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30 years later, Mott farmer continues family tradition, following in his father's footsteps

Press Photos by Betsy Simon Above, Ray Kilzer speaks on a radio as he drives a tractor May 2 through some of his 2,000 acres of farm land near Mott. Below, clouds roll over the land.

RURAL MOTT -- It was Ray Kilzer's dream as a boy to move from the tractor's passenger seat and sit behind the wheel like his dad.

Now in his 30th year in agriculture, Kilzer is living his dream by operating more than 2,000 acres of land that includes wheat, canola, field peas, flax and corn this season.

"I grew up on a farm near Mott and remember watching my dad in the fields, so I guess you could say farming has been all I've wanted to do since I was young," he said. "I graduated from high school in 1983 and my dad retired from farming. Since he retired, I've pretty much been farming in his place ever since, starting with help from my brother who mentored me."

Kilzer and his wife, Vicki, have been married for 25 years and have one son, Colby, who is a freshman psychology major at North Dakota State University.

Kilzer said his wife, who was a registered nurse, worked hand-in-hand with him on the farm until the birth of their son in 1993.

"She used to be able to run every piece of equipment we have here, but now it's a little more of a challenge because the equipment is a lot bigger these days," he said.

Farm work is a passion Kilzer and his wife share.

"I grew up on a farm too and knew I always wanted to marry a farmer," Vicki Kilzer said. "It was fun doing all the work around the farm and I still help out with odd jobs sometimes, even though we have hired help now."

Kilzer doesn't expect Colby to join him in the family business after he graduates from college.

"Colby sees how hard I have to work and I don't think this interests him," Kilzer said. "But he has a real passion for counseling people, and I think he should do what he feels God called him to do. That's what I did after all."

Kilzer, who is one of 14 children, began his own farming operation in 1983 with 300 acres.

"A few years ago I read that every business owner should have a motto for their business, so I've made mine, 'Feeding the world one acre at a time'," he said. "Really, though, all I do is put down the seeds and God takes care of the rest. What is able to happen out in this field isn't all about me. It's God who gives the sunlight and rain to make sure all of this grows green."

Kilzer's contribution and that of all family farms is important to Mott, said city councilman Kellen Messmer.

"Family farms and farms in general are an important part of the business around Mott," he said.

Feeding the world requires Kilzer to be in the fields by 7 a.m. most days. During planting and harvest times, he and two employees spend about 12 hours per day in the fields, cutting back to 10 hours a day the rest of the year.

Long hours of labor-intensive work don't bother Kilzer, who credits the success of any growing season to a higher power.

"Everything you do as a farmer depends on the weather and a lot of conditions that are out of your control. I try to plan a week before what I'll be doing, but it really all depends on the conditions and the season. It can be a challenge, but I thrive on challenges because they keep you away from boredom."

The technological advances in farming have not only helped lighten Kilzer's workload, but keeps him busy learning all the new equipment.

"Everything in farming these days is GPS-guided and has hands-free steering," he said. "The technology in farming these days is so much better than when I use to help my dad farm when I was a kid, and I think the technology makes farming that much more fun to do, not to mention a lot easier too. It still takes a lot of time and commitment to be farmer, but it's a really rewarding career."