While most are still in bed, 15-year-old Kory Storm is out at 5 a.m. feeding his bottle calves. When that's done, he heads out on a run as training for cross country.
After school, Kory hurries back home to drive the grain cart to help his parents get the day’s harvest in. That's the pace and the passion for which the Storm children have for their family tradition.
“Being out in the tractor, outside in the fields, that's my environment,” he said. “I love being out there.”
Kory and his 20-year-old brother, Jake, each have a passion for farming so intense, that the brothers have a friendly battle over who will get the family’s “East House.” That was the first home bought by Amy and Ryan Storm, the boys’ parents, located a mile and half east of the family’s homestead in rural Davison County, S.D.
“It's always a big joke about who's gonna get the farm. I'm actually going to work for a co-op, and with him still in school, that is kind of the big joke,” Jake said. “Who’s gonna get back to the farm first and who's gonna take the East Farm.”
Jake is a second-year precision agriculture student at Mitchell Technical College who received a Build Dakota Scholarship and will spend at least three years after school working locally, in his case for CHS Farmers Alliance in Ethan.
Though the number of family farms across the country has dropped over the last decade — more than 3% between 2012 and 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture — the Storm family is intent on keeping their farm in the family. The fourth-generation farm sits 15 miles south of Mount Vernon and 14 miles west of Ethan.
“I think the family farm is a good thing to always keep going. Are family farms dwindling a little bit? Yes,” Ryan said. “We want to keep the family farm going as best as we can. Because family's important.”
It’s no surprise to anyone in the family that Jake and Kory have a passion for agriculture. The youngest of the three boys, Luke, is just getting to the age of taking on more responsibilities on the farm.
“I think you’ve got to have that. Otherwise, it's just not going to work,” said Chuck Storm, Ryan’s father and the second-generation farmer.
“We grew up farming, and it's just kind of that's what I know,” Jake said. “That's what I love.”
Amy and Ryan welcome the idea of the boys taking over the family farm, but they’ve have made sure that they know the farm isn’t their only option.
“With our kids, when you graduate from high school, you have to move out, you have got to go to school, and you’ve got to get a job somewhere else,” Amy said. “Once you do those three things and you know what you like or don't like, if you do want to come back, then it's here and we'll figure it out.”
The kids all agree, they’ve never felt pressure to come back to run the farm.
“They've never really pressured us. They might call us outside to come help them with a job, but it's more your choice — you choose,” Kory said. “If you want to be on the farm, then congrats! We'll help you get set up and moved in on the farm. But if you don't, that's totally fine. You can go off and live your own life wherever you want.”
Passing on the tradition
The farm was homesteaded by Chuck’s parents, Gerhard and Lorraine Storm. Chuck, who married his wife, Dee, in 1973, lived in a trailer house on the farm until 1980, when Gerhard and Lorraine retired into Mitchell.
As Chuck’s four kids were growing up, he said it was clear that Ryan had a passion for farming while his two other sons, Joshua and Aaron, and daughter, Kim, had passions for things outside of the farm. While Chuck and Dee made sure never to put pressure on the kids to have to take over the farm, they did make sure they all knew how to work.
“They all know how to work. And I think they still do,” Chuck said. “They all did chores, they all went to the field, they all did it.”
Although they grew up just 35 miles apart, with Ryan attending Ethan High School and Amy attending Hanson, the pair didn’t meet until they went to college at South Dakota State University.
It was then Ryan said he had to make a decision about returning to work the family farm or not.
After graduation, that’s when they bought the “East Farm” while Chuck and Dee continued living on the homestead farm.
“That’s always (Ryan’s) big joke is that he married me because I knew how to drive a tractor,” Amy said, who grew up on her family’s farm just outside of Spencer.
In 2010, when they could see Jake and Kory maturing into bigger roles on the farm, Chuck and Dee felt it was time to give Ryan, Amy and their boys space to really take over and handed over the keys to the original farm, where they could be close to the equipment and animals in their care.
As Chuck continues to step back more and more from the farm, the boys find themselves stepping into new roles and taking on more responsibilities to help their parents.
