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SF Special: How one young, farmer’s daughter is carrying on her family’s legacy
Lillie Beringer’s four siblings all pursued other successful careers off the family’s farm. Her love of livestock, however, has led her home to the family’s cattle and row-crop operation alongside her parents.
That’s not all that keeps the 24-year-old busy.
A full-time animal nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition and a full-time young, beginning farmer, Lillie is carrying on her family’s legacy through hard work, fight, and determination on her family’s third-generation farm outside of Cascade, Iowa.
SF: Did you always know you wanted to return to the family farm?
LB: I always knew I wanted to partake in something in agriculture. In college was when I realized I wanted to “take over the farm” and come back. As I got older, I realized how important my roots are and how much I enjoyed being on the farm physically. I did an array of different things throughout college to get a lot of aspects of ag, but I always felt at home and in my happy place when I was home on the farm doing what I loved to do.
SF: Who has had the biggest impact farming-wise on you and why?
LB: My grandpa. We were attached at the hip since I was a baby. Whether we were going to cattle sales, or anything outdoors, my grandpa and I were always together. He passed away in 2014. Everything I do is for my him. Everything I work on for is for him. All my goals and what I want to do with the Beringer Family Farm is to give back to what he started.
Even though my grandpa isn’t physically here, I would just hope and know that he would be so proud of me for what I’ve done and will continue to do to keep the farm going. Just knowing Grandpa’s up there smiling and encouraging me and wanting me to keep going is a huge driver for me.
SF: Walk me through a day in the life of Lillie.
LB: Since I’m just starting out as a young farmer, I financially can’t survive by myself. I feed my own cattle before going to work every morning.
With Purina, my truck is my office, so I spend a lot of my day driving to farms, walking through pens, doing feed rations, projections, and looking at the overall health of animals with the farmers. Then I’ll come home and do chores again at night or whatever needs done.
From November to May this year, I had 120 custom cows that I calved out for a farmer. I got paid a set yardage a day, set amount per live calf, and the vet and feed were on the owner. I just finished calving. The custom calves all left in May as I had 300-head of feeder cattle come in. That will keep me busy throughout the summer. Then, I’ll start fall calving in August.
SF: When you’re driving onto a new farm or meeting with new farmers, do you think they look at you differently being a young nutritionist and a young, female farmer?
LB: Absolutely. The vibe I get is I have to prove myself to them that I experience what they do firsthand every single day. That I’ve been around these animals and know what I’m talking about. A lot of them won’t even give me the time of day until I break the ice and explain to them how I understand what they do. I have my own cows. We feed our own cattle. I farm and own a farm and I get it. Then they’ll open up a bit more and be more willing.
SF: Is it hard to juggle a full-time job alongside farming full-time?
LB: It can be. You really have to have a supportive team. I have a wonderful family. They help me emotionally, physically, and financially so I know I can rely on them. There’s no way I could do it all by myself. Dad does what he needs to. Mom does what she needs to. My uncle is the mechanic and is always there when he needs to be.
Because I have a good support system to help make my farming dream a reality, that’s the only way I’m able to do any of it at all. I’m thankful for the simplicity of technology, too, and being able to have a phone to keep everything rolling. I would not be able to do it all if I didn’t have a way to be able to go to work every day but still keep everything going on the farm before I’m home.
I usually just work on the weekends. That’s when I’m able to get caught up on the farm. When you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t really seem like work.
SF: How has COVID-19 impacted your farm and your job?
LB: On the farm side, we can’t just shut down when we aren’t making money. You still have to get up and feed the animals. You still have to get the corn planted; you still have to work every day.
My job has been completely different. I haven’t been able to get out on farms as we’ve all been on a work-from-home basis like a lot of companies. It’s been super challenging and it’s really hard as you can only handle so much on the phone. On top of it, talking to farmers in the area, they’re really depressed and don’t really want to talk about things. If they do, it’s not so positive so it’s definitely changed and impacted my day-to-day with Purina.
In the heat of COVID-19 in March, we were in the middle of calving, so we didn’t have anything physically ready to sell. So that means we haven’t had a huge economic impact on us because we were bringing new life into the world – not selling cows. But if this drags on, I don’t know how I’m going to make my loans. If feeder cattle prices aren’t back up this fall, I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how I’m going to make my land payment. It’s scary. Right now, looking at the futures, I’ll be losing $300 a head on my calves. Just a lot of unknowns right now.
SF: You have a good following on your social pages. What made you want to share your farming story and why do you continue to share it?
LB: Starting out I really didn’t have any interest in sharing anything about the farm. But the more I started doing things and telling friends and family, the more they persuaded me to share. People saw what I was doing was unique – being a female farmer alongside my full-time job with Purina. I developed a great following on my Facebook page and am excited to launch a website soon.
When you get off the farm and realize how removed the average consumer is from their food, that became a red light to me. If I can make a difference to one person by teaching them one thing about the farm and just try to share my story, I’ve made a difference and have done my part as a producer. The goal would be to get a follower base who would enjoy what I’m doing and like what we’re doing with our practices to be able to sell our home-raised beef to them.
