View From the Cab
Young Missouri Farmer Balances Two Careers
TINA, Mo. (DTN) -- Zachary (Zach) Grossman's desire to farm has never been in question. Nor has the place he would do it. His roots are firmly planted in the rolling hills of northwest Missouri where generations of his forefathers scratched their own farming legacies.
But when he graduated from the University of Missouri nine years ago, the home farm near Tina, Missouri, wasn't positioned to absorb another full-time partner. So, Grossman landed off-farm jobs in agriculture that allowed enough flexibility to simultaneously grow a farming operation and still be involved in the family farming enterprises.
That's a lot of caps to wear. Today, the 30-year-old says he wouldn't trade any of them. His current job as a loan officer at a local bank provides important financial underpinning and perspective. At the same time, the fact that he farms with family and on his own, has purchased some of his own farm equipment and raises cattle brings a reality check to his banking role.
This growing season, Grossman will report on the 2023 crop and explore other rural issues as part of a DTN regular feature called "View From the Cab." Two farms from different geographical areas have been selected to provide these weekly updates since 2005.
The series will also include Chandra and Mike Langseth from Barney, North Dakota. The husband and wife bring a unique combination of farm and off-farm experiences. Mike farms the corn, soybean and alfalfa farm on the edge of the Red River Valley. Chandra is active on the farm but is also an agriculture assistant professor at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota, teaching precision ag and agronomy courses. Next week View From the Cab will explore the Langseth farming enterprises in more detail.
Both farms focus heavily on corn and soybean production. However, the weather conditions they deal with vary drastically. Grossman is nearly done with planting this year. As of April 26, the Langseths still had snow in the ditches, but were beginning to line up equipment for a hopeful green flag to the planting season.
Still, the common ground between these young farmers goes beyond the crops they tend. All have purposefully chosen to return to the farm and make it their profession.
Grossman can't remember a time when he didn't want to be a farmer. "My first memories -- and almost all my early memories -- are farm-related. I was bouncing along in the pickup with my grandfather before I could walk. My grandfather and Dad taught me to love everything about farming," said Grossman.
The family's Missouri farming roots span five generations. It was Grossman's great-grandfather who moved to the northern part of Carroll County and his grandfather, Raymond (Junior), who further expanded into southern Livingston County.
Sadly, Junior -- who bought his first farm in high school -- passed away suddenly in 2018, but not before he instilled a solid work ethic in the generations of farmers that follow.
The family operation now consists of Zach's father, Curt, and brother, Trent. As a family partnership, they row-crop 2100 acres of corn, soybeans and winter wheat. Those acres stretch over some 30 miles and sit between the Missouri and the Grand rivers.
Fields can be a crazy-quilt of 50-acre patches on the hills to 100-acre or more in the bottoms. Cattle on pasture dot the rougher ground. The landscape is diverse and harkens back to an earlier day.
"I think the fact we still have some enterprise diversity makes us a bit different here," Grossman said.
"It seems like we are always building terraces or waterways. Conservation is key to keep the soils in place," he said. "We do some vertical tillage, but generally try not to disturb that top layer of soil much, especially in the hills. Every field has its own unique requirements," he said.
"Grandpa was both a cow and crops guy and he passed that on the livestock bug to me too," Grossman said. "Because of his influence, my brother and I own and operate a 75-head commercial spring-calving herd." The brothers also raise and harvest all their own hay and do some custom hay baling for neighbors. Trent is finishing an associate degree in agriculture in May.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The operation has nearly doubled in size during the past decade and with that has come change. Curt, who worked for 30 years for the Missouri Department of Transportation while farming, has finally retired from road construction. The farm also runs a local seed dealership for AgriGold and Donmario seeds and does some custom grain hauling.
"I've had a good role model to watch when it comes to combining careers," Grossman said. "Dad showed me you could do both and what it would take to do both. I'm not going to say it is always easy and that there aren't times when I feel I'm burning the candle at both ends, but this allows me to plow what I make farming back into the farm business."
Grossman worked in livestock feed sales for several years, before accepting the bank position. Modern technology allows desk jobs to be transported to the tractor cab these days. But the real key to juggling jobs is clear communication and an understanding boss, he added.
Access to land is competitive here, but he sees opportunities in the future as retiring farmers transfer ownership to non-farming heirs.
While cash rent may be a less complicated proposition for leasing, he prefers crop share arrangements that let him prove his worth as a young farmer. "My favorite is a straight up 50-50 split, but it takes a good landlord that understands farming. I'm very lucky to have some landlords like that.
"Share arrangements put the farmer back into the equation," he said. "If your income as a landowner relies upon a share of that crop instead of just a rent check, you want the person that's going to grow the best crop and that will care for the farm." Higher input prices have altered some share lease arrangements percentages of late -- especially in corn where total production costs are higher, he added.
OFF TO THE RACES
The prospects for the 2023 crop look bright, but there was a time last fall when Grossman wondered. "We hit a dry stretch that started last August. It didn't rain again until late November.
"It was great for harvesting, but the ground got so hard that fall anhydrous was out of the question. The cattle ran out of grass and we had to feed hay earlier than I wanted to," he said.
Things have turned around with winter and spring rains. The pastures are back. So far, the 200 acres of soft, red winter wheat looks as good as he can remember.
The corn crop went in the ground faster and earlier than most years, too. "The cooler temperatures have slowed it down and it looks a little yellow, but unless we get a really cold snap, it will come out of it," Grossman said. By the end of April, the farm was nearing 50% planting on soybeans.
"We'll start to work cow-calf pairs and get them turned out on grass soon. We feel fortunate to have the weather and favorable conditions we've had so far this year -- we just hope they continue," he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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