage harvesting."
With so many different entities, he doesn’t consider himself a boss. He says it requires a team to get the work done.
"More like a coach or a leader," he says. "I’m not big on being a boss and dictating."
By looking at Daniels’ picturesque operation and his office, where papers are neatly filed and everything sitting nicely in its home, you can tell he’s a perfectionist. What you can’t see is how humble he is, and that’s been key to the success of his operation.
"Being humble goes a long way," Daniels says. "There are people in our community losing their homes. They don’t need to see a new combine going by."
Daniels’ newest combine is a 2004 model. He says making what they have work has been his strategy. This includes his grain set-up. Not a single one was purchased new.
"We buy and rebuild grain bins, or infrastructure, I guess," he says.
Some farmers today spend money on the latest gadgets. For Daniels, this is unnecessary spending. He prefers to stick to a piece of advice given to him from a mentor, which has turned into his philosophy for making it through the ups and the downs.
"When times are good, you pay down your debt," he explains. "It’s easier to expend when no one wants to expand."
In his mid-30s, Daniels has already seen how volatile commodity markets can be.
"So many people are afraid, well it could go up tomorrow," he says. "It could go down tomorrow, too. You can’t go broke selling at a profit."
That’s why his strategy is to take the gamble out of grain marketing.
"Our approach to grain marketing is we take the whole year and break it into thirds," Daniels says. "And we try to have a one-third of it sold by the time we plant, then we’ll have the second sold by July 4th."
Daniels says this means they are only really gambling on the last one-third. He uses an independent grain dealer, whom he works closely, and from January to July sells a certain amount of grain each week. This helps him take the emotions out of marketing his grain.
He’s continuing this strategy going into what many are projecting to be another volatile year.
"100 million acres at trendline yields, you’re looking at $3.50 fall corn," he says. "If there’s another drought, we’re looking at $8 corn. $6 is profitable; let’s start there."
That cautious approach is also applied to land purchases.
"In today’s production ag world, it’s easy to get big; all you have to be is the top bidder," Daniels says. "But to do it in a professional way, and be positive for the community, it’s awesome."
Daniels says many land deals haven’t come by chance. It’s been by his theory to never say "no."
"A lot of the growth we’ve had came from farms we did custom work for, and the gentleman wants to retire," he says. "We were able to expand that way."
It’s that hard work that’s already helping to build the legacy of the farm.
"I may never see the benefit of it, but our boys or our grandchildren will."
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