The New Crop of Farmers

February 8, 2013 08:15 PM

By Clinton Griffiths and Tyne Morgan

Young farmers jump right in with technology and production details, but marketing is a learning curve

There’s a new crop of farmers coming up through the ranks who are young, aggressive and driven. Illinois producer Tim Rosenwinkel is one of the 5% of principal farm operators who are 35 years old or younger. He works alongside his father who, like 33% of the farmers in the U.S., is nearing retirement.

Recent numbers show enrollments in collegiate agricultural programs are up more than 20%. That’s good for the future of food and fiber production. Couple the push for education with several years of record farm income and disappointing job prospects in town and more young guns are returning to their roots.

With a new crop of farmers come opportunities and challenges. After working as an electrician for 10 years, Rosenwinkel’s skill set is coming in handy on the farm.

"I’ve pretty much redone our entire grain storage set-up from top to bottom," he says. "I’m going to hook up our second corn dryer to Internet access next year. That way, I can monitor from the combine or my house, via my iPad or phone, to make sure it’s running and moisture is okay."

Rosenwinkel’s attention to production details and willingness to mix up practices is adding to the farm’s bottom line. "We’re always doing plot data," he says, "whether it’s with nitrogen stabilizers, insecticide plots or variable-rate populations. We’re always seeing what we can do to get the yield, and not just get the yield but make something off the added investment."

Be ready to learn. While technology and production decisions tend to come easy to the younger generation, marketing can be more of a challenge. Farm Journal columnist Bob Utterback says anyone who’s started farming in the past decade has enjoyed high commodity markets and prosperity. The nature of the commodity beast, however, will force prices back down. When that happens, the younger producers might not be prepared.

"I think what we’re seeing is Dad still makes a lot of the marketing decisions because it is such a big financial decision," Utterback says. "He’s developed the skill set and learned how to manage the risk."

Utterback says learning how to play the game of emotions and understanding the fundamental and technical aspects are keys to successfully dealing with commodity markets.

It’s also vital for young farmers to understand how they handle and internalize risk. If the stress of marketing is overwhelming, it might be in the best interest of the farm to delegate the responsibilities to someone who can ride the roller coaster, he advises.

Growing the operation is also key, however doing so with caution can pay off in the end. Rosenwinkel might be an aggressive marketer, but he’s just the opposite when it comes to acquiring new land, especially considering a $9,000 to $12,000 per acre price tag in northern Illinois.

"You never want to take too big of a step too fast and then go backward," he says.

Spotlight On Young Producers

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To watch "AgDay’s" series showcasing the next generation of farmers, tune in to the show on Wednesday mornings or visit

You can e-mail Tyne Morgan at


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