Opening up conversations between South Dakotans and the farmers who live and work here is what we do. In fact, that’s what Hungry for Truth is all about. This month, we wanted to explore what the life of a farmer looks like when they’re not on the farm. Farmers are no different than anyone else; they run their operations with their families, plan the succession of their operations, go on vacations, and make preparations for the next crop year in the offseason. We had an exciting opportunity to speak with Jerry Schmitz, Executive Director of South Dakota Soybean Checkoff & South Dakota Soybean Association about generational farming. Below, Jerry is sharing his perspective on family and farming in a question-and-answer interview.
Q. How has agriculture changed for your family?
A. Changes in agriculture have been monumental. Today we often use the term precision agriculture. Precision agriculture to my grandfather was making sure he got the harnesses cinched properly on the horses before going to the field. Precision agriculture to my father was making sure that the tractor carburetor was adjusted correctly so the tractor would start on the first or second turn of the hand-turned-flywheel. When I began farming, precision agriculture was making sure the field sprayer was calibrated correctly, and the proper nozzles were used, allowing us to reduce cultivation and save soil from erosion. Today as my son takes over the farm, precision agriculture is making sure that every decision and practice will ensure a sustainable future. Writing field prescriptions for seed, plant protectants, and nutrients long before going to the field. It is making sure that equipment is properly maintained and calibrated so that just the right number of seeds are inserted, with near surgical accuracy, into the soil so that as they grow into plants, they can take the best advantage of sunlight and water while preserving soil and nutrients.
Q. What have you learned from previous generations that applies to your farm today?
A. Each generation has shared with the next the need for piety, patience, perseverance, and planning. By following that guidance, families, and farms can weather tremendous challenges both on the farm and in life.
Q. What traditions do you hope to carry on with the next generation of your farm?
A. There are family traditions, and generational traditions. It is our hope that both can be carried forward. A family tradition that we have is celebrating the completion of harvest with a special family meal. Another is the tradition of passing our farm and farm values to our children for many generations to come.
A generational tradition that I see in most farm/ranch families is this: At the end of a twenty-hour day of working livestock or crops to beat oncoming weather; dirty, tired, hungry and sore, yet relishing the blessing that it is to work side-by-side with family and nature for the past twenty hours and feeling inspired.
Q. What are the biggest challenges posed by farming with your family? What about rewards?
A. The family is the farm/ranch. There is no separation. That is a challenge in itself, but also a wonderful gift that few occupations offer. Farming and ranching help children learn early about the things that are most important in life. Being together with your child or family to share the wonder of new life when a calf or baby pig is born. Explaining how precious life is and the joy that it brings. Or wiping away their tears when a calf or baby pig dies and teaching them that death is a difficult but a natural part of life.
Q. Can you explain succession planning?
A. A succession plan is a transition strategy created to pass the farm to the next generation. It involves determining who from the next generation will take over the business, what the process will be for doing that, and how to compensate other heirs that have no interest in being a part of the farm.
Q. How do farmers and ranchers create succession plans?
A. Visiting with a professional succession planner is a good first step. They stay up-to-date on the laws and have experience with the best practices that fit each type of family farm/ranch business. I have witnessed very detailed and complex succession plans that made the transition very smooth for the family members, and some transitions that were not planned well that resulted in the sale of the farm, denying the next generation the opportunity to retain the business and the current owners the satisfaction of passing their accomplishments to the next generation.
Q. What is the importance of family-owned operations?
A. Farming is a way of life for families, not just a job that provides money and financial security. Families pass important values from generation to generation. Their decisions are based upon what is best across time and generations rather than what is most expedient or immediately cost-effective. Farm families recognize that they do not really own the soil, they are just stewards caring for the earth that God has placed them on.
For more on generational farming and family on the farm, read Past, Present, and Future with Maddie Mack, Jordan Scott or The Importance of Family and Farming by Hungry for Truth.