Young Leaders: Adversity drives farm innovations

Panel discusses overcoming obstacles, keys to future success.

Young Leaders, from left, Marc Bremer, Ashley Paddock, Kaylee Heap and Andy Lenkaitis participate in a panel discussion during the Illinois Farm Bureau Farm Income and Innovations Conference. Among other topics, they discussed ways theyre expanding and diversifying their farms. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)
Young Leaders, from left, Marc Bremer, Ashley Paddock, Kaylee Heap and Andy Lenkaitis participate in a panel discussion during the Illinois Farm Bureau Farm Income and Innovations Conference. Among other topics, they discussed ways they're expanding and diversifying their farms. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

By Dan Grant

Four Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leaders from around the state shared their unified dream of growing their operations during a panel discussion at IFB’s Farm Income and Innovations Conference.

But the reality of limited farmland availability and high land and cash rent prices are major obstacles for farmers, particularly those fairly new to the business, to enter or grow a farm operation.

Young Leaders Marc Bremer (Massac County), Kaylee Heap (Kendall County), Andy Lenkaitis (Kane County) and Ashley Paddock (Richland County) discussed how they overcame those and other obstacles to begin their farming careers in recent years and what they believe are keys to future success during the IFB event in Normal.

“When I came back to the farm in 2010 (after working cattle in Wyoming), it wasn’t large enough (to support multiple families),” said Bremer, the State Young Leader Committee chairman. “We had to innovate from within. Cattle and crops going together was our main focus.”

The Bremers grow white corn, soybeans and have a herd of registered black Angus cattle.

They inventoried their assets when Marc returned to the operation, and discovered they could get a better return from their land by adding cover crops and grazing livestock 10 to 11 months of the year rather than just cropping it all for six to seven months per year.

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In Richland County, Paddock and her husband work off the farm to help support the grain and soybean operation.

“Some of the major challenges we face include the ability to grow and expand,” Paddock said. “It’s very hard to pick up ground, and it’s hard to compete with cash rents along with all the challenges of poor commodity prices.”

The Paddocks focus on using multiple risk management strategies and are considering diversifying their farm. They’re currently investigating what the addition of milo (grain sorghum) or even canola could add to their business.

Lenkaitis also works off the farm as an engineer in the dairy equipment industry.

The position perfectly complements his family’s dairy farm as he’s able to see and scout what business strategies and equipment works best on a variety of dairy operations.

“What got me interested in getting back to the farm was my professional experience,” Lenkaitis said. “Visiting other operations gave me the opportunity to see what other professional dairy operations look like.”

Lenkaitis implemented nutrient management and cropping plans into the operation. He also hopes to improve the genetics of his herd, which could lead to more animal sales in the future.

The Heaps, who farm close to the Chicago area, knew it would be difficult to physically grow their operation. So, they saw a specialty market and diversified the farm by growing more than 90 varieties of pumpkins and about 4,500 mums per year.

“It was a farmstand in the front yard and we turned it into a full-time business,” Heap said. “About 90 percent (of the pumpkins and mums) are sold at our agritourism business and the rest through retail.

“It’s cool being on the front line and welcoming a lot of non-ag people on our farm,” she noted. “We’ve taken the opportunity to make it a fun experience and make sure (our customers) get the facts (about production agriculture).”

The Young Leaders also stressed the importance of opening their farms to the public, engaging consumers to dispel myths about the industry and getting involved in farm organizations, such as IFB, to develop new opportunities.

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.

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