Family farm comes firstLee Klein’s grain farm is a tribute to farming’s past with an old sprayer in one corner, a grain drill in another, and the tractor he watched his dad ride around in during the 1950s on the very land it sits on today.
By: Betsy Simon, The Dickinson Press
LEFOR — Lee Klein’s grain farm is a tribute to farming’s past with an old sprayer in one corner, a grain drill in another, and the tractor he watched his dad ride around on during the 1950s on the very land it sits on today.
“I grew up farming this land, starting from the age of 10, and am now the fourth generation to farm this land,” he said looking out across the snowy backyard at his home, where the grain he grows will pop up in the spring. “I started driving an 8N4 tractor around the yard as a child, but the first tractor I took into the field was an 80 Oliver.
“I could have sat on the tractor from morning until night, if my parents would have let me. I have always loved farming and driving the tractor, so much so that my dad couldn’t keep me off of (the tractor).”
But Klein, 58, would have to wait until 1980 to take over the farm, though he did not solely farm until 10 years later.
“It was tricky to make the switch to farming full-time because I had to learn how to make it on getting all of my income from farming,” he said. “Farming is a stressful way to make a living sometimes because of the money and the decision you have to make, but most of all because of the weather, which I believe is the No. 1 factor that plays into farming and it’s the one thing no one can control.
“But I like the work and there is no experience better than putting a crop into the ground and getting excited as you watch it grow each year. Harvest is always the time because you get to see what your work as made, and that makes all of the risk involved in the industry worthwhile.”
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has acknowledged that the
difficulties for someone getting into farming for the first time are money and access to affordable land.
It is important to lure youth back to the family farm, Goehring said, as more than 40 percent of livestock producers in the state are expected to retire in the next 10 years.
Even grain producers, like Klein, are looking to the future and what will happen with their land, especially since Klein hopes to keep it in the family.
Klein, who has no children and is a bachelor, said his dad, Peter, farmed until he was 60 years old. He said he plans to continue working the land with his dad’s old equipment until he can’t anymore.
“But I don't think any of my nieces or nephews want to farm,” Klein said. “But that’s OK because as long as I continue to be excited in the spring when I put the crop in the ground and I can still crawl up onto the tractor, I plan to continue farming something on my family’s land.”
Farming isn’t the same today as it was when Klein, who has grown wheat and durum, was growing up.
He said tractors at that time, unlike today, were not equipped with air conditioning and technology that allows farmers to know how many acres they have planted.
“When I first started combining myself years ago, there was no cab on the combine,” he said. “You had to fight the mosquitoes, but I never wanted to get off and quit.”
Klein predicts that bringing technology into the agricultural industry may encourage a younger generation to get into farming.
“Younger people are growing up with the technology today, so they already understand how it works,” he said. “I know that when I was a kid, I never dreamed that the tractors would practically be able to drive themselves.
“When I was in high school, the big thing was when my dad got a radio and put that on the tractor. That was a big day for a high school kid like I was.”
Klein, who farms less than a 1,000 acres in Hettinger and Stark counties, said his brother is a hobby farmer, but he thinks small farms, like his brother’s and his own, are starting to dwindle.
Klein defines a “large farm” as 3,000 acres or more.
Ted Quanrud, who handles public information for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said the state does not define a small farm.
But the federal government classifies small family farms as those with “annual sales of agricultural products of less than $250,000” according to information from the department.
Large farms are those that gross more than $500,000 a year and large family farms are considered those that gross between $250,000 and $500,000, according to the USDA.
Klein predicts the future of farming may be going toward large operations.
“I think small farms like mine may be hard to find one day because it’s tough when land goes for $1,200 to $1,400 an acre,” he said. “That is expensive for a small farmer, so I think big farms with thousands of acres of land is what is going to keep farming going.”