Mark Mitchell, a broker with Colorado Farm Bureau Insurance in Montrose, Colo., has learned a lot more about the corn-growing process after buying 12 acres of his own north of town.
He’s “only invested $1,800” in the crop so far but “might end up making $4,200 if it works.” He continues, “I had some farming equipment already. It took about 120 hours of labor to get the field ready for planting, but now that the bulk of it is done I spend about eight hours a week — a full day — irrigating and cleaning out the ditches. The rest is up to the sun and water.” Mark added, “That’s not a whole lot of time compared to someone who is working, say, 200 or more acres. That farmer is trying to push water through a lot more sets and pipe. And the water restrictions we’ve been facing lately mean longer hours in the field. Compare using ten sets of pipe versus only four, which is a whole lot more labor intensive.”
Originally from east Texas, Mark grew up in a beef-producing family on 60 acres. He spent 10 years working construction in Gunnison, Color., before “the land-buying opportunity came up and they moved to Olathe, Colo.” As a father to a 6-year-old son, raising his own field corn (which will mostly go to Foster Farms as feed) has only increased Mark’s determination to follow his true passion, which is to help get young people educated, motivated and ready to farm. Being an insurance agent has allowed him to “spend lots of time looking at the special needs of farmers,” and he’s noticed that “there are many in their sixties and seventies out there who want to retire but have no one to replace them.” That’s understandable when one considers that it might take millions of dollars for a young couple to get started, especially if they must begin from scratch. As a new producer, Mark has discovered there’s a lot more to figure in financially when one considers labor plus the costs of seeds, fertilizer, fuel, and irrigation pipes. “I hold down a full-time job here in the office, too,” he says, “and although I’m not feeding that many people, the produce from my field is still part of the food chain and it’s challenging and intricate.” Concerning those who want to farm for a living, he says “there’s got to be an infrastructure to help them out.”
On that note he has been actively promoting a strong agricultural program in Colorado, trying to guide those farming-oriented youths “towards an easier path to follow.” He regularly appears on the Jim Kirchner radio program on KUBC in Montrose (“The Farm Bureau Farm Show”); speaks at FFA (Future Farmers of America) and 4H banquets; and has been working tirelessly on different ways to encourage a variety of vocations in agriculture. Meantime, he is pushing for change on the federal level. “We need to look at lowering the inheritance tax for those who inherit farms from their parents and grandparents,” he suggests. “We must give new farmers easier borrowing power, and cut the cost of diesel fuel for tractors. There has to be some kind of protection, along with subsidies, for the people who grow our food. Right now a traditional bank won’t touch you if the home you are trying to buy is attached to a farm. If we don’t get these new kids up and running, then who is going to provide for us in the future?”
One thing that school-age youths can do is become active in FFA, 4-H, or the Cattleman’s Association, all of which help to improve the success rate by teaching them about the business side of farming. “There’s also a Young Farmer’s and Ranchers group which meets regularly,” Mark continues. “In any of them, students can find mentors who will guide them further. As members, they will be exposed to the networking that helps get beginners up and running. One 16-year-old, for example, started his own combine business by putting up corn for a large dairy and he made a substantial profit. He got the idea through the Farm Bureau, and now that he’s about to leave for college he’s going to hand the combine down to his 12-year-old brother.” There are all sorts of ways for a person to get started -- sometimes it just takes a little creativity and support.
Leasing is another option, as Mark explains. “Sometimes older people just want to step down but don’t have anyone to follow in their footsteps. As opposed to selling out when they really don’t want to, leasing is a wonderful option.” It can be a win-win situation which allows one family to gradually retire while another gets up and running. “Farmers in general love the land and the freedom of getting to work on it. They love what they do. They’re proud to be feeding people. We need to keep the reality of their challenges close and make it easier on them.” He feels the same way, himself, which is why he’s going to keep moving forward with the Farm Bureau while encouraging others with the attitude, “Go do it!”
Mark acknowledges, “I’ve had quite a few mentors for support since I started my own corn project. Other, more experienced farmers have been good for counsel and advice as opposed to me having to learn something the hard way. They share their mistakes, which definitely makes things easier.” In the meantime, he’ll be saving up what he learns to pass down to his own child, believing that “Farming helps teach kids to be responsible. I think it’ll be good to tie him closer to the land.” ❖