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Published November 30, 2012, 12:00 AM

Fulfilling farm needs

They watched, with great interest, as their parents and grandparents worked the fields around southwest North Dakota, and the next generation of farmers was born. Even when he stood only knee-high like corn on the Fourth of July, Ben Kuhn, 28, a fifth-generation farmer in Dickinson, said he realized agriculture was in his blood.

They watched, with great interest, as their parents and grandparents worked the fields around southwest North Dakota, and the next generation of farmers was born.

Even when he stood only knee-high like corn on the Fourth of July, Ben Kuhn, 28, a fifth-generation farmer in Dickinson, said he realized agriculture was in his blood.

“I grew up on family farm and have been around farming my whole life, especially since my dad and grandpa both farm,” Kuhn said. “It’s what I knew, I guess you could say. I went to North Dakota State University and decided after graduation to come back here and farm and I haven’t regretted that choice since then.”

Katie Pinke, marketing and information director for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said the state does not track the age of farmers.

However, the 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture — the most recent year for which data is available — finds that there were 1,339 farmers in North Dakota between the ages of 25 and 34 running their own agricultural operations.

That is a decrease from 2002 when the census reported 1,506 farms operated by someone in that age group.

Doug Goehring, state agriculture commissioner, said there are a lot of complexities to getting young and new farmers into the field.

“We can wrap our brains around the issue, but it’s getting our arms around it that is the problem,” he said. “We’ve started, in the beef industry, to encourage and develop interest and activity, while also providing new and young farmers with insight into the industry by alleviating misconceptions and fears they may have about getting into the industry.”

Two of the biggest hurdles for someone getting into agriculture for the first time, Goehring said, are money and access to affordable land.

“This is a very capital-intensive industry with margins that are very hard to service because of the increased cost of doing business, purchasing equipment, livestock, land,” he said. “Sometimes this is overwhelming to new farmers because they only have so much money to work with.”

Goehring said the state is exploring ways to make it easier for up-and-comers to get into the field.

“We’re still working on this, but we’d like to find a way to help give new farmers access to financial programs that could give them the ability to get into livestock,” he said.

With more than 40 percent of livestock producers in the state expected to retire in the next 10 years, Goehring said it would be valuable to the industry to tap into the knowledge by partnering new and long-time producers.

“There is a wealth of knowledge out there in our longtime producers, so we want to find a way to tap that valuable resource properly,” he said.

Kuhn, who has land south of Dickinson and grows wheat, corn, sunflowers and canola and raises Angus cattle, said he has leaned on his father, Jeffrey’s, knowledge by farming with his parents and younger brother, who is attending NDSU with interest in an ag-related major.

But Kuhn suggests anyone contemplating a leap into agriculture to think outside of the box when it comes to what occupation they choose within the field, whether that is on or off the farm.

“There are a lot of ways to be involved in agriculture because it’s a demanding field, even if you don’t own your own farm,” Kuhn said. “My first advice to people who want to get into agriculture is to go to college and get a degree, basically anything, in agronomy or fields about growing plants.

“Agronomists are in higher demand now if they know what they’re doing and the demand for ag specialists is increasing, but I suggest that people should get a good education. It all starts with a good

education.”

Now 35-years-old, Chris Bernhardt, Taylor, started getting a hands-on education in the industry more than 10 years ago while still in his 20s, around the time he graduated from Dickinson State University, where he earned a business management degree with an agricultural focus.

“I started renting my own farmland then, around the age of 20 or 21, but my dad and I still work together,” Bernhardt said. “I always enjoyed farming with my dad when I was growing up and starting renting land with him when I was still in high school.”

Bernhardt said he knew early in childhood that he wanted to farm his own land, which he now does in Stark and Dunn counties, where he grows spring and winter wheat, sunflowers and yellow mustard.

“When I was a little kid, I would love to play with my Tonka trucks outside,” he said. “I would have done it all day, if my parents would have let me. I guess I’ve always loved to play in the dirt. I also loved to ride around in the tractor with my dad when I was little, and I could not wait until the day when I was old enough to do it myself.”

Even though he owns land, Bernhardt said he still works with his dad, Terry, farming some of the same land and often sharing some equipment to get their crops ready for market.

Bernhardt credits his continued love of work in agriculture to growing up on a farm.

“I don’t know how people get into agriculture if they don’t have anyone in their family who also farms. I just don’t know how people can do that,” he said. “Not only does agriculture take a lot of capital to get involved in, you also have to be prepared to work really long hours, which often requires that you have to sacrifice family and social time.

“But in the end, you hope that it is all worth it and it usually is, as long as you put in 100 percent if your effort. In agriculture, you get what you put in, so you need to put in 100 percent.”

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