I’ve really focused on implementing sustainable practices recently. A renter and I worked out a custom grazing agreement where we planted 60-inch rows of corn and are interseeding an 8-9 species cover crop mix at the V4 stage. When we harvest the cover crops, it will be over 4 feet tall and the cows will be able to graze on that, plus the stalks. I’m hoping it’s going to help me with increasing soil health, decreasing feed costs, and reducing total mixed rations in the cows by two months. The cows will get to graze that much longer, and it helps the soil by distributing the manure evenly.
SF: Are you selling your home-raised beef currently?
LB: The hard part about selling beef is you have to have a USDA-certified locker willing to put your label on it. In order to sell to a consumer, it has to be certified. Finding that locker to do that is hard for one, and now it’s been pushed off as there’s not a single locker that’s available right now due to COVID-19.
That was another reason I brought in fall cows to calve in the fall, so I could have calves at two different times in the year. I was hoping that a month from now is when I’d launch my spring calves and that would venture in the volume to lead into when my falls cows would be ready. I’d have this really good cycle going of continuous beef available. But COVID-19 has put a hash to it. I’m over a year out of finding a locker to take them in.
I fully believe in the impact of telling your farm-to-plate story and bridging that gap between farmers and consumers. Viewers can follow along on my journey and realize what we do for our animals and know where their food is coming from. Unfortunately, I’m probably now a year out from it.
SF: What’s the future of Beringer Family Farms look like?
LB: I just bought my first farm in March and my goal is to continue to grow my cow herd. I’d like to get to 150 to 200 cows and be able to finish my own calves and sell my own beef. I enjoy the interaction of my Facebook followers and educating consumers so they can have confidence they are getting a high-quality, safe, and premium product to feed to their families. I want to be able to offer shipping anywhere in the U.S. as well.
Our niche is going to be figuring out a way to graze our cows all year-round. I’m continuing to learn and implement more no-till, cover crops, and different ways like that to remain sustainable.
SF: How was your 2020 plant?
LB: Wonderful. We didn’t have any rain for a couple weeks. Everyone around us is pretty well done in the fields. We’ve had a beautiful planting season this year. That’s been one sigh of relief compared with the past two years. Everything came up really well also.
I put in 20 acres of my own corn for silage this year. It’s the first year of incorporating no-till, so I’m excited to see how it goes. This fall, I’m going to put rye in after that. Then, either graze or chop the rye in the spring and keep that cycle going. I went through a couple NRCS programs to incorporate the cover crops, including the EQUIP program. I was also able to secure a young and beginning farmer loan through FSA and working to implement as much as I can on that front. You’d think they’d have some more things for female farmers, but really there’s nothing out there – that I can find at least.
SF: And your calving season?
LB: It actually went really well. We had 11 sets of twins. We still were over 100% calving despite having a stillborn set of twins. It was a fairly mild spring so overall everyone is healthy and doing well.
SF: What advice would you give to a young woman dreaming of coming home to the family farm?
LB: Ultimately, you just have to be tough and have a backbone. You have to have or develop confidence that you can do it just as well as anyone else can. It’s so easy to get taken advantage of or be downgraded by the male-dominant field. It can break you in a hurry if you don’t have that backbone for yourself and confidence.
It’s not easy. It’s a really hard life regardless if you’re a male, female, young, or seasoned farmer right now. Especially with COVID-19.
For me, it’s all I’ve ever known and what I absolutely love to do. I love caring for livestock and I love knowing I’m creating a safe, healthy, quality product for somebody to eat. It’s where I want to raise a family. I couldn’t imagine it being anywhere else. Despite all of that, knowing where my heart is, it’s my absolute passion and you just still keep going despite the barriers that arise.
The biggest thing I’ve found is that you have to have a support system and a team behind you. For anyone getting started, you cannot physically make it by yourself. The input cost that it takes to get yourself going are over-this-world high, too. It’s just incredibly hard to do it alone. Whether that’s your family or if you find an older farmer who’s wanting to retire, there are programs available to help you if you want to get started.
SF: How do you keep involved in ag organizations and your community?
LB: I’m an active member of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, and I was recently a member of their young leadership program. I enjoy serving as a 4-H leader in our local club, the Cascade FFA Alumni Board, our local saddle club and rodeo board, and I’m a member of the Iowa Farm Bureau.
SF: Any final thoughts or advice?
LB: If you have something on your heart or a burning passion, you just need to go for it. No matter what roadblocks come in front of you, you’ll find a way to make it work. My journey to get where I’m at now has been hard and sometimes soul crushing. I hit rock bottom so many times this past year. But I’m here now and everything works out if you just don’t give up. If you keep working very hard for what you truly want, God will place it in front of you. Whether it’s family feuds which I have had, COVID-19 pushbacks, low commodity prices, whatever it is you just have to keep pushing through it.
I would also highly encourage farmers to have a transition plan in place. My family wasn’t open about it and we weren’t talking about it. Things can become messy and nobody needs to go through that with everything already going on. You need to have a farm transition plan in place regardless of who it’s with and it needs to be talked about before that person passes away, retires, or whatever it may be.
I’ve recently had to go through some transitioning, and it was really hard for all sides of the family. But it’s been a lesson learned in looking back. I have four other siblings who are all removed from the farm. They just saw everything our family has had to go through with the transitioning and have all learned that we can’t let that happen to us. So, it’s becoming something we’re talking about and working through, even at our fairly young ages. I don’t know how to emphasize the importance of a transition plan enough. Don’t let your kids and your heirs have to go through a hard transition.