2019 Best Young Farmers, Ranchers

DTN/The Progressive Farmer America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers Announced

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
The ninth class of DTN/The Progressive Farmer America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers was announced Tuesday in Chicago at the DTN Ag Summit. The recipients include: front row, from left to right: Tanner Lange, Melinda Sims, Shelby Kelman, Melissa Morris and Dawn Ruyle; back row, from left to right: Joel Lange, Shanon Sims, Hayes Kelman, Bobby Morris and Kevin Ruyle. (DTN/The Progress Farmer photo by Joel Reichenberger)

CHICAGO (DTN) -- DTN/The Progressive Farmer added five new honorees to its America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers program. The class of 2019 was introduced Tuesday during a DTN Ag Summit award ceremony.

Now entering its 10th year, the program, sponsored by John Deere, DeKalb/Asgrow and Growmark FS, recognizes young farmers and ranchers who are building successful and innovative agricultural businesses. The award recognizes the work they do to promote agriculture and have a positive impact in their communities. The 2019 class joins more than 40 past honorees.

Here are the newest members of the America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers program, and a couple of their thoughts about their businesses:

-- JOEL LANGE, 30

Lange Farms Precision Ag
Bagley, Iowa
Crops: Corn and soybeans
Spouse: Tanner
Children: Brecken and Brantley, 3, and Carson and Callie, 1

THE BIG MOVE

When we moved here from Nebraska, it was a hard move. We had our ground established and relationships with landlords. But the falling supply of irrigation water was an issue that wasn't going to go away. Here, we have four ethanol plants within 40 miles of the farm, and we have all the water we need. None of our grain goes to a local elevator. It all goes to an end user. We have non-GMO beans this year, and a buyer who will pay a premium for non-GMOs. There are opportunities here that we didn't have in Nebraska.

COMING HOME

When I graduated from high school, I didn't think I wanted to farm, so I joined the Marine Corps and was in the Reserves for a few years. But then I realized that not having the freedom to be your own boss was why I really wanted to come back to the farm. I really did miss it. And I like the opportunities we've found here.

**

-- BOBBY MORRIS, 38

Morris Farms Partnership LLC
Port Allen, Louisiana
Crop: Sugarcane
Spouse: Melissa
Children: Tyler, 13, Dylan, 9.

TECHNOLOGY WITH A RETURN

We've turned to GPS mapping and laser grading. The laser grading provides us with multiple benefits. Our farmable blocks have increased in size with fewer ditches. Larger fields help with grass control, improved drainage, and they have increased our farmable acres. This increases net profit per acre. GPS mapping makes us more accurate in our chemical applications and in reporting accurate acreages important to our profitability and to the sugar mills.

REWARDS OUTWEIGH RISKS

Our farm stays on the cutting edge because we participate in the American Sugarcane League Secondary Station Program. The program gives us access to new and experimental varieties of sugarcane. It means that we might take a bigger risk at times, but the rewards outweigh the risks.

**

-- SHANON, 39, AND MELINDA, 39, SIMS

Sims Cattle Company LLC
McFadden, Wyoming
Cattle: 645 cow/calf pairs, 300 yearlings, 40 bulls, grass, hay
Children: Kagan, 14, and Jentry, 11

VALUE IN THE FACTORY

We have been working to find a business model that would give us economic freedom. We learned that profit is not a dirty word, but that debt kills creativity. We have reduced our reliance on fossil fuels. We downsized our machinery to reduce depreciation expenses. We slashed our use of convenience proteins. We quit feeding our calves to finish in a feedlot. But most [of all], we have learned that because we own the factory, we are in a position to capture those values. In two years we went from net losses to a six-digit profit. By 2012, we were able to operate the entire year on our own money, and last year, we were able to set up a rainy-day account holding one year's worth of business expenses.

LIVING A SUSTAINABLE LIFE

Our strategy for building the business can be boiled down to one word: sustainability. Our business must be financially sustainable. I do expect to live debt free. The business must provide enough profit for personal growth. Continuing education is vital to sustainable growth. Our business must be ecologically sustainable. That means high-intensity, short-duration grazing; full-season grazing deferment on one-third of our upland range; and the elimination of chemical inputs to the soil.

**

-- HAYES KELMAN, 27

Kelman Farms/Boot Hill Distillery
Dodge City, Kansas
Crops: corn, wheat, grain sorghum
Diversification: Distillery
Spouse: Shelby

A VERTICAL INVESTMENT

We thought there has to be something more than just growing grain. Cattle weren't an option -- there are a lot of cattle around here. But we like to drink whiskey. We decided to build Boot Hill Distillery, a value-added business that uses our grain exclusively. We have found ourselves wondering sometimes why we decided to do this. But, like the farm, we're focused on an end goal, and we are being thoughtful and purposeful about our business development decisions. The same work ethic we pursue on our farm has proven to be of high value in the work we are doing with Boot Hill Distillery.

WHAT FARMERS DO BEST

I've always been a problem solver. One of my favorite things to do is look at something, figure out what may have gone wrong and then fix it -- and make it more efficient. At the end of the day, that's what farmers do.

**

-- KEVIN RUYLE, 39

Buss Farms
Oxford, Kansas
Crops: Cotton, soybeans, wheat, corn, milo, alfalfa, pasture; 60 cow/calf pairs
Spouse: Dawn
Children: Hayden, 13, and Mason, 9

COTTON'S HOME IN KANSAS

My father-in-law found an avenue for me to get back onto the farm, and custom harvesting cotton was that way. We've expanded in acres, and it's been going very well. Wheat is good behind cotton, and cotton is good behind milo. So we stay with the rotation. It's been the most profitable crop the last four years.

FAITH AND FAMILY

We're a family farm that has family in it, who does the work. We all work. We all contribute. My mother-in-law can drive a semi. Someday, I want to be able to bring my kids back to the farm and work with them. That sounds fun. Hopefully, they can grow this farm and thrive. Our families are important -- mine, my father-in-law's and my brother-in-law -- all are important. Faith and family, by far, is number one here.

**

The 2019 class of America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers will be profiled in the February 2019 issue of The Progressive Farmer and at www.DTNPF.com.

Nominations are being accepted for the 2020 class. Nominees for America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers must be 40 years old or younger in 2019.

An online application can be found at: www.dtn.com/dtn-next-gen

For additional information or questions, contact Dan Miller at dan.miller@dtn.com or by phone at 205-414-4736.

All nominations must be postmarked by Friday, April 30, 2019.

(AG/BAS)

Dan Miller