Ready to Come Home

By Brandelyn Twellman

What started as a high school student’s FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project evolved into a college graduate’s full-time job four years down the road. Ben Niendick said he never questioned whether he’d come back home to the family farm.

“I always knew I wanted to come back,” he explained. “In FFA, I had a pretty good SAE selling square bales of straw. That built and built each year I was in FFA until I was finally able to purchase a farm when I was a junior in college. Then, I had a farm to come back to, along with farming with my dad. That’s always been the plan. Even when I started high school, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

The Niendick family farm operation includes raising soybeans, corn, wheat and cattle. Expansion and diversification made it possible for the farm to support two families, allowing Ben to return to the farm full-time after college.

Today, Niendick’s plan has come to fruition as he owns and operates Niendick Cattle and Grain in Lafayette County alongside his father, Neal. Though today the two are partners, Niendick started off helping his dad with smaller tasks on the farm.

“If I was old enough to do something, like grabbing Dad a tool, I did it,” he said. “Then, I started helping him work on stuff on the farm. My sisters and I were always out and about, especially during the summertime, helping with as much as we could handle at our age.”

As his experience increased, so did his responsibilities.

“As we got older, the tasks got bigger,” Niendick said. “You kind of progress like you would in any other job, I guess. It’s just a more long-term progression.”

After high school, Niendick followed in his older sisters’ footsteps and pursued a degree at the University of Missouri (MU). Majoring in Agricultural Systems Management, he said he hoped to learn more about the agricultural industry to bring back home to the family operation.

After graduating from MU in 2016, Niendick moved home to pick up where he left off on the farm — only this time to stay year-round. He and his father had to work on expansion plans to make his full-time farming dreams a reality.

“I was able to purchase my own farm, which helped us expand,” Niendick said. “You have to expand because you’re going from supporting one family to two.”

He and his wife, McKenna, married in 2019 and now live on the farm.

When looking at the future of their operation, the Niendicks made diversification and integration a priority. Today, their diversified operation consists of soybeans, corn, wheat and a feedlot business. They also bale straw, chop silage and do some custom harvesting. They accomplish the demanding tasks of such a diversified farm with the help of three full-time employees.

“When there were two of us here year-round, it created a lot more opportunity for us to expand,” Niendick said. “Dad and I built the feedlot when I got back from school, which was also another way to diversify and expand our operation. We had to create more opportunities for diversification and integration to start expanding to create ways to spread out our risk.”

For the Niendicks, diversification also brings conservation and integration.

“Each part is separate, but it all ties in together,” Niendick said. “We plant wheat for our straw after the corn that we chop for silage, which helps keep the erosion down on our farm. Then, our soybeans come in on the double crop side, so we have decisions to make when it comes to planting beans and cover crops.”

Niendick said as in most operations, their decisions are affected by several markets.

“The cattle markets and grain markets are all changing,” he said. “Either
they both support each other, or one carries the other and vice versa. So, diversification has become a really big thing we do to spread out some risk.”

Their expansion has made Niendick’s daily responsibilities look different than the roles he held in high school.

“Dad and I meet at my mom and dad’s house before 7 a.m. to gather our plans for the day before everyone gets there,” he said. “We usually start feeding pretty early and get the feeder cattle fed. Then, the cattle take up a lot of our time in winter. In the row-crop off season, when we’re not planting or harvesting, we work on different equipment and make sure that’s good and ready to go. Then, of course, if we need to plant or harvest, we do that.”

The Niendick family farm operation includes raising soybeans, corn, wheat and cattle. Expansion and diversification made it possible for the farm to support two families, allowing Ben to return to the farm full-time after college.

Niendick hasn’t skipped a beat since returning home.

“There’s not a lot of down time on the farm,” he said. “Depending on the time of year, what we’re doing and the weather, we’ll get home around dark or after.”

One of the biggest transitions he’s noticed since returning home has been the partnership he now holds with his dad.

“It’s a shared deal now and both of us kind of do the same things,” he explained. “If someone needs to be somewhere else, we’re interchangeable. On the feedlot side, I keep track of more of the feed rations than Dad does, but other than that, we can trade places easily if need be. This started when I came back from school.”

Before this partnership could commence, the Niendicks had to sort through the details of their operations and start looking toward the future.

“It’s different than we’ve done it before,” Niendick said. “Some stuff we’ll split down the middle, so there’s kind of his, mine and ours we have to keep track of.”

While he said working full time on the farm has met his expectations, the transition was not met without a few challenges.

“Since I got back from college, there’s been at least two years that I’ve heard either my dad or my great uncle say that this is as bad as they’ve ever seen it,” Niendick said. “Whether it’s the weather or the markets, it’s almost a little discouraging being a beginning farmer at this time in agriculture.”

One tool Niendick utilizes to overcome these challenges is the knowledge he gained at MU. He said they’ve made some updates to their operation based on what he has learned.

“There are a lot of things on the technology side of it that we’ve started using on our farm,” he said. “All the way to computer skills and using Excel programs. The custom feeding and feed bill side of the feedlot operation has been my part in the office. We also use things like iPads and GPS technology on our farm.”

Niendick even took the skills he learned at MU a step further by customizing tools for their operation, specifically.

“I built my own Excel sheet to use for the feed in our operation,” he said. “Different agribusiness classes I took helped get me in the right mindset.”

He has also utilized connections made during his time in college to help grow the operation.

“In college, I advise taking advantage of the different opportunities and organizations,” Niendick said. “It’d be tough to do, but I’d like to add it up and see how many dollars’ worth of business we’ve done with and for people I met in school. It’d be tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of business exchanged one way or the other.”

Support from his dad has helped this integration.

“Sometimes farmers can kind of get stuck in the way they’ve been doing things,” he said. “It’s hard to be welcoming to new ideas sometimes. Dad’s been good about keeping his eyes open and letting us talk through things to make some changes. The longer I’ve been here full time, the better it’s gotten. We’re getting more used to working together every day.”

When looking toward the future, succession planning looks a little different for the Niendicks.

“You hear of some families talking about succession planning while the dad or grandpa is still very involved in the operation,” Niendick said. “I think that smooths it over and makes the transition easier for everyone. It’s a little different for our family because I’m the only one of my siblings actively involved in the business.”

He said the conversations they have with their family about the future are just as important for planning purposes.

“Obviously, we still have to work on a succession plan, but we talk about it more in the short term now,” he said.“If at any time you can prevent conflict around the topic in your family, you want to do that. Communication is key.”

Niendick plans to continue building on those conversations and plans for growth of their family operation in the future.

“I’m hoping we can expand in every direction we’re already going,” he said. “In some areas, you have to allocate the time and resources, which determines the growth you can have like in the feedlot and silage-chopping business. As a whole, we’d like to see it grow as much as possible.”

Find the rest of the issue here.