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Anderson farm looks toward the future with over four generations of farming under its belt

Mark and Jill Anderson stand in front of one of their newest pieces of equipment on their farm in Regent. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults) 1 / 2
Mark and Jill Anderson stand in front of one of their newest pieces of equipment on their farm in Regent. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)2 / 2

The Anderson family are a testament to the saying, 'If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life.'

Mark Anderson farms in Regent on the same land that his dad farmed, a little ways down the road from where his uncle farmed, his grandfather farmed and his great-grandfather farmed.

"I've just always felt lucky that I got to do what I love doing, and I made a living at it, and I think my son is the same way," said Mark's father David.

Mark always knew what he would be when he grew up.

"I've always wanted to farm," he said. "Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to go with dad, ride in the tractor, go here, go there with him. I spent a lot of time with my dad and my uncle Jim."

Mark and his wife Jill are partners of the operation and, other than bringing on seasonal help to get the crop in the ground planted as well as harvested, they do the work themselves.

Sometimes their kids Sydnee and Tanner join in, but Mark said he would never force them to be farmers.

"I would be tickled pink if either one of them wanted to come back. My dad did it for me. It's a good life," he said. "I'm not going to force them to farm because of the time commitment and workload. I spend more hours in the shop than the tractor cab typically. I love to tinker and improve my equipment to make it more efficient."

Mark grew up helping his dad on the farm, and his dad, David, grew up helping his dad on the farm.

David said that growing up knowing what it meant to work hard not only gave him a good work ethic but that it created a strong familial bond.

"There isn't a lot of things that you can do as a family as you can in farming and ranching," he said. "I think it creates stronger family ties, and family is important."

"I appreciate everything that my parents and my uncle have done for me," Mark said. "I learned a lot working by their side as a kid and young adult. I also appreciate that they had the patience to teach a young person. I'm going through that with my children now, too."

Family history

Anson Anderson, Mark's great-grandfather, trekked around 800 miles to North Dakota from Wisconsin in 1908 to make a life for himself as a farmer.

Anson, like many others during that time, was given the option to move west during the Homestead Act, which provided settlers with 160 acres of land.

Anson took ownership of a relinquished homestead where he started growing his crop.

David said that most of his grandfather's neighbors from Alden, Wisc. moved into the Alden Township in Hettinger County and mostly just farmed what they needed to survive.

Because of the lack of equipment and money, the farms were mostly small and just had enough to make it to the next year.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, the family came close to losing the farm but somehow held onto it.

David said he remembers a story about how in the 1930s the neighbors built their own telephone lines with volunteer labor and would pay an annual cost. The cost for that year was $10, and they didn't have enough money to pay it. And then in 1936 his father was not able to harvest any grain because of drought and grasshoppers.

Somehow the family still kept the farm going through all of the struggles, and David's father maintained it until the 1960s when he had a stroke. David and Jim took it over.

The brothers were partners on the farm and raised cattle and grain.

"The farm was either ours to make it or break it at that time," David said. "I think when I was a kid growing up everybody had some livestock and now there are no livestock in the township. It's just all farming now."

David moved to Dickinson in 2004 and slowly transitioned into retirement, leaving Mark the responsibility of the farm.

"I would have missed it if I had to do it all at once," David said. "I'm happy and satisfied with my life the way it is right now."

Looking back on his years on the farm, David said he was happy to be so passionate about his career.

"I've just always felt lucky that I got to do what I love doing, and I made a living at it, and I think my son is the same way," he said. "What more can you ask for when you love what you are doing?"

The Anderson Farm now

The farm has changed here and there with the handing over from father to son.

Mark said that in the past 10 years the farm went from mostly wheat crops to now only a third being wheat with him also farming corn, canola, peas, flax, durum and soybeans.

"When you diversify your rotation as to having six or seven different crops, it seems like everything complements each other," he said. "When you run just a monoculture of wheat, then you get disease pressure. Everything I do in a crop rotation seems to make my wheat better Mother nature does this in her native pastures. We are just trying to mimic her to improve our soils back to their original state."

Mark said that he makes sure he surrounds himself with people that know the business.

"One thing I've always said is, 'You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with,' so the people that I try to work with are people that I think are the best in the industry," he said.

He also was able to network with people during his time on the North Dakota Grain Growers and the Manitoba Dakota Zero Till Association.

Mark and Jill were gone earlier this month to the Commodity Classic in San Antonio trying to absorb as much information as they could.

Other than attending conferences and seminars, Mark spends his time trying to learn more.

"He spends many hours every week researching, reading, studying, talking to other producers, watching (YouTube)," Jill said. "You have to invest a lot into it to get the return back. There are some factors that we can't control, but there are some factors that we can control by cutting-edge technology."

The farm became a full no-till operation in 1993, which Mark said is beneficial for the land.

"You basically have an armor on that ground all of the time to keep the sun and the wind off of it," he said. "You hold your moisture so much better. When you are naturally incorporating that residue back into the ground it just improves the ground because you aren't destroying that residue."

Mark said he would call their farm an average-sized farm, but he's not interested in growing it to be a large operation.

"I'm not saying I won't increase my farm size in the future, but just not at this time," he said. "

"I've always said I like to do more with less than less with more."

Jill said it's all-hands-on-deck during spring work and harvest, but she does not mind because she knows that Mark is passionate about what he is doing.

They keep employees to a minimum with hired help seasonally because a worker might not understand the value in the extra effort.

"It's a lot of responsibility to put on someone to go plant your crop for you," she said. "It's different when it's your own business, your own baby."

While the farm has already changed here and there with the implementation of different techniques and the use of newer equipment and technology, Mark said that it's just the natural progression of farming.

Mark said that he sees a lot of exciting things coming down the pipeline in the future with

the use of zone soil testing, variable rate fertility, precision seed placement and multi-hybrid technology coming.

"We don't so much save money overall on inputs but rather put the investment where it needs to go. In return, we see better yielding crops," he said.