It’s a story of two different chapters in life for eastern Kansas farmers Bob Haselwood and Ryan Johnson. Ryan is in his second year of farming with Bob, in a mutually beneficial partnership, farming 100-percent no-till corn and soybeans.
It all got started in an 11th-hour decision. Bob was speaking with his family about planning his retirement from the farm. Ryan just happened to overhear Bob’s plans. The 65-year-old Bob, who is Ryan’s wife’s uncle, and Ryan, 37 years old, both live south of Topeka, Kan., in Berryton.
“Bob is also my neighbor, and we’re farming together now because I just happened to be in the right place … at the right time to hear their conversation about transitioning toward retirement,” Ryan explained. “I voiced my interest in taking over the farm. We started getting together and talking about the business, and Bob shared the financials.”
Although Ryan’s 15-year previous career in financial investment analysis work is not the typical farming background, his entry into farming came packed with helpful education.
“I have a lot of experience building software tools and technology, and I know a lot about Microsoft Excel to help make those numbers talk to each other. I can project financial performance,” added Ryan, who enjoys getting outside each day. “I like the many roles you play running a farm. It’s a business, a logistics and agronomy operation, which are all interesting.”
Ryan is also proud of their cover crop work, which has improved the health of their soil structure.
“The cover crops held the dry soil together better last summer. Our best beans came off that field,” shared Ryan, who worked with his father at their family farm while growing up near Brule, Neb. “Meanwhile, the part without any cover crops had more weeds.”
Crunching the numbers, Ryan is actually a fifth-generation farmer.
“My great-great-grandpa came over from Sweden in the 1880s, and he farmed near St. Paul, Neb.,” he said. “My great-grandpa died in 1931 when his son — my grandfather — was two years old, so great-grandma moved to Brule. She married a widower from Brule, and my grandparents farmed with them. Dad farmed with Grandpa, and now I farm with my wife’s Uncle Bob.”
Now … Bob’s turn.
“I was about to start giving up some farm ground so when I turned 70 or 75, I’d be down to about 500 acres,” began Haselwood, a third generation farmer. “That’s plenty of acres. That’s about one-fourth of what we were farming. I probably wouldn’t have replaced any equipment.
“Then, Ryan heard about our plan. He would be new blood coming into the operation. And, Ryan’s pretty smart. I keep thinking, you gave that up to farm. … But Ryan said he didn’t like being in an office.”
Bob could relate — he was on the United Soybean Board for 10 years, and chairman in 2015. Traveling sometimes for a week at a time with the board broadened his horizons.
“It made a difference on my farming operation to see what happens around the world, and how it affects you locally,” Bob continued. “It was a good experience, but I’m always ready to get back to the farm after a week on the road.”
Bob grew up farming, working with his dad, who passed away in 2015. After working on his own ever since, Bob admits, “having someone around all the time seems a little different.”
Even Bob’s wife is used to him leaving at 6 in the morning and not returning until 9 at night.
“So it’s a little different for me, and getting used to the way others do things,” he said. “I’m 65 years old, and I didn’t want to wait ‘til I was 75 and thinking then that I should do things. I’ve had friends start passing away, and you don’t want to be in that situation.”
First, Bob advised Ryan to find financing.
“I did research and found that in the first five years, a beginning farmer may be able to get a reduction on crop insurance and other benefits,” Bob explained.
Ryan is working into the land leases that Bob has and, at some point, Ryan will take over the farm.
“I’m in the business and protecting my investment, but at least I’ve got the equipment here for him to lease,” Bob explained.
Meanwhile, Bob is excited about spending time with his family at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, and doesn’t miss all the travel.
“However, those USB meetings have a purpose because grain buyers want to meet the farmers who produce the grain that they’re using,” he said.
But, Bob said, “The inside of a meeting room looks the same, whether you’re in Kansas City or Beijing, China. … Those conference rooms look the same.”
Amy Hadachek can be reached at email@example.com.