Braylon Fitzpatrick is a fairly recent graduate of Purdue University, majoring in farm management, with a minor in crop science. His full-time job is working as a farm manager at Welsh Ag Enterprises near Marshall, Ill.
“Even in eighth grade, I knew I wanted to farm,” he says.
Fitzpatrick is working on another career approach, though, and that’s where I’ve had the pleasure to get to know him a little bit.
My wife’s family has some acreage they rent out, and Braylon has taken it on, hoping to eventually pull together enough ground to farm full-time.
“I work only about 50 acres for my family,” says Fitzpatrick. “The rest is with other clients I have. Altogether, I farm about 175 acres. It’s a good place to start out. Over the next five years, though, I’m hoping to contract more land and acquire more equipment.
“As of right now, I just have a tractor and planter to get me started. Over the summer, if there’s a nice pre-owned combine that comes up for sale, I’ll certainly take a look at adding it. The trouble is, it’s really difficult anymore to find a smaller combine to handle smaller farms. But, I have a neighbor farmer, Steve Marrs, who’s helping me out, so I might lean on him a little bit to help get the crops out.”
That combine might come from any of a variety of sources.
“When it comes to buying equipment, I look at everything including auctions, dealership lots and private listings. I keep my eyes open, always looking for a good deal,” says Fitzpatrick. “The brand of equipment doesn’t play a big part in my selection. It’s really about whatever fits my needs and budget.
“My planter came from a farmer who was just selling it by himself,” he adds. “And when I was looking for a tractor prior to this spring, I drove to Pendleton, Indiana, to look at a Case tractor there. But I found a little better deal on a John Deere with an online auction.
“You might take a risk with buying something at an auction. You know sellers are trying to get rid of a piece of equipment for one reason or another. And this tractor was in Wisconsin, about 8 hours away. I didn’t actually drive up there to take a look at it, but I talked with the sellers a couple of times and got a good feeling about it. It’s been a pretty good tractor so far.”
On-site auctions are one great way for beginning farmers to get information on equipment values and availability, and, perhaps, pick up a bargain and some machinery advice from the more experienced producers in the crowd.
In my area, we have quite a few auctioneers who handle cropland, tools, machinery, and outdoor power equipment auctions, including David Shotts of United Country and Jim Knowles, Knowles Auction Service. Knowles runs a semi-annual machinery sale, with the last one moving to an online format.
“Because of COVID-19, many machinery auctions have moved online,” notes Fitzpatrick. “Still, so far, it seems that the amount of used equipment out there has been pretty consistent.”
As for maintaining and repairing his equipment, Fitzpatrick aims to do most of the work himself.
“I’m just looking at saving money wherever I can,” he says.
While Fitzpatrick has a high opinion for dealership technicians and salespeople, he wishes they were able to spend more time helping new farmers.
“I’m pretty close to a few guys at a local John Deere dealership,” he says. “But being a small farmer, it’s kind of hard to get a salesperson’s attention when they have farmers working 5,000- to 10,000-acre farms coming in.
“I really do respect the guys who have helped me out. I understand that their time is limited, and beginning farmers might not always get the attention.”
Beyond equipment considerations, Fitzpatrick notes that his biggest issue has been with all the paperwork involved with farming,
“Previously, when I was farming for family members, I just was doing the actual field work. Now, I’m having to handle the paperwork, too. It’s certainly a learning process,” he says
Fitzpatrick certainly will be learning more about USDA and FSA programs and paperwork for new farmers. From information to land, equipment, and operating loans, there’s a host of programs that can help the next generation create and build successful farming businesses.
Fitzpatrick’s advice to new farmers?
“Whenever I was thinking about starting farming, it seemed that everyone was trying to talk me out of it,” he says. “What I’d say to other young, beginning farmers is to keep moving forward. Don’t give up. It’s worth the effort.”
Michael Gustafson has written for and about farm equipment companies, their products and dealerships for more than 40 years, including 25 years with John Deere. He lives on a small acreage in Dennison, Ill.