15 minutes with Missouri farmer, Mark Lehenbauer

Understanding the ‘why’ is what makes this Missouri farmer tick.

One of Mark Lehenbauer’s favorite memories growing up on the farm was the time he spent with his dad and grandfather as they explained why they did things a certain way, and, more importantly, the history behind the whys.

Understanding the reasons is what makes this Missouri farmer tick. Being a part of the life cycle of both plants and animals and solving the problems that arise season to season – like a disease in a crop or a health issue in livestock – are what Lehenbauer enjoys most.

“We are only here for so many harvests in our life,” he says. “We need to take away something from every season.”

It’s also what causes Lehenbauer to actively implement myriad technologies across the row-crop and livestock operation.

“Information is key,” he says. “Precision agriculture makes it really easy to go back and look at what was going on in a field years ago. I spend countless hours going over data and correlating it back to results. Some of my favorites are hybrid by soil type, nitrogen placement and timing, and dry matter intake vs. gains on different groups of cattle.”

Those insights are helping ensure this fourth-generation family farm is around for generations to come.

SF: What was the first piece of technology you implemented on the farm?

ML: In 2000, we invested in a yield monitor. That year we got rained out of a field we were tilling on an angle, and we weren’t able to finish it. I didn’t see it on the monitor or visually in the field, but the map showed a 15-bushel loss as clear as day right up to the line where it had been tilled. That sold me on the technology.

SF: What piece of technology have you implemented more recently?

ML: We recently moved our cattle records to the cloud. We use a program on an iPad to feed our livestock every day. The platform records what was added to the mixer, where it was distributed, and when it was distributed. Information on all of our animals is also kept in a cloud-based app. When I want to see what a pen ate a month ago or whether a cow calved late last year, I just pull out my smartphone. It’s so nice.

SF: How has technology improved your farming practices through the years?

ML: Converting our cattle operation from paper to electronic record keeping has helped us be more efficient, as paper records were hard to manage in field. 

The biggest impact on our operation has been an investment in vertical control of dirt-moving equipment. A lot of the acres we farm are highly erodible land. Being able to survey fields, model different water control structures or land shaping models, and seeing what that does to water flow and velocity are really cool. 

In my opinion, ag has been reactive to erosion. The day when some of these technologies come together and we become proactive in regard to erosion will be awesome and a big plus in the environmental community.

SF: What was one of the life lessons you learned growing up on the farm?

ML: Watch where you step. Coming from a livestock farm, this has extra special meaning, but it can be applied to many different areas.

SF: If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be?

ML: George Washington. He was one of America’s first farmers who did an amazing amount of research on his farm.

SF: If you could talk to a consumer about why you farm, what would you say?

ML: I enjoy explaining to consumers that we are trying to farm in the most sustainable way possible. I want this farm to be here for many more generations. 

For most people looking in from the outside, they don’t understand some of the simplest things. What we in ag forget is that most of us were raised around production ag. We were taught these simple things from a young age.

Answering honestly and listening to the consumer’s side has generally yielded positive results for me.

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