The New Crop: Keeping It Fresh

February 7, 2013 03:29 AM
The New Crop: Keeping It Fresh

For these Indiana brothers, higher education is helping them make big improvements on the family farm.

Meet the new face of farming. Columbus, Ind., farmers Ben and Evan Daily are young, driven and well-educated.

"I have a bachelor’s degree in ag systems management, a bachelor’s degree in ag econ, associates in agronomy, a minor in Spanish and a minor in farm management," Ben says.

When "AgDay" first met Ben, he was attending school at Purdue University and working alongside his classmates to create an innovative senior class project—a remote-control tractor.

"The main thing we learned has been the incorporation of different systems to work together," said Ben last spring while working on their project. "It’s just one giant system trying to work together."

That practical project turned into a vital and efficient tool on the Dailys' farm this summer, eliminating the need for a tractor operator during sweet corn harvest.

"We actually increased our productivity by almost 200 dozen (ears) an hour on some of our best days," Ben says.

Some may question if having that many degrees is necessary, but in Ben’s mind, his entire college experience is helping him improve the family’s operation. Less than a year in, proof is in the improvements he’s already brought to the farm.

"I use the ag systems management to help increase efficiency of the row crop operation, as well as the vegetable operation," Ben explains. "And then I use my ag econ background to better the financial management of the farm."

He’s also taken the lead in areas the family would otherwise be forced to hire out. A good example of this is commodity marketing. Ben says by taking the right classes at Purdue, he learned to hedge corn or buy back crash grain sales on the Chicago Board of Trade using an electronic trading platform. He says that’s paying off.

His brother, Evan, is in the same field of work today, juggling college while working on the farm. While he’s taken a different approach and decided to attend school closer to home, he’s not immune to the fact that challenges are ahead.

"The biggest challenge is expanding within reach of the operation," Evan says. "Don’t expand too fast and try to expand some each year, but don’t take too big of a step."

Both brothers understand purchasing high-priced land isn’t the best strategy right now. So, they’re trying to improve productivity on the ground they already farm. For example, this past summer they tried an intercropping system, where they rotated between corn and soybeans across the field. While this caused people driving by to question their approach, Ben says it worked out pretty well.

"Given the dry conditions we experienced around here, we only had about two inches of rain from late May all the way through July," Ben says. "So, it actually helped us have better pollination on our field corn because heat was able to escape from between the corn rows at night."

Both brothers understand growth needs to come within. That’s why in addition to intensive management practices, they’re continuing to grow a division of the family farm originally planted to help put the boys through college.

"We’ve been focusing on capturing more of the local movement," Ben explains. "Thus we’ve opened up the local farmer’s market that we’ve had for about three years, and we try to continue to grow this sector, as well, because there’s more demand even in that from school corporations wanting fresh, local produce."

It’s not your typical roadside vegetable stand either. The Dailys built a permanent store that sits on prime real estate, just walking distance from Wal-Mart. From fresh produce, to baked goods, to home-grown corn-fed beef, the Daily brothers see it’s diversity that will help set their operation apart.

"The plan moving forward is to continue to expand the row crop operation, as margins in row crops are extremely good right now," Ben says. When margins are tighter, the vegetable business will hopefully provide that solid foundation needed to pull them through.

At the ripe age of 23, Ben’s already learned one thing—no matter how many credit hours he has under his belt, it’s what happens on the farm that provides the true test.

"The experience is worth more than the education," says Ben with a smile on his face.

It seems both brothers are passing that test with flying colors.


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