Beefing up a transition
Bryan and Mindy Eden are the fourth generation to farm here since Bryan’s great-grandfather, Fred Eden, left the loess hills of Akron, Iowa, for the more expansive fields of Alpena, South Dakota, during the Depression. “Hopefully, my kids will be the fifth,” says Bryan.
600-head Angus herd
He runs a 600-cow commercial Angus herd, backgrounding the calves through the winter for spring sale at 800 to 900 pounds. And he farms about 1,100 acres of crops – corn, soybeans, and alfalfa, 700 acres of grass hay and 2,400 acres of pasture. His father, Randy, farms another 2,500 acres. “We work together,” Bryan says. “We share labor and machinery.”
The men describe a heritage of hard work and stewardship – fences fixed, fields fertilized. It’s helped Bryan find more farms to rent in a community where most of the land is still owned by families who’ve cooperated for decades. “In our family, each generation builds on the last one,” says Bryan, who began his own herd in high school with a few cows given by his parents. And he’d been learning the business from his father long before receiving an agribusiness degree.
In college, Bryan extended his practical training with a summer internship. “Most of the kids in my class went to co-ops and elevators. I wasn’t interested in that, so I found my own job,” he recalls. “I worked for a large grain farm north of Aberdeen.” On that 40,000-acre operation, Bryan ran a sprayer and field cultivator and ran a combine for wheat harvest. Today, Bryan runs his family’s sprayer on his own crops and Randy’s crops.
When he returned from college, “the neighbor wanted to rent me 300 acres and I started from there,” Bryan says. He also rented another 200 acres that his dad had been renting on shares. “Most of my ground is rented,” Bryan says. “I own one quarter-section I was able to buy five years ago.”
Two years ago Bryan’s cattle enterprise ramped up. It started when a neighbor approached the family with an offer to rent Bryan most of the neighbor’s pastureland. Randy agreed to lease his cows to Bryan on a five-year lease that will transfer ownership of the entire herd to his son. “I’m leasing his cows,” Bryan says. “I make a payment every year, and as I cull them out, then I replace them with my own heifers.”
Randy feels fortunate to be able to finance that part of the transition. He brings an old black-and-white photo to the table. It shows his father surrounded by about 20 neighbors. Randy’s father proudly holds several ears of corn. It was 1954. A dairy cow had injured Randy’s father’s back. So the other men brought their corn pickers to finish the harvest.
“To be successful, you’ve got to have good neighbors, too,” Randy says. Randy owns most of the machinery used on both farms. including a new combine and two large planters. He plans to transition them to his son later. “The way we’re heading on that, it will probably work like the cattle deal,” Bryan says. “Over time, I’ll buy the equipment from him, but we haven’t started that yet.”
Bryan expanded his cattle herd just as the beef industry was going through one of its worst liquidations in decades. Backgrounding calves until spring has helped him compete. “Usually the market’s pretty good that time of year,” he says. Careful attention to genetics and to the mother cows builds quality. “You feed them good feed, but you don’t overfeed them,” Bryan says of his cows. “You make them exercise. They may walk a quarter mile to water.”
Mindy has a key role, keeping books for Bryan, managing paperwork and preparing tax records for an accountant.
Even before he’s completely taken over the family business, Bryan and Mindy have started cultivating another generation of agriculturalists.
Daughter Brylee, 7, already knows she wants to be a veterinarian. And Bryson, 4, sometimes rides with his dad in the tractor and helps with cattle chores. And when he’s at home, he turns the house into his own farm with his toy machinery. When Bryan walks in the door, “He’ll tell me what he did all day. Each room is a different field," he says.
Cow herd transfer is just the first step in passing the baton.