Almost a year ago I moved to the middle of the Corn Belt aka Northeastern Iowa. I grew up in agriculture, but my family had cattle and we bought all of our feed. Which meant I knew very little about farming other than what I had picked up on in my college classes and from inquisitively asking questions.
Surrounded by corn I began asking my then fiancé lots of questions about corn. Farming intrigues me. I find that it more business-minded compared to raising cattle. We make a lot of emotional decisions with our cattle, where as farmers use facts and research to make theirs.
I also learned that the way my family was farming was unique. They call their farming group the Farmers United Network – the FUN group. We stay away from the word cooperative but there are 12 farming entities in the group all work ing together to achieve three goals 1. Be able to spend more time with their families, 2. Be more profitable, and 3. Have fun.
The people in the group span an age range of 24-72, with the average age being 42 years old. We are some of the younger people in the group. And currently with new John Deere combines costing xx there is no way we would be able to farm without the group.
Basics of how it is set up:
- Two families own all the equipment. The others pay rental on that equipment when it is in their fields. On a side note I have never seen equipment so well taken care of. They actually put white carpets in the tractors and combines as a reminder to keep them clean.
- The group has a wide range of expertise from a crop insurance guy, an agronomist, a loan officer, a seed salesman, a mechanic, a legal adviser and the list goes on. With wide range of expertise we can pull knowledge from within the group.
- The group works together to plant and harvest each other’s fields. Decisions are made as a group of when planting, harvest, tillage, etc. will take place. When we were on our honeymoon someone else was helping plant our family’s fields. However, when we got back my husband spent time in another person’s field so they could attend a son’s basketball game.
- We each sell our crops individually. However, when we have a contract hits or go through a mass text message is sent out to the group so they can try and take advantage of that same price.
- Transparency is very important to the group. We are continually sharing insight on our own businesses, crop history and what did and didn’t in our fields. The value of our network is invaluable.
Why the group works:
- It allows small guys like us to get into farming, and also learn from others with years of experience. We have top of the line equipment in our fields which allows us to be more profitable in the long run.
- With the variation in age in the group it allows the more seasoned farmers to have a transition from farming to retirement. It also allows the younger people in the group to have better access to future rental opportunities when group members are ready to retire.
- The group allows us to be more profitable. Currently, between the 12 farms we are farming about 8,000 acres. For us it is not about trying to have as many acres as possible, but rather making the acres we do have as profitable as possible. We can be more profitable because of the transparency I mentioned and the amount of knowledge being shared, something that many other farmers don’t have access to.
- We are like to have fun. We all love farming, but we love our families more. The ability of the group to give us more time with our families makes the time spent in the tractor that much more enjoyable.
It’s been a fun journey learning more about this side of agriculture. I think this group of mostly men sometimes thinks that I am a bit of a nerd, but at the same time I am pretty sure they love being able to sit down and share their passion and knowledge with me. And it is even more exciting to know that we are ensuring generations of farmers to come will be able to continue doing what they love.