Family Farms Plan for the Future

The tradition of the family farm is alive and well in the United States and South Dakota. In fact, many may not realize that 97 percent of farms in this country are family owned and operated, a statistic very few other industries can tout. Although the “American Gothic” picture of the family farm is no longer accurate, many are thriving.

Today, more and more young people seek education and careers outside the farm and join their parents later in life, which means a wide breadth of knowledge and experience when multiple generations come back to farm together. To find out more about what that means, we talked with Matt Bainbridge, a farmer from Ethan, to learn about his family’s farm.

Matt says the family aspect is what makes farming unique. “If you look at other industries around the country, how many are still family owned and operated? There are not many businesses that have stayed in one family for more than 100 years. If you look around South Dakota, it’s really cool to see how many farms are kept in the family for at least that long. We are providing the next generation with the opportunity to keep that business going.”

Matt Bainbridge and his family on their local farm.

Matt and his wife walk through their fields together.

Matt and his wife in front of their tractors on their local farm.

Matt says that in order to pass the farm on to the next generation, families like his focus on sustainable farming practices.

“We think about future generations while we farm,” he said. “We practice no-till farming so we can conserve the soil as best we can, keeping it healthy to sustain it for generations to come. We also diversify our operation financially by growing a variety of crops and raising livestock. That way, if one part of our operation doesn’t go well one year, the others will help us to maintain the business.”

Many farmers today use technologies like auto-steer, soil sampling and GPS to manage their land more precisely. By managing everything more efficiently, farmers can lessen their impact on the land and be more sustainable.

Matt and his wife ride in the cab of their tractor.

Equipment on the family's farm.

A truck used to collect and haul their crops.

While many farmers hope to keep their land in the family, there are many different options how to go about it. While he was still in college, Matt bought his farm from his grandmother. He grows soybeans, corn, winter wheat and alfalfa, and raises beef cattle. His brother, Neal, also has a farm nearby, and his father operates the farm where Matt and Neal grew up.

“We have separate operations, but we work together,” said Matt. “We share each other’s equipment and labor. We try to keep it as equal as possible.”

“Our dad isn’t going to farm forever,” he said. “Once he decides to slow down and eventually retire, my brother and I will farm more of his acres. We’ll rent the land from him, which will help pay for his retirement.”

A corn field on the family's farm.

Matt and his wife inspect ears of corn in the field.

Matt and his wife walk through the field together.

Matt recently got married and is looking forward to sharing the farming experience with his future children some day.

“If you are a farmer and have children farming along with you, I think it’s really important to give them a chance to farm the land. A lot of farm families take pride in being able to offer that to the next generation,” he said.

The Bainbridge family.

Do you have questions for Matt about his family’s farm? Leave them in the comments.