Millennial farmer keeps tradition while embracing the future
Twenty-seven-year-old Justin K., a Michigan State University graduate, represents the new face of the American farmer – tech-savvy, college educated and environmentally aware. Justin, and others like him, are using the latest farming technologies to ensure the safety and nutrition of their crops, and employing newer sustainable farming principles.
Considering the average age of a farmer today is 58, Justin is bridging the demographic divide with the fastest-growing segment of older farmers*, represented by his dad John, who has been farming for 40-plus years, and his 85-year-old great-uncle, John S.
The three of them manage 1,200 acres combined from two of their family’s historic farms, one from Justin’s great-great-great grandfather Johann S., and the other from his great-grandfather, Herb K. From when he was young, Justin had little doubt that he would farm, “I grew up sitting on my Dad’s lap driving the tractor through the field and loving every minute of it.”
While sustainable farming practices are not new on the farm, Justin is helping employ some of the newer principles gleaned from his MSU studies to complement those practices. For example, the farm has modified the practice of taking soil samples by using a yield monitor on the farm’s combine to identify high- and low-yielding spots in the fields. They can then fine-tune soil-sampling points and adjust fertilizer applications to deliver high quality wheat while boosting yields.
Through the use of precision agriculture technology, Justin estimates that his farm is averaging a 20% reduction on fertilizer use, while improving crop yields.
On most of their tractors, they also are placing a GPS receiver. Each catches satellite signals and, in effect, steers itself through the fields and plants crops in perfectly straight rows. This approach saves fuel, labor time and wear on the tractor driver.
Even with this faster technology, Justin stressed the need for patience. “Millennials tend to want things to happen right away,” he says. “That’s not possible in farming where the weather controls everything you do. The latest farm equipment also is expensive. A harvester with the most efficient engine can cost more than a new house – and be used only four weeks out of the year,” he notes. Plus, he adds, all the pioneering tech advances can’t help when a sudden hailstorm hits “and knocks all the heads off the stalks just weeks before harvest on the nicest fields of wheat ever planted.”
Like Rita’s family, one of our featured Open For Breakfast Farmers, Justin’s farm also participates in Kellogg’s OriginsTM Great Lakes Wheat Program in partnership with Star of the West Milling Co., a Kellogg supplier, and Syngenta. This program is tracking continuous improvement over time in sustainable farming practices in the Saginaw Bay region of Michigan. By documenting these improvements with the help of its partners, Kellogg can make sure that all 10 of its priority ingredients — including wheat — are responsibly sourced. Soft white winter wheat is a crop used in Frosted Mini-Wheats and other Kellogg’s cereals.
To further their responsible sourcing commitments, Kellogg is supporting USDA’s Regional Conservatory Partnership Program (RCPP) by funding trainings, meetings, and education for farmers and advisors. Overall, the Saginaw Bay watershed RCPP will be providing $10 million in federal funds to farmers to implement sustainable practices. That program is located near Justin’s 100-plus-year-old farm in Frankenmuth, Michigan’s agricultural heartland.
This connection between Kellogg’s and Justin’s family farm is felt on both sides, as Justin said he gets “a good feeling” when he spies boxes of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats in stores. “You wonder, ‘could this be the load of wheat I produced?’ It makes me proud.”
*Source: “2012 Census of Agriculture,” USDA, May 2014