Four Things North Dakota Farmers Wouldn’t Trade For Anything

Farmers in North Dakota are a special breed. Their occupation is one that requires them to work long hours and face unpredictable weather conditions (which lead to unpredictable business conditions). There are many trials and tribulations involved with growing crops on the northern prairie. Naturally, many of them would love the opportunity to swap a late night spent working in the shop for a home-cooked meal around the family table, or maybe the seat of their tractor and a weak radio signal for a recliner and a television showing the big game, but it rarely works that way. On the other hand, there are many moments – too many to count, really – that these farmers treasure. Here are four aspects of agriculture in North Dakota that make it unique. Ask any farmer, and they will tell you that they wouldn’t trade them for anything.

1. Gravel Road Interactions

When you drive through the North Dakota countryside you’ll notice that nearly every farm you pass has a long, relatively narrow gravel road connecting it to the rest of the world. These roads may seem like nothing special to you, but that’s not the case for the farmers who use them every day. Farmers know that stretch of gravel like the back of their hand. In fact, they know every bump, divot, sweet spot and John Deere mailbox that they will come across during their early morning commute to the field. 

It’s not the roads themselves that North Dakota farmers value the most, however. It’s actually the day-to-day interactions that take place on them. Whether it is the classic “finger wave” to a neighbor passing by, or a full-on, stopped-in-middle-of-the-road, windows-down conversation, farmers look forward to each bit of verbal and non-verbal communication.

The finger wave itself is universal acknowledgement to those brave enough to be driving in the proverbial middle of nowhere. The index finger raises off the pickup’s steering wheel to greet everyone, from school bus drivers to mail carriers.

“If somebody skips the wave, you know something is wrong,” laughs Julie Byron, an ag lender at First United Bank in Park River. “It’s sort of like passing somebody in the hall of an office building and saying good morning. I grew up in this area, and I’ve always appreciated that farmers share that connection with everyone.” 

2. The North Dakota Horizon

Working from dawn to dusk is certainly not a rare occurrence in the life of a North Dakota farmer. Although these long hours can present their fair share of challenges, farmers will tell you that they also come with unique rewards. Dawn in North Dakota gives farmers a front row seat to some of the most breathtaking sunrises on planet Earth (after all, there is little to obstruct the view). But it doesn’t stop there. Farmers also get to witness picturesque views of that nearly endless horizon as the day goes on, culminating with the ultimate payoff at the end of the day. Whether it happens during their last pass in the field or on their drive home, sunset in rural North Dakota can be at once beautiful and blinding, a spectacular orange glow diffused through a haze of dust from the fields and the gravel roads. It’s a daily occurrence that farmers across the state wouldn’t trade for anything. 

3. Lunch On The Tailgate

If you’ve never worked a long day in the field, you may not be aware of the meaning or significance of a tailgate lunch. These meals often come in a beat-up cooler, sometimes prepared by a family member and occasionally delivered in person half way through the day. No matter how that sandwich gets to the field, the pickup’s tailgate is the most logical place to eat, so unless it’s raining, that’s where the picnic often takes place. Lunch on a tailgate may not sound like a big deal, but to a farmer who has been in the field since 5:00 A.M., it’s worth its weight in gold. 

Getting a chance to eat isn’t the only reason that farmers appreciate this time on the tailgate, though. It’s also an opportunity to spend a few minutes out of the day catching up with their family or friends, either in person or on the phone. If you happen to ask a North Dakota farmer about the subject, chances are they will tell you that a tailgate dinner is worth more to them than a New York Strip from a four-star restaurant.

4. Their Legacy

At the end of the day, farming isn’t just an occupation, it’s a way of life. For many North Dakota farmers, their operation is a legacy that spans generations – one they hope will carry on to the next. It’s this sense of pride that pushes them to work so hard. It’s the reason they wouldn’t consider swapping their way of life for any other occupation. 

“Farming is important, but it’s also really hard work,” Byron says. “You have to love it, and I think that’s what makes it special. Here at First United Bank, we’ve spent more than a century supporting the legacy of North Dakota farming because we believe that every farmer deserves to succeed.”

Posted in Ag

Four Frequently Asked Questions Only A Farmer Can Relate To

The farther North Dakota farmers travel away from their home state, the more likely they are to have a conversation with someone who is curious about their job. A vacation, they soon learn, often comes with a host of questions. Here are a few of the most common ones. If you are a farmer, you’ll probably remember the last time you were asked. If you are just curious, perhaps you’ll understand some of the basics the next time you sit next to a farmer on an airplane.

