Young farmers finding ways to go against the status quo in ag industry

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer

This is the final part in a three-part series "Farming into the Future" that explores the opportunities for farmers to be successful in this industry despite the economic challenges

Although he grew up in the city, Matthew Casper knew a career in agriculture was a calling. However, money may be an insurmountable obstacle for many young, prospective people interested in carving out a living in the agricultural industry.

Since he purchased his grandparent's farm, Matthew Casper has been focused on growing his small baling and bundling business.

Funding and opportunity and experience are all challenges in starting a career in the competitive agriculture environment. Casper says the folks at Compeer Financial helped guide him in the process. As a member of the Compeer's program for Young and Beginning (YB) farmers, he found more than a financial partner.

Casper says Compeer's YBF committee is comprised of a group of farmers that come from various backgrounds and experiences across the lending agency's service area.

"When we are together, we meet with various employees of Compeer to discuss what farmers in our demographic are experiencing and how Compeer can better service those that fit into the YBF category," Casper said.

The YBF outreach program is designed specifically for those who are age 35 or younger, or have been farming for 10 years or less. Compeer officials help members with a variety of beginning farmer loans and workshops for understanding farm finances.

"It's a comfortable call that money is the number one obstacle that our (young and beginning farmers) group faces in our operations," Casper said. "While there's no easy answer in how to get over this obstacle, a common theme that all of us on the committee had was the fact that we found ways to go against the status quo."

Casper says the key is to approach farming in new ways with fresh idea that help to open doors of opportunity, making the "pill of starting out a little easier to swallow".

Despite living in the city, Casper says farming has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember, spending every moment he could on his grandfather's farm in northeast Wisconsin.

That budding passion for agriculture led home to holding various jobs on farms throughout high school and college, along with growing his own crops and raising cattle.

"Last year I bought my grandparent's farm. Since I then, I have focused on growing my small baling and bundling business, providing large quantities and varieties of hay and straw bales across the state," he said.

As with any business, financials are a key to getting off the ground in an agriculture operation. Casper says it's important when going through the process to be comfortable with lenders and financial advisors, and to seek advice.

"Don't hesitate to ask questions or have them explain things to you multiple times," he said. "Also make sure to surround yourself with the right people. The advice and guidance from those I have been involved with in agriculture is worth amounts that no money could ever be assessed to."

Former ag lender and consultant Bob Panzer says many beginning farmers are in need to hearing out what others have to offer for advice.

"The local bar or pie shop is not a place to find sound business advice," he said. "Find mentors or lenders that offer assistance."

Casper says that connection he has made out in the field and inside the lending industry have proved invaluable in his bid to launch his forage operation.

"Don't ever overlook the importance of having good connections within the industry," he said. "Don't be afraid to throw out ideas to others, look for feedback and be open to new ideas.".

Casper says that those on the YBF committee is made up of a great group of farmers that provide a wide spectrum of farming scenarios and backgrounds, from full-time farmers to those like himself who still hold off-farm jobs.

"While we won't ever directly make it easier for the next farmer starting out, our goal is that through our feedback and input into Compeer's YBF program, we will make that path easier for the next person walking through Compeer's door," Casper said. 

His advice to those looking to get into farming?

"I believe it is something that is learned every day over a lifetime," he said. "While you don't need to follow (fellow farmers) step for step, look to the guys that have bee doing it for years and have had success. They have proven to be my best road map."