View From the Cab

A New Crop of Farmers is Emerging

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Genny Haun and Kyle Krier represent the new crop of agriculturalists. They stepped up to welcome readers into their homes and onto their farms this season. (Photos courtesy of Genny Haun and Kyle Krier)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Don't you dare tell Genny Haun or Kyle Krier that young people aren't returning to the farm. Both offer themselves as proof that agriculture holds hope and opportunity for the future.

In fact, infusing a little optimism was a reason these two farmers held up their hand to volunteer for DTN's season-long series called View From the Cab. For the past 13 years, we've chosen two farms from different regions of the country to follow through the crop year. Along the journey you'll get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities these farmers face.

You'll notice a few similarities in our 2018 contributors. Both worked off the farm before returning to multigenerational operations. Both operations have side enterprises woven into the fabric of their lives and businesses. Both have spouses, children, parents and employees who factor into decision-making. However, each has a unique view to share as they embrace the business of farming.

So hop on and enjoy the ride as we travel to Ohio and Kansas this spring, summer and fall. We'll take you there in words, pictures and an occasional video.

GENNY HAUN

Meet Genny Haun. She's the eldest daughter of Jan and Cindy Layman, the owners of Layman Farms LLP. Situated in northwest Ohio near Kenton, the cash-grain operation will plant and harvest just shy of 5,000 acres of owned and cash-rented land this year.

The operation is 100% continuous no-till with a 50/50 rotation of corn and soybeans. They use cover crops to improve soil health and reduce erosion and intensively soil sample on half-acre grids to maximize fertilizer needs. Most of the land lies within a 10-mile radius -- although they did pick up a small chunk of land this year that takes them into a neighboring county.

"We're so lucky to be located close to several end users and have multiple marketing outlets for our crops," said Genny. "Within 2 hours we can be to Lake Erie or the Ohio River. There are multiple feed manufacturers, large livestock operations and ethanol plants within 50 miles. Plus several of the co-ops have terminals that are situated on cross rail.

"We have positive basis most of the year. The downside is we have been in a tricky weather pattern and have gotten a lot of moisture in the past 18 months. So we're set up to endure another wet spring, and the past five years have not had the best weather for harvest," she said.

Genny grew up across the road from the office where she now works, but chose to experience a variety of off-the-farm jobs after college.

Her husband, Matthew Haun -- the farm's technology guru -- joined the operation in 2012. Genny returned in 2016 after the birth of their second child to oversee many of the administrative details -- such as payroll, health insurance and website development. She also does some of the marketing for the farm.

A total of eight full-time employees and an assortment of part-time workers keep everything running. She pegs her father, Jan, as the "idea guy." Mom, Cindy, came back to work at the farm in 2011 after a long career in finance. "She's our money person -- the one that evaluates and makes things happen when we have ideas," Genny said.

The family stores all their grain on-farm. When trucks aren't busy hauling Layman Farm grain, they get put to work hauling ag lime and liquid fertilizer for farm use and seed soybean deliveries for two commercial suppliers. Separate from the farm is a family-owned drainage and excavation business. "We do everything from tiling and building waterways to occasionally tearing down a building," Genny said.

Jan has been active as a licensed auctioneer for almost 30 years. He coordinates and calls a wide range of farm, household and collection auctions -- as well as an annual livestock sale and consignment auction with other auctioneers for the county fair board.

Genny and Matt are also majority owners of Lynn Valley Ag Service, a custom fertilizer application business using both variable-rate and traditional methods. Recently, they added an Ebberts Field Seeds dealership to that business, which retails seeds and agricultural chemicals to farmers.

Throw two active boys, Carter (4) and Rhett (19 months), into the mix. A combination of preschool and sitters free Genny up to work. She keeps office hours, but appreciates the flexibility of working with family.

"I'm a paid employee of this farming operation. This is my job. I'm not working at home -- I come to an office. I'm here by 9 a.m. each workday and until 5:00, or later in-season, each night. But I have the ability to be with the boys when needed, whether it be a sick day at home, or a preschool trip.

"The ag industry is struggling for workers," Genny said. "We need to show this next generation that there are ways to work in the industry and have a family life, or they aren't going to want to come back."

Balancing life and work and working together is something she and Matt talk about a lot. We'll be revisiting that topic and many others as we check in with them each week.

KYLE KRIER

Kyle Krier hails from the Claflin-Ellinwood area in central Kansas, just north and east of Great Bend, Kansas.

"It's a land of extreme variability," he said. "Go 10 miles south and you'll find irrigation and 10 miles north and it's more pasture land. We're in a pocket of sandier soils. Weather here is also highly variable -- we say it can change by the minute."

This year it's been dry, and winter wheat, for which Kansas is noted, is showing the stress. Old-timers, he said, are saying they've never seen a crop this far behind. Some parts of central Kansas have also experienced freeze damage.

While wheat is a mainstay, Kyle, who farms with his father, Kirby Krier, spreads risk through diversification -- both on and off-farm.

After graduating from Kansas State University in 2006, Kyle spent several years selling crop insurance before returning to the home farm. The crop insurance sideline continues to be part of his mix of enterprises, as he now operates his own agency. His father also owns and operates an oil production company.

Father and son farm separately and together. They share some equipment and swap labor. "It sounds complex, but we work it out. I basically trade a salary for the use of equipment," Kyle said. His father has one full-time employee, and both men hire part-time help in peak seasons.

Kyle's wife, Melanie, and his mother, Kathy, are also crucial to operations. "They fetch us, feed us and basically do all the things that hold us together," Kyle said.

"When you are 14 miles away and need to leave a machine in the field, it is hard to express how important it is to have that person come get you and take you back. We may not always express our appreciation enough, but trust me, we know how important they are to this operation." Kyle and Melanie's son, Brock, is 18 months of age.

Although wheat and soybeans are the main cash-grain crops for the Kriers, prices have dictated a little wiggling on the crop mix over the past few years. Milo is in the lineup this year. Corn is out this year, but it occasionally slides into the lineup. Keeping land covered and the desire to maintain organic matter also influences how much they tweak rotations. The farm is 100% no-till.

The best hedge they have, however, may be the hay business -- a mix of handling their own alfalfa and custom work. "If it's dry in central Kansas, hay prices go up. If it's dry in central Kansas, the soybean market doesn't know we exist," Kyle said.

An average of four cuttings of alfalfa per year keeps them hopping all summer and fall -- from baling to making deliveries. Most of the large square bales are sold to dairies, feedlots and customers that grind alfalfa. Quality typically averages from 160 to 220 relative feed value (RFV).

Kyle applied for the View From the Cab saying he had the desire to communicate to other farmers and producers that farming is not all gloom and doom.

"I'm not going to say we have reinvented the wheel on this farm, but through diversification and working harder and smarter, we believe there are ways to make it through these tough times," he said.

There are obvious obstacles, he admitted. Low commodity prices, interest-rate hikes, threats of tariffs and the constant spectator of drought are enemies of the bottom line. "However, we see the diversity in our enterprises helping us weather some of that," Kyle said.

Beyond spreading risk, throwing on the oilman hat or the crop insurance hat imparts perspective. "It allows us to look at things with a different lens. At the same time, knowing farming often helps us explain things or understand customers better," he said.

"I made the choice to return to the farm. I think that also gives me a different outlook," he added. "Not everyone is lucky enough to get to choose the job they do every day.

"We're certainly not perfect on this farm, but we strive to have positive outlooks and look for opportunities."

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

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Pam Smith