1. How great is it to be your own boss?

If you ever overhear this question being asked, you will also likely hear the farmer happily reply that they could never see themselves doing anything else. That’s because farmers are entrepreneurs at heart, and most are grateful to serve as caretakers of the land. In many cases it is the only job they’ve ever imagined themselves doing.

They love the freedom of making their own business decisions and the ability to operate on their own schedule (often a busy one). Of course, this role doesn’t come without its fair share of trials and tribulations. Dealing with the constant battles of uncertainty in crop yields, fluctuating markets, delays, and unpredictable weather can certainly make a farmer’s role as boss pretty stressful. After all, every decision regarding these challenges is theirs to make. They don’t get any help from the corporate office – they are the corporate office! At the end of the day, however, farmers appreciate the sense of fulfillment they get after successfully harvesting a crop they’ve cared for an entire growing season.

2. Doesn’t modern technology do a lot of the work for you?

Advancing technology has transformed every modern business, and farming is no different. While today’s farming practices are certainly different than they were in years past, the biggest impacts of new technologies have been on operational effectiveness rather than overall labor.

Farmers still do all of the same things they have always done; they just utilize current technology to do those things more efficiently. For example, farmers are now able to steer and control equipment such as tractors and combines via GPS technology. The equipment itself is also much larger and more efficient than in years past. As a result, practices like harvesting, planting and cultivating can all be done faster and more efficiently.

Wireless and GPS technologies are also helping farmers analyze data and monitor crops. Drones, for example, provide framers with the ability to get a bird’s-eye view of their fields at a moment’s notice.

With that being said, crops still don’t plant or harvest themselves. Modern farmers are still firing up their high-tech combines at 5 a.m. and eating dinner long after the sun has gone down. The methods may have changed, but the required effort has mostly stayed the same.

3. Farming is big business, right?

By looking at the size of many modern farming operations or the cost of a new tractor, it’s easy to see where this misconception comes from. It’s no myth that farming requires significant capital. However, the balance in a farmer’s personal checking account is generally similar to that of the folks in town.

Some years are better than others, but the lion’s share of a farm’s yearly income goes right back into the operation. There are obvious expenses like machinery, fuel, maintenance and employees, but there are also an abundance of cost factors that are less obvious. For example, common fungicides used to control and prevent Fusarium head blight (scab) and other fungal diseases in wheat can cost a farmer nearly $50 an acre. With the average North Dakota farm planting about 1,500 acres a year, you can see how those costs can add up quickly.

“Managing a farm successfully takes a keen understanding of things like balance sheets and income statements,” says Matt Beneda, ag lender at First United Bank in Park River, North Dakota. “It’s not just planting and harvesting, and it never has been. Fortunately, choosing good partners – a good bank, for example – helps a lot.”

4. What’s going to happen to the farm once you retire?

This is a tough question for any small business to answer, especially one that has been in the same family for multiple generations. After all, do farmers ever really retire? To them, the farm is much more than their job. It’s their legacy and way of life. Passing it on to the next person (or generation) isn’t as simple as just handing over the reins and calling it a day. It’s often a lengthy process with a plethora of tough decisions and financial factors that come into play, especially if there are multiple people involved (or who want to get involved) with the operation. These implications are just a few of the reasons why it’s especially important for farmers to have a plan in place before the time actually comes to retire.

“Succession planning takes teamwork for farmers,” says Beneda. “Most of the time it involves a financial planner, a banker and an attorney. The goal is always the same – to create the best circumstances for the family and the farm itself. It’s more personal than a lot of other businesses, but there is something very rewarding about helping two generations of farmers to realize their dreams.”

Do any of these questions sound familiar? They probably do if you are a farmer. The next time you see a banker from First United Bank, feel free to ask them some questions of your own. Many of them grew up on farms themselves, and you may have more in common than you expect.

Posted in Ag

Farmers Have A Love/Hate Relationship With Spring In North Dakota

Poets have long appreciated the four distinct seasons of the upper plains. Summers can be punishingly hot, followed by cool, serene autumns that lead into legendary winters that seem to stretch on forever. Spring does come eventually, though, and those poets have nothing on North Dakota farmers as they express their feelings for the state’s meteorological transitions. There are many words used to describe March, April and May in North Dakota, and the most accurate might be “challenging.” Especially for those who make a living in agriculture.

Here are a few characteristics that make spring in North Dakota a little different than anyplace else, brought to you by the ag team at First United Bank:

Do You Feel Lucky?

Choosing a coat during a North Dakota spring is a lot like going to the casino – you never know how it’s going to turn out, and if you guess wrong, you can look like a fool. Anybody who lives this far north in the United States can tell you about a frigid spring morning that transformed into a scorching afternoon – and how that left them toting around their winter coat like a malformed piece of luggage. Obviously, that kind of uncertainty impacts how farmers plan their workday, not just their wardrobe.

In Like A Lion, Out Like A Meaner Lion

North Dakota springs generally render age-old idioms useless. Just because the month of March began with a raging snowstorm doesn’t mean it can’t end with one too, does it? Three weeks of record high temperatures? Don’t kid yourself. Even the natives get tricked into spring fever, only to be blindsided by an epic blizzard that sets the whole process back by two weeks. If the groundhog lived in North Dakota, he’d just skip the whole ordeal and rent a condo in Palm Springs until May (and even then…).

Water, Water Everywhere

In a state as flat as North Dakota, water acts a little differently. For instance, you don’t need to live near a river to experience flooding on your property. In fact, the term “overland flooding” was seemingly invented specifically for those living in the upper Midwest, with some farmers keeping a small boat handy each spring just to get in and out of their driveway. Every year brings a test in patience as the rich, muddy soil slowly sheds four months of snow and another month of rain. Wimpy tractors have no place here. Only the strong survive.

Hope Springs Eternal

On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like the smell of the first 50-degree morning of the year. It smells new, and as the snow finishes melting there is a sense of newness on the landscape as well. What was once covered in an impenetrable sheet of snow and ice is revealed again. Farmers in places with two seasons (“wet” and “dry”) never get to experience the feeling of rebirth that comes with spring in North Dakota, and that’s a shame, because it makes everything else worth it.

One of the keys to successfully navigating North Dakota’s turbulent springs is preparation. Rather than waiting around for the weather to turn, experienced farmers use the first few months of the year to meet with their business team. In the upper Red River Valley, those get-togethers often involve First United Bank. It helps, you see, to choose a bank that sees each spring as an opportunity for your farm to grow – a bank that’s already been through more than 130 North Dakota springs and made the most of each one. 

Farming isn’t for everyone, and farming in North Dakota is for an elite few. But those who brave the winter are rewarded with three other incredible, unique seasons that make agriculture something special and each day worth looking forward to. Here’s to spring in the heartland – it’s always worth the wait.

Posted in Ag

Four Reasons Farmers Think They Have The Best Job In The World

There are a lot of unique jobs in the world, but none is quite like farming. Agriculture features a unique balance of the ancient (growing food) and the futuristic (using technology like GPS to make jobs more efficient). Here are four of the things that farmers tend to like the most about their jobs:

Farmers are their own bosses.

Oh, they have commitments just like any businessperson, but for the most part, farmers make their own decisions when it comes to business. Of course, they still need to work around the weather, the markets, weeds and pests, but how they overcome those challenges is entirely up to them. They make their own hours (usually a lot of them) and manage their own employees (usually just a few of them). After it’s all said and done, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with a successful harvest that few careers can provide.

Farmers love the outdoors.

Most farmers are partial to working outside instead of in an office. In fact, when they aren’t farming, they are often outdoors hunting and fishing. Farmers prefer their air unfiltered and their horizons uncluttered. There’s a sense of freedom that comes with a lack of walls, and a sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming the elements to earn one’s living.

Farmers can choose their own partners.

While farmers have the power to make their own decisions, they are seldom alone in their endeavors. Every farmer needs good seed dealers, trustworthy elevators, an honest fuel provider, a dependable implement dealership, a great insurance company and a strong bank. Fortunately, farmers are free to choose these partners based on whatever criteria they prefer. They can work with their friends, their neighbors – anyone they trust to have their operation’s best interests in mind.

Steve Rehovsky is president of First United Bank, which serves northeast North Dakota with locations in Park River, Grafton, Adams, Michigan, Hoople and Crystal. He understands how important trust is in agriculture because not only is he a banker, but because he grew up working on a farm himself. “Unless you are a farmer, it’s hard to appreciate how powerful these relationships become,” Rehovsky says. “It’s much more than just business. It’s a huge privilege for us as a bank to be part of a farm operation that has been in a family for generations. That’s not a business-as-usual kind of partnership, and we recognize that.”

Farmers can keep it in the family.

Many farmers have a unique opportunity to pass their farms down to their children. In fact, a good number of operations in North Dakota have been in the same family for a century or more. That’s a legacy that few other businesses can claim.

It’s true that agriculture is a way of life. Farmers love their work, and even when it has its ups and downs, they wouldn’t trade it for the world. If you are a farmer yourself and would like to find out how much it can mean to your operation to work with a strong ag bank that has been serving farmers since before North Dakota was a state, stop in to your local First United Bank.

Posted in Ag

Five Ways To