The Modern Family Farm
By: Brandelyn Martin
Chopping rye silage on Lehenbauer Farms, Inc. in Hannibal, Missouri exemplifies the meaning of a family affair. From hauling wagons to driving tractors, it is all hands on deck when silage is chopped on the farm, Mark and Amy Lehenbauer explained. Even the kids want in on the action as soon as they are unbuckled and hop out of the pickup after coming home from school.
“We love to have our kids out working with us on the farm,” Amy said. “If they’re not in school, they work right alongside us. It is truly rewarding to see them find their niche and their interests and where they fit on the farm.”
Lehenbauer Farms, Inc. fits into the 96 percent of farms and ranches that are family-owned in the U.S., as reported by the 2017 Census of Agriculture. In addition to involving their children in the operation, Mark and Amy farm with Mark’s parents, Ronald and Shelly, and his brother and sister-in-law, Andrew and Jessica. They are the third and fourth generations on their family farm.
Since 2012, the number of farms with two or more producers has increased. Mark said each of their family members involved on the farm has found a niche role. This helps push their operation forward and increase their productivity.
“I do a little bit of everything from overseeing the general business to managing the day-to- day operations based on the season of the year,” Mark said. “I also do all of our marketing.”
Amy’s niche is more on the cattle side of the operation. Today, 56 percent of farms have at least one female decision maker and 36 percent of all producers are female. While female producers were reportedly most involved in day-to-day decision making and record keeping, some, like Amy, have more hands-on responsibilities.
“I have a dual role,” Amy said. “First of all, I work with our cow-calf operation. Primarily looking at production, herd health, nutrition and all aspects of that operation. Then, I also get involved with the nutrition and health aspects of our feedlot operation. Other portions of my time are spent doing business and office management-type work. Anything from human resources to accounting functions to record keeping for the cattle herd and some of the row crop operation, also.”
Bob Garino, statistician at the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service office in Missouri, told Brownfield Ag News there has been a jump in the diversity of agriculture in the state of Missouri. With multiple producers working full-time on the farm, the Lehenbauers have been able to contribute to this widespread diversification.
In addition to their diversified row crop operation, growing corn, soybeans and wheat, the farm also produces forages for their beef cattle herd. The Lehenbauers have a cow-calf operation and a cattle finishing operation. Adding to the livestock side of the business, they also own contract finish pig barns.
“We do a little bit of everything, and we just try to do most of it well,” Mark laughed.
“We are diversified in almost everything we do,” Amy said. “On the cattle side, we are calf- cow, we finish cattle and we even sell a little freezer beef that goes directly to the consumer. We also have the row crop operation and do some construction work and trucking. We basically do anything to help add value to the product we produce.”
Some of this diversification has been possible because of access to the internet on their farm.
“Internet access is a huge issue for our operation, and I think for businesses and operations in all of rural Missouri and even all parts of the rural U.S.,” Amy said. “It’s a challenge for us. We tend to be early adopters of technology, so we have to have data access and internet access. In our livestock operation, we utilize a cloud-based feeding system that logs our feed costs and our inputs, and makes sure our rations are nutritionally-balanced. So, we have to have the internet to even feed every morning on our operation.”
Amy said this access does come at a cost that has to be justified. Mark agreed and added that part of its justification is increased efficiency.
“It seems like every day we are doing something new,” Mark said. “There is constantly something new we are adding, in part thanks to technology.”
The number of Missouri farms with access to the internet has risen since 2012, giving 73 percent of farms similar access and connectivity.
The Lehenbauers also diversify their operation through the use of conservational practices.
“We use cover crops extensively,” Mark said. “We harvest and graze several hundred acres of our cover crops for forages, but we also plant cover crops on quite a bit more of our highly erodible ground. We have also started to do some land forming on our upland grounds, trying to control the discharge point and the velocity of the discharge point with moving minimal amounts of soil around.”
Additionally, Mark said they are working on installing their first sub-irrigation drainage system.
Similar land practices have been on the rise across the United States since 2012. More farmers have increased their use of practices like minimum tillage planting, no-till planting, cover crops, drainage tiles and more.
Looking toward the future, Mark and Amy agree that one of their main goals is to steward their operation in a way that is sustainable for future generations. With the average age of a U.S. farmer on the rise, currently over 59 years in the state of Missouri, looking toward future generations will become more important on every farm family.
“We strive to be innovative, to be good environmental stewards and to improve our sustainability so our farm is here for the next generation,” Amy said.
The Census of Agriculture is conducted by the USDA National Ag Statistics Service once everyfive years. It captures data from U.S. farms with at least $1,000 in sales through a survey of farmers.
Learn more about the results of the 2017 Census on Agriculture.
Read the entire June 2019 issue here.