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Fresh out of college, Minnesota farmer Lily Bergman is ready to hit the fields

At age 22, Lily Bergman has been farming half of her life with her father, James Bergman. Agweek will catch up with her periodically during the growing season.

A woman wearing a pink and white shirt and overalls stands next to a green tractor with tracks.
Lily Bergman, Oslo, Minnesota, will be farming full-time with her father, James Bergman, this year.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek
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Editor's note: Ann Bailey will be checking up with Lily Bergman throughout the growing season as part of our Follow a Farmer series.

OSLO, Minn. — Lily Bergman has graduated from farming part time while earning a bachelor’s degree in agriculture engineering to farming full-time and working part-time as an agricultural engineer.

At age 22, Bergman already has been farming half of her life with her father, James Bergman. Dad and daughter have separate farming operations but work together to raise and harvest their collective crops.

A woman wearing a green graduation gown and cap and brown shoes holds her diploma from North Dakota State University.
Lily Bergman graduated from North Dakota State University on Saturday, May 14, 2022, with a degree in agricultural engineering.
Contributed

The younger Bergman started helping on her parents' farm southeast of Oslo when she was in early elementary school, and by age 11 was farming with her dad during the summer.

This year is the first year Bergman won’t have to work farming around her school schedule. During her middle school and high school years, she sandwiched farming between her classes and extracurricular activities, and while she earned her degree at North Dakota State University in Fargo she came home on weekends to help harvest the crops.

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Bergman made the 105-mile drive home from Fargo to the family farm each Friday after her last class of the day to help finish up the day’s farm work and rose early on Saturday morning to go back to work on the harvest, often staying in the field until late at night.

Now, Bergman is ready to focus on farming and looking forward to planting the 600 acres she is renting from area landowners. This year, Bergman, like many farmers, is getting a late start because moisture — first late-winter snows and then early-spring rains — have made fields too wet to plant.

“We’re a ways away on our driest ground, and we have a lot of ground that’s still under water,” Bergman said on May 16. The fields under water were inundated when the Red River, which has a channel through Oslo, spilled over its banks and spread out over thousands of acres a few miles east and west of the city.

When the ground is ready, Bergman will plant sugarbeets, pinto beans, soybeans and wheat, which are typically in her and her dad’s crops rotation.

“We’re a little heavy on the wheat acres this year, just because of the way commodity prices are sitting, a little less on the beans,” Bergman said.

The late spring is frustrating because she knows that there’s potential for yields to decline when planting is delayed.

A woman dressed in a pink shirt and denim overalls greases the bearings on a green planter.
Lily Bergman is readying equipment while she's waiting for spring planting to begin on her parent's farm near Oslo, Minnesota.
Trevor Peterson / Agweek

However, Bergman has had a lot of experience farming during other years when adverse weather conditions have caused production problems, and she knows she has no control over it.

“We’ve had a lot of years when we weren’t in the field until the end of May and still came out with a good crop, so we just have to try and stay hopeful and know things can still turn around.

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“But yeah, we’re getting pretty antsy now,” Bergman said, with a wry smile.

During the previous five years, when she was farming 400 rented acres, Bergman’s fields also alternately have been too saturated in the fall to harvest, drowned out in the summer and suffered yields losses from drought.

 A woman wearing a red and white flannel shirt and overalls stands by a green combine.
Lily Bergman, 22, has been driving farm machinery for more than half of her life and is comfortable operating equipment like this combine she drove during the 2020 pinto bean harvest.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

In 2021, the pinto beans were hit especially hard by the dry conditions and had “considerable” yield loss, Bergman said.

While she and her dad are waiting to plant, they are checking over equipment and trouble-shooting to head off potential mechanical problems. On May 16, Bergman was greasing the 48 zerks on the Bergmans’ 24-row planter and checking the boxes to make sure they were in good condition.

“Trying to get everything fine-tuned so when it is time to go, we’re not breaking down and everything is working like a well-oiled machine,” Bergman said.

As she works and waits to get back in the tractor pulling the planter, Bergman is looking forward to many growing seasons to come.

“I hope to be farming, always. I like the variety of work and being outside, running your own operation,” she said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURECROPSAGRICULTURE EDUCATIONSUGARBEETSAGWEEKTV
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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