“(Chuck is) getting ready to retire a little bit more. Wants to do a little more hunting, a little more fishing, not being tied down to the farm, which is good. And I'm hoping when I’m at his age, I can do that, too,” Ryan said. “With the boys coming back, it gives him a chance to get away and do his own thing.”
Ryan has slid over into running the combine more, with either Amy or Jake running the grain cart and the truck.
Jake ran the combine for the first time this year, which opened up the door for Luke to run the grain cart.
“I really have been bugging dad to let me do it and it was a new experience,” Luke said. “Jake started to run combine this year. So I thought, now he's moving up, I should move up too.”
Ryan always looked up to his dad, as the oldest among his three other siblings, he was usually the one Chuck went to first to help with the chores.
“I was the oldest, I was out here all the time. I grew up with it. When Dad needed help. He came to me when he needed something, I did all the extra work,” Ryan said. “So I got to appreciate and got a passion for it and love it.”
Ryan who grew up riding in the tractor with Chuck, shared the same experience having his boys in the tractor with him.
“It’s always the big joke now, when you’d rode around on the tractor, every hole you hit. You hit your head against the window by ‘accident,’” Jake said. “I remember I rode around all the time with Dad in the tractor, and Dad would have to hit a big one.”
For Luke, after bugging his father for a while this year, really started to learn to work the grain cart alongside the combine. While both of his brothers helped teach him, Luke said Jake was a better teacher explaining things to him.
Although Kory may not be the best teacher, the siblings all agree his attention to detail makes him the better grain cart driver. The others, they say, can get distracted easier.
While the boys enjoy being out on the farm together, they all three really enjoy getting to work and learn from their grandpa.
“I like working with (Chuck) just because I don't really get to work with him a lot. And I like it because you do a lot more hands-on jobs. Like fixing stuff then working chasing cows or pigs or doing any of that,” Luke said. “He's fixing the combine or taking up fence or putting up fence.”
“I don't know when I'm going to quit. You know, I still love doing it,” Chuck said. “Of course, not nearly as much … but you know, still want to be involved on the farm.”
Between the kids' activities and the farm work, it forced Dee and Chuck to make a decision.
Dee, who was a nurse in Mitchell, could keep working as a nurse and Chuck could hire help to work the farm or Dee could step back from nursing and raise the kids on the farm and help Chuck out as needed. Dee, who grew up on a dairy farm near Miller, decided to step back from nursing.
Then as the kids got older, more of the farm work shifted to them, while they still did school activities and part-time jobs outside of the farm. Now as Amy and Ryan are in a similar situation with their kids, they’ve found a balance that works for them.
“If I got a ballgame at night, we start early in the morning. You know, we fit it in,” Ryan said. “You always make time for the kids, we always make time to get to their sporting events. Whatever it takes when we get it done.”
The biggest part of that balance is communication, according to Ryan.
“We always meet at night. We love our porch, so we will sit out here at night after I'm done working after she's done working. And we'll catch up and say, 'Okay, how is your day,' and tell her about my day,” he said. “And we communicate, we always communicate all the time.”
Besides farming Ryan and Amy always have something to keep them busy. Ryan has been active on the South Dakota Pork Producers Board of Directors. Amy runs a photography business, sits on the Ethan School Board, volunteers with the Ethan Fire Department and works part-time with Mitchell Fire and Rescue.
For Jake, Kory and Luke, they each have had their own extracurriculars that keep them busy too.
Jake, who said he never really got into sports, his brothers are both pretty active as Kory runs cross country and plays basketball while Luke plays football, basketball and is going to try golf this spring.
“I always loved the farm,” Jake said. “Everyone, you know our neighbors always said that I should play football and I never played football because fall time was harvest time.”
At Ethan High School, they hired their first agriculture teacher, and Kory said the class has driven his interest in farming even more. The sophomore said he’s really interested in studying animal sciences in college at SDSU. Jake said he’s a little jealous he never got to take an agriculture class in high school.
For Luke, he’s just starting to get involved in the family’s farm operation and whether he’s got an interest in farming himself.
Nothing is set in stone about the future and there's no pressure from their parents. But the idea of the boys keeping the family farm alive and well puts a smile on the parents and grandparents’ faces.