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Farmers for the Future: Doing what needs done

The Dammann family farm hasn't had the typical evolution.

Dan Dammann began his career custom baling, then moved into custom farming. Eventually he began to buy his own ground in Page County in southwest Iowa. Today, the family's farm comprises 2,600 row crop acres, as well as a 650-head bred cow herd and a custom spraying operation.

"We approached diversification a little differently," Dan says.

Now his farm has diversified in a new way. Dan and wife Barb have brought their 27-year-old son, Justin, and Justin's wife, Jennifer, into the operation. The younger generation is on the way to one day taking the farm's reins.

"I've always told the kids to think long term," Dan says. "Too many people just want to look at today. It takes a lot of time to plan and grow."

The introduction of the next generation into the farm was originally made possible by Dan's planning for his oldest son's return to the farm well ahead of Justin's graduation from Northwest Missouri State University in 2000. Dan secured more ground and in the process temporarily overextending himself, laborwise, until Justin's return.

"We didn't have a doubt in our minds that Justin was going to come back to the farm," says Dan, who also has a 15-year-old son, Jordan. "That first year, when he got started, things just sort of fell into place."

After arriving on the farm, Justin, who's the fifth generation of his family on the farm, says he "just bailed in" with the intention of establishing his own farm business portfolio alongside his work with his father. He first bought 100 cows, some of them from Dan, then bought a tractor.

In this sense, Justin says he's fortunate to have had such a willing and helpful business partner in the early days. "We wouldn't have been able to expand as much if I was middle-aged and he was near retirement," Justin observes. "Every generation that sticks with farming makes it easier for the next generation."

Justin credits both his age and family for making it possible to enter agriculture the way he has. For him, having the opportunity to develop his own farm based on more physical labor-intensive elements like livestock alongside his established family farm will make a big difference in his success down the road.

"If you're starting a business, you need to know what makes you different. Most young farmers can work harder and be more intense. That's why a big row-crop farm isn't necessarily the right fit for a young farmer," Justin says. "That doesn't require as much physical labor compared to livestock. The young farmer has to know what his niche is. As soon as you find that, you can direct yourself."

Justin's family relationships aren't the only ones that have helped him get his foot in the farming door. Land values are skyrocketing in southwest Iowa, and with higher prices comes tighter competition for farm ground. Being a young, local farmer who takes good care of the land he farms, Justin says, has helped him in procuring ground that otherwise may have been out of his reach.

He works hard to be a good steward of his land, and he says local landowners see it and recognize the value of such care.

"You want to take as good of care possible, because people see that, and you have to build a reputation," he says. "There are more landowners out there who care about their farm's well-being more than they do just the almighty dollar."

"Reputation will always be a factor," Dan adds of his son's farming future. "People base so much on your reputation. If your word’s not worth anything, you’re not worth anything."

With what will likely be a rise in the number of acres entering the marketplace in the next decade as more farmers retire, these relationships, Justin says, will become more important as he looks to grow his farm. It also represents an opportunity for more young farmers to enter the industry that's been his family's livelihood for generations.

"There are more farmers retiring than coming in right now. We need to link the person who wants to farm with the retiring farmer who wants to hold onto land but didn't think he could because he didn't know anyone who would take it over," Justin says. "It's my gut feeling that the people who want to keep the farm going can find people who can make it work. It's a perfect match."

The Dammann family farm hasn't had the typical evolution.

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