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Published August 11, 2014, 09:23 AM

ND farmer works as coal miner

Jayme Boeshans, with help from family and friends, is building a modest farmstead north of Beulah, N.D. It’s isn’t far from the house where he grew up and his parents still live. It’s also near the house, now mostly lost to time and the waters of manmade Lake Sakakawea, where his great-grandparents homesteaded.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

BEULAH, N.D. — Jayme Boeshans, with help from family and friends, is building a modest farmstead north of Beulah, N.D. It’s isn’t far from the house where he grew up and his parents still live. It’s also near the house, now mostly lost to time and the waters of manmade Lake Sakakawea, where his great-grandparents homesteaded.

“I’m the fourth generation out here. Of all my cousins, and there are about 40 of us, I’m the only one with the opportunity (to farm and ranch),” Boeshans says. “I really want to make the most of it. I don’t want their legacy to go to waste.”Boeshans, 27, farms and ranches near Beulah. He also works full-time as a diesel mechanic at the Dakota Westmoreland Beulah coal mine. Coal is important in Beulah, a farm and energy town of about 3,100 in western North Dakota.

Jayme’s father, Jerome, 64, was a farmer-rancher and coal miner, too. Now retired from North American’s Coteau mine near Beulah, Jerome continues to farm and ranch with his son. They raise barley, wheat, canola and corn and operate a herd of 100 Black Angus cattle on 600 rented acres.

Jayme’s uncle, Wayne Boeshans, a semi-retired farmer, helps as well.

Jayme enjoys his work at the coal mine.

“But I’d like someday just to stay at home to farm and ranch,” he says. “If you expanded in the right way, you might have a chance. I don’t know if it’s in the cards, though.”

For now, at least, he puts all of his income from farming back into the operation and lives on his off-farm income.

Jayme grew up watching his father wear two hats. Jerome Boeshans spent 25 years as a full-time employee of a Beulah coal mine. He also raised 3,000 acres of crops and had 180 cows.

Jerome says mine supervisors were flexible when he needed time for farming and ranching. He reserved his paid vacation for planting and harvesting.

Other family members helped operate the farm, too, especially at key times such as calving, he says.

Jayme also says support from friends, neighbors and family members is essential to his farming and ranching.

Ag, energy links

It’s not uncommon for Beulah-area farmers and ranchers, especially ones with fairly small operations, to hold jobs in the local energy industry, says Craig Askim, Mercer County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

The off-farm jobs tend to pay well and often provide health insurance, an important consideration, he says.

He also says energy has other consequences that aren’t so good for agriculture in the county:

Off-farm income can give farmers and ranchers more money to buy or rent farmland, driving up its price.

New, improved technology that could expand oil development in Mercer County is leading to speculation that pushes up farmland prices.

Strong demand for gravel and scoria in western North Dakota’s oil patch led to higher prices for Mercer County land with deposits of the two.

Returning home

Jayme spent four years in Bismarck, N.D., before coming home when he was 23. He says he was always interested in making farming and ranching his full-time career.

Back in Beulah, he lived with his parents for about a year, then started working on his own place.

“It (establishing his own farmstead) has been a long process and there’s still a long ways to go,” he says. “But I’ve gotten a lot of help with the work.”

His long-term plan is to buy the farmstead where his parents live.

Seven years ago, when it was uncertain if Jayme would farm and ranch, Jerome rented out about 2,000 acres of his land.

The lease expires in 2015 and Jayme hopes to have a chance at renting his father’s land in 2016.

The 600 acres Jayme and Jerome rent now are owned by Wayne Boeshans and other family members.

Jayme, like virtually everyone else in modern agriculture, says getting started in ag requires having connections to someone already in it.

Finding farmland to rent at affordable prices is difficult, Jayme and Jerome say.

Jayme contacted numerous local landowners about renting their land.

“I called to get my name out, said I don’t want to step on anyone else’s toes — but if there is ever an opportunity in the future that they keep me in mind. None of them are renting to me at this time. I am still hopeful for the future,” he says.

The Boeshans’ current operation is relatively small at 600 acres.

The average size of all farms in the state was 1,269, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

But the average includes very small farms, often called hobby farms, of fewer than 50 acres. Without such farms, the average size of North Dakota farms would be much larger.

Diversification

Ag economists often promote diversification in farming operations. Having more than one source of income can make the difference between survival and failure in tough times.

Jayme says having both cattle and grain is a big positive.

“One will usually be strong when the other isn’t,” he says.

Cattle prices have soared to record highs, and he’s optimistic he’ll make money from his cows this year.

Jayme says he knows strong cattle prices won’t last forever. He first bought cows of his own at age 14, “when prices weren’t so good, so I’ve seen that side of it.”

The value of diversification is even more apparent, now that crop prices have slumped. Still, Jayme’s financial projections indicate that he will at least break even on his crops if yields are good.

His crops were promising when Agweek visited, and Jayme says they remain so.

“Our canola is thick, with lots of pods and has lost most blossoms. The corn is starting to tassel and to grow cobs. The barley (cabbage green when Agweek visited) is now turned golden, is thick and has nice heads,” he says.

“All the crops have great potential this year, and harvest is just around the corner for some of them. We are excited to see this year’s results,” he says.

Ag economists often praise the value of off-farm income, too.

Jayme describes his off-farm income as “a security blanket.” It allows him to put his farm income back into the operation.

“In the short run, that doesn’t pay off. But it does in the long run. You’re building up your farm,” he says.

‘Find time’

Farmers and ranchers need to keep track of many things: markets, weather, regulations and improving technology and equipment, among others. The challenge is greater for Jayme because of his off-farm job.

He shrugs when asked how he’s able to stay current on ag trends and developments.

“You find time,” he says.

Jerome, who juggled farming and an off-farm job for 25 years, says, “You make time.”

For Jayme, like his father before him, agriculture is both a career and a labor of love. For them, every minute invested in it is time well spent.

“Farming and ranching — that’s where I see my future,” Jayme says. “I’m going to do everything I can to make this work.”

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