Learning Generation to Generation Maximizing Potential and Profit

Submitted by NDNA (North Dakota Newspaper Association)

Farmers pass a lot of valuable knowledge down from generation to generation. But today’s farmers and ranchers also need to learn new lessons about market conditions, operational costs, and how to operate for the best return on investment in a changing environment. Those lessons can be learned through the North Dakota Farm Management Program. 

For some farmers, the Farm Management Program has also been passed down from generation to generation. Bruce Ankerbauer had been enrolled in the program for decades before one of his sons took over their farm near Bowbells. “The program allows for families to pass along a healthy operation,” Bruce said. “You work on your farm management and that helps you decide whether it’s a viable prospect to pass it on to your children.”

Bruce’s son Bryan, who has his own farm nearby, agrees that the program has helped him understand how the farm is performing.

RON EGLI AND SHANE TELLMAN
JOE MONGEON AND SHEILA BRAATEN
BRUCE ANKERBAUER, LYNSEY ABERLE AND BRYAN ANKERBAUER

“Knowing your numbers is key. Having someone help you with that each year lets you benchmark yourself and know where you need to be on a marketing basis year in and year out,” he said. “Farming is a tight margin business and you never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you. There’s the challenge of the unknowns and the risks we have to take. So you need to have a good understanding of what the numbers are and where you need to be.”

Joe Mongeon, a fourth-generation farmer near Rolette, has been enrolled in the Farm Management Program for seven years, since he started farming at age 19. “Every morning you wake up and you go out and take care of things, and you try to do the right thing, even if it’s wrong sometimes,” said Joe. “You do your best to take care of the herd and take care of the land. It’s a big responsibility.”

The Farm Management Program provides Joe with the information he needs to handle that responsibility. “You’ve got to know where you stand financially, seven days a week. Every single check you write out, you’ve got to know where you’re at. The program goes a lot more in-depth than I used to. It’s really helped with figuring out what land’s profitable and what isn’t. There’s always more to learn when it comes to farming and ranching.”

Sheila Braaten, an instructor in the Farm Management Program, has been working with Joe for the past two and a half years. “The people who could benefit the most from what I’ve seen is probably younger operators to get them started in the right direction. We have people who have been in the program for 30 years or more. You hope to get them started young and then stay with them throughout the years for continuing education. Everything is always individual. Everyone comes in with their own unique challenges and opportunities. For every farmer and rancher, you have to have a different approach. But you try to get a standard outcome once you have all the numbers and equations, so everything works out the way it’s supposed to.”

Because the instructors work one-on-one with each individual, farmers can enroll at any time. “When someone asks me when they can enroll, the answer would be today,” Sheila added.

Jacob Fannik, an ag lender with First Western Bank and Trust, sees the value of the program from a lending perspective. “It’s good for operations of all sizes, whether you’re new or experienced, successful or struggling,” he said. “It allows the growers to get a different opinion, see where they can improve financially, improve in their daily operation, and ultimately gain another level of friendship and networking among other growers.”

ND Farm Management is launching a statewide multi-media marketing campaign to make more farmers and ranchers aware of how the program can help them maximize the potential and the profitability of their operation. Farmers can enroll through one of the program’s partners: Bismarck State College, Dakota College at Bottineau, Lake Region State College, the North Dakota State College of Science, and Glen Ullin High School. The tuition varies slightly with different enrollment partners, but is generally about $650 per year. The program is funded by the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education, the sponsoring colleges and other entities, and through tuition from the participants. More information about the ND Farm Management Program is available at www.ndfarmmanagement.com/find-out-more.html