An extra effort
At the Farmers for the Future Conference dinner held last February near St. Louis, the 200 people who heard keynote speaker Bob Dickey knew he is the president of the National Corn Growers Association. By the time Dickey was done sharing some ideas with the group, listeners knew what he had done to help several young farmers get a start.
Most attendees probably weren't aware that just a few days before Dickey had undergone chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He felt fine, he told me when he arrived, and he wasn't slowing down.
Dickey attended nearly all of the two-day conference, listening to most of the other speakers. The session, sponsored by DeKalb, was one of the best meetings ever held on the subject of getting a start in farming. (Look for a recap of the Conference in the May-June issue.)
Starting in 1994, Successful Farming magazine held a series of three conferences on beginning farming. Dickey, who farms near Laurel, Nebraska, was an enthusiastic participant at all of them. Unlike a few established farmers who have helped unrelated beginners transition into their own farm business with various leasing and contract sales arrangements, Dickey has helped several young people get started in separate operations.
Earlier in his career, when Dickey was farrowing about 900 sows, he contracted with young farmers in his area who had buildings that could be used for finishing. Dickey paid for feed and vet bills; the young people provided labor and facilities.
In another arrangement, Dickey loaned his farm equipment to a young farmer who worked for him as an employee. The young farmer used the equipment to plant and cultivate crops on 60 acres that he was buying in a partnership with his brother.
In a third venture, Dickey had acquired about 100 head of stock cows that needed pasture. He leased the cows out to a young farmer in a neighboring county who had pasture. Dickey kept a percentage of the calf crop as payment. He also rented the young farmer cornstalks for grazing on an irrigated farm that Dickey owned nearby.
During the Conference, I had a chance to ask Dickey what advice he would give to young people wanting to start a career in farming.
"I really think it's important to have a positive mental attitude," he said, "because that builds relationships with others, and people like to have good relationships."
I wish there were more folks with Dickey's passion for active involvement in creating opportunities for a new generation of farmers. But I know that he isn't alone.
The latest Census of Agriculture shows a rare uptick in the number of farms from 2002. Most of those were relatively small producers of specialty crops. But the time is coming when this nation will need a transfer of production for large-scale commodity production as well. That obviously can't be done overnight.
First, young people who want a toehold in farming or want to expand the start they've gotten from family need to muster the confidence to seek new partners in retiring or retired farmers and landowners.