Farmer Perspectives: Trial By Fire

By Janna Splitter, CommonGround Kansas Volunteer Farmer

 Janna and her husband met in 4-H as kids growing up in the Lyons, Kansas, area. Now, they are carrying on the fifth-generation family farm while raising their two daughters.

My husband and I have farming in our blood. We were both raised on a farm and earned agricultural degrees in college. Yet, taking on a farm business is a big undertaking. In fact, many farmers take years — even decades — to fully hand-over the reins.

My husband, Matt, and I were sole owners of a fifth-generation family farm by the ages of 25 and 23, respectively. Even with our background and education, the transition was abrupt. Our personal heartbreak also dramatically affected our career plans when we lost my father-in-law to cancer in March 2010.

 

Our village

Due to the increasing average age of farmers nationwide, some experts estimate almost 10 percent of America’s farmland will change hands in the next five years. We’re part of that trend.

Despite the abrupt start to our farming career, we’ve been able to grow our farm, in part, by providing custom-farming services. In a custom-farming arrangement, we agree to plant and harvest a crop in exchange for a set fee or rate. We grow wheat, corn, soybeans and grain sorghum on our own land and our clients’ fields.

We’ve been fortunate my own father farms close to us and has been a great sounding board for advice. We’ve also surrounded ourselves with people who support our farm, from our crop insurance agent to our local banker.

 

Banking and insurance

Today, I’m the full-time bookkeeper for our farm and chief kid wrangler for our two daughters. Like most people my age, it took a little time to find my footing as our long-term plans to join the family farm became more immediate.

In fact, I had two “off-the-farm” jobs before finally settling in as a full-time employee of our business. My first job was as a program technician for our local branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).

It was a temporary position helping certify crop acres, which means I would help verify what crop was being grown and on what specific fields. I also helped with crop insurance programs. These programs are vital to helping ensure farmers can confidently farm each year. Just like car insurance, farmers only use crop insurance if there is a wreck. This can be a hail storm that wipes out a crop. The insurance is designed to almost cover enough expenses that farmers can try again next season.

One bad storm should not wipe out years of effort in building a farm. Plus, it helps our country develop a safe, dependable food supply when we can rely on farmers being in business year after year.

I’ve seen farming from all sides — as a mother purchasing farm-grown food in the grocery store, as a government employee helping steady the impact of Mother Nature on farm businesses and as a new farmer myself.

With every bite of food, I’m reminded of all the people it takes to ensure my food is safe, affordable and can be counted on, rain or shine.

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