Seeing the presentation farmer & rancher Val Wagner gave at the #140conf Small Town, some people naturally wondered about her farm. She took a little time to give me an overview of Wagner Farms (Monango, ND) after our presentations were completed. I wanted to hear how she and Mark ran their farm. And I wondered how they approached things that can elicit strong opinions – biotech or GMO seeds and the practice of buying or saving seeds.
As we visited, I couldn’t get over how comfortable she was on camera. And it certainly struck me again as I prepared the transcript. Val is a person who has a lot of I really could have talked to her all day, but she did have that 650 mile drive to get underway.
In the limited time we had, Val talked though the basics on their farm and how they approach planning for future seasons, a topic that is at the forefront in US farmers’ minds now as many are finishing 2011 harvest:
My name is Val Wagner. My husband Mark and I farm together in southern North Dakota. We raise corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa hay, cattle and four children.
In our area, we general have an idea what kind of crop rotation we want to follow but that’s really written down in a very soft pencil. Spring can surprise us with a lot of things. We’ve got to be willing to fluctuate and be flexible and the people we buy our seed from are also flexible so we can switch things up as needed. We have a crop consultant that we work with, who comes out with us on the land and looks at what actually our soils look like, our water levels, the types of things that we are dealing with, what the weather looks like its going to be… and he helps us decide what’s best for our farm and what would be best for what we want to do in the future.
A lot of farmers follow a somewhat normal rotation, especially with wheat and possibly no-tilling in corn or alfalfa and no-tilling in corn, things like that, but again, it all ends up being pretty flexible. If your land is nutriently strapped, because you had a really tough year, then you generally want to do something that is easier for the land so that the next year it can recover. An you have those opportunities to do those sorts of things.
On our farm, we buy seed every year. For us it’s easier to deal with…. Most of our seed salesmen are people we know, people we trust, people that we see day-to-day, that we work with and of us, it’s a cost of doing business. You know, its not going to make us or break us. It’s the same as buying fuel, the same as buying for my kids, buying their books and things like that. Its just the cost of farming. And I know farmers that save seed and things like that but it is not something we do. Its not something we do, it’s not part of our operation.
We definitely use biotech seed. Because again, we do… And it varies year to year. We do whatever is needed so that our farm is profitable, we want to be in business next year. We want to be in business ten years from now. So those decisions, it’s a case-by-case basis, we go back to it, we look it over. We don’t decide today this is the only way we’re going to do things. We are very flexible. The land is not black and white so you have to be willing to work with it and do those things that you need to do.
There is nothing that I would ever do to intentionally jeopardize my children’s ability to farm. It is not a decision I will make for them. If they decide to come back to the farm, I will gladly support them and do whatever I can. This is our way of being able to… We have to set a path for them… to show them we were able to do this for this long. You can do it. They are going to have different types of problems, different types of obstacles to overcome but we’re doing what we can right now. There is no way we would intentionally set up something that we thought would jeopardize their future.
We’re not talking about a farm from yesterday, we are talking about a farm for generations. We are truly trying to farm for the future.
Flexibility with an eye on the future. It looks like Val, Mark and their sons have a good roadmap for that long drive.