Evan Schuette

Evan Schuette is beginning his farming career with a load of debt, but believes hard work and good decisions will make his beef herd a success.

IUKA, Ill. — Evan Schuette is jumping into farming in a big way, and in a down farm economy.

Schuette, 22, recently purchased 130 acres of land in Marion County for a cow-calf operation he believes will be a success. Despite beginning his farm in a period of uncertainty, he is not overly concerned about the $500,000 load of debt he is carrying.

“My brother gets worried about a lot of debt. But I’m 22,” he said. “In 20 years I’ll have it paid off. I bought it in ’18, so I’ll be 40 years old, I’ll be able to enjoy it.”

Schuette’s enterprise is unusual in many ways. He decided to purchase land instead of renting. It will be strictly a livestock operation. And he will be a commuter farmer.

He grew up in Breese, about 45 minutes away in Clinton County, where he still lives. He works with his father, Cliff, who farms and also has a seed business. But land in that dairy-rich county is way too expensive — a tract recently sold for $18,500 per acre. The ground he bought was much more affordable.

It is difficult for a young person to start a farm without help from family, and Schuette does have that. His father helped him with loans from Farm Credit Illinois. His brother, Andy Rose, lives nearby, so he can pitch in when necessary.

Schuette is well aware of the farm crisis of the 1980s.

“Working in the seed business, it still gets brought up, how the ’80s were,” he said. “I’m going to run this thing where if something happens, it’s still going to make it pay for itself.”

Richard Guebert is familiar with the challenges of starting out as a young farmer in a down ag economy. The president of Illinois Farm Bureau purchased his first farm in 1980. Ominously, it was April Fool’s Day.

“I worry about our young folks,” he said. “We struggled for a few years. It takes a lot of courage to do that this day and age. It’s not easy.”

Guebert pointed to some initiatives geared at helping beginning farmers. One is Farm Credit’s FreshRoots program, which offers reduced interest rates on real estate and operating loans. There are also programs that provide support for young veterans interested in a career in production agriculture.

“Work with a lender. Make sure that you have a plan and a budget,” Guebert said. “Know how to work cash flows and budget sheets. This day and age, you almost have to have a marketing plan and stick with it. That’s what lenders like to see.”

Schuette has leveraged government assistance as well as help from family. He receives substantial funds through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environment Quality Incentives Program.

“They’re paying for the barn, the road and the fence,” Schuette said. “They’re going to pay for seed to get this all seeded.”

The arable land, which had previously been in soybeans, has not had livestock on it for decades. Schuette plans to develop the pasture into a grass mix of tall fescue, timothy and orchardgrass. He will also sow some legumes, such as clover.

The acreage that is wooded offers some economic certainty.

“The way I look at it, this ground can’t depreciate that much in value,” he said. “I could sell that timber off for $3,000 right now. There have been tracts here selling for $3,000 that are all timber. Or I could put this back in (row crops).”

Schuette’s cutting-edge commuter operation will include a plan to strip-graze his herd of Angus and Simmental cows using Batt-Latch automatic gate openers. They will allow rotational grazing without the necessity of someone there to move the cattle daily. He plans on being present at least once a week while still working with his father in the seed business.

He is quick to credit family — specifically his father — with his opportunity.

“If I wouldn’t have had him, I wouldn’t have come this far,” he said.

He plans on running 80 cows on the farm.

“Back when I was little, we had 180 beef cows on 1,000 acres,” Schuette said. “I told my dad I would rather have cattle than sell seed.”

Now he’s doing both. He is rare among young people who are able to jump into farming from scratch.

“It takes a lot of perseverance, trials and errors,” Guebert said. “It works well if you have a mentor or a senior farmer that you can lean on, ask questions and get help. I’m sure they’ve learned things in their lives.”

There are other means to get into farming. Guebert said the most important attribute may be a burning desire. And a helping hand from someone who has been there.

“There are older farmers who have no heirs who are looking for a young person or couple,” he said. “They can help you get started with a smaller down payment.”

Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.