Two years have passed since Michael Thompson was featured in the “Fresh Off The Network” series in Successful Farming magazine (Mid-March 2009, page 15). In that article, he talked about his struggles and goals for the upcoming years. Now, he shares the events of the past 24 months and updates his goals.
In terms of the farming practice, not much has changed for the family operation. Thompson works with his father, Richard, and his brother, Brian. They formed an LLC and rent the ground each one owns to the LLC.
“It helps with our planning for the future as far as estate planning and dividing it up,” he says. “We aren't worried about who gets what.”
They did, however, start experimenting with cover crops this year. The farm is going on one decade of no-till practices. Thompson says they are looking to expand their cover crop use in the upcoming years in conjunction with their beef cattle operation.
He says they have embraced cover crops since experiments with chemical fallow didn't turn out like they wanted. “It dried the ground out and didn't help from a biological standpoint,” he says.
By planting cover crops, Thompson's goals are to reduce input costs for nitrogen and phosphorus. They're also looking to improve the soil biology. “We want to make our farm profitable but also make it healthy and productive,” Thompson says.
Besides farming, Thompson teaches full time. And continuing his own education has been an important focus. He recently finished a master's program in education. In his time off, he teaches himself agronomy, keeping an eye on bulletins from area universities. He's particularly interested in no-till techniques he can bring back to the operation. “I try to educate myself and be the best I can be,” Thompson says.
When it comes to expanding their operation, he says it's always a matter of what's feasible at the time. While Thompson is teaching, his brother is working as a CPA. The time will have to be right for them to quit their day jobs and become full-time farmers.
“I really have to give credit to Brian. He is essential during the fall harvest,” says Thompson. “He has done wonders helping with our farm taxes, planning strategies, and setting up the LLC. He really has helped our farm out dollar-wise with every acre.”
Thompson says competing for farmland is still the biggest challenge for him. Another challenge is convincing other landlords to give chances to other farmers. Beginning farmers have a hard time in Thompson's area because most of the land stays within families for generations.
“People look for the biggest cash rent they can get,” he says. With landlords being generations removed from the farm, Thompson says it's hard for those landlords to look beyond economic gain.
“It's not necessarily about the land. It can be a struggle for younger guys in the area to make it work,” he says.
Thompson's new goals include keeping the regimen of no-till and adding in more cover crops. “That's number one,” he says. “I'd also like to be less dependent on chemicals and fertilizer.” He's also looking to incorporate manure management on the farm.