GARNAVILLO, Iowa — Ryan and Kristin Oberbroeckling have an idea of what it takes to be farmers.
Having either worked on a family operation or adjacent to agriculture growing up, the pair were familiar with the world. Now, the couple is excited to add to the family operation with their own land purchased at an auction in September.
“That will be the first farm we bought,” Ryan said. “It helps us get our foot in the door and started.”
Ryan is the third generation on his family farm near here, where his parents and brother farm corn and soybeans and custom raise hogs. He started working full time on the farm when he graduated from Iowa State in 2012. Kristin grew up one county over in Fayette County, where her parents own an implement dealership, and she helped work on a dairy farm owned by her friend’s family.
When Ryan started his full-time farming career, having livestock to come back to on the family farm helped get him started with a bit of extra income.
Despite having help from the family, the Oberbroecklings said getting started with their own farm is not an easy task.
In the time since Ryan started, commodity prices have steadily declined, which led to challenges early on.
“The first year, I think I actually lost money,” he said. “If it wasn’t for round bales, it would have been a sinking boat right from there.”
Pinching pennies where possible is nothing new to farmers, and these two have been doing it for a few years as they looked for their own farm. Seeing these economic struggles in their early years has stressed the importance of having a second income and off-farm job.
“We’ve been saving for this farm for a long time,” Kristin said. “We’ve been looking for a farm for probably five years. We’ve been to quite a few auctions where our budget didn’t match the sale of the land. Your heart just gets crushed, and you think ‘oh my gosh, are we ever going to get up on our own?’”
Kristin said she eventually would love to be out on the farm helping full time, but her job as a sales manager with Renk Seed is especially important right now. The Oberbroecklings also welcomed a baby girl in the spring of 2019, which adds on to the responsibility and need for as much income as possible.
“I used to be out on the farm quite a bit,” Kristin said. “During the fall and in the spring, that was my favorite time, being out in the grain cart. It’s a little tougher this year. Eventually, when I say I’m going to retire, I mean I’m going to retire from my job and actually work full-time farming.”
Now that farming has become a career, Ryan said he’s learned a lot from his family since he graduated college, specifically about the economics of the business.
“Before college, it was more fun,” he said. “It was just go drive a tractor. Now we think about what it’s making. We need a good number to actually make a profit.”
Kristin and Ryan said if they could do anything differently, they would have heeded some advice from another farmer.
“He said before you go back to your family farm, work off of it for two years before you come back. That would have been a good idea,” Kristin said. “If we could do it again, I think it would have been good to see the different experiences and be on the retail side to do more networking.”
Having a network is going to be key for the Oberbroecklings. From their work at the local fair and being involved with the Iowa Soybean Association, the two have met and worked with numerous bankers and manufacturers.
Having connections will keep them in the loop on technology and enable them to sell their product to some of the higher bidders in the area.
“It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know,” Kristin said. “If they are knowledgeable, then you are good to go.”
That doesn’t stop the two from staying on top of the latest trends and education themselves, however. They occasionally go to conventions such as the Farm Progress Show and Commodity Classic. Ryan said going to those events with a plan is especially important as opposed to just wandering around.
“I don’t just want to go to collect all the free stuff,” Ryan said. “I want to go down there and give a little bit of feedback to somebody. I actually bought a piece of equipment once and it cracked. They said it wouldn’t crack and I gave them that feedback. They returned our machine and fixed it no questions asked.”
Being younger farmers, Ryan and Kristin said they are aware of additional eyes on them. Others might not take them as seriously, but there could be advantages as well. Some landlords looking to rent out their ground may look for younger farmers, they said. Starting relationships between landlords and a young farmer could be a boon for years to come.
There are also endless opinions on what practices should be used on the land, balancing tillage and conservation techniques. As the Oberbroecklings start their own operation, they know some of their decisions will impact the world for years to come.
“The eyes are on us,” Kristin said. “Cover crops are really starting to pick up and stuff like that. I think we all need to take a better part of taking care of the world.”
In the short-term, Kristin said she is most excited about living out in the country and putting their own house on the land. In longer-term plans, they have entertained thoughts of a livestock building, citing the benefits of having manure for fertilizer, but they understand it might take some time to get to that point.
“It’s going to be fresh for years to come,” Ryan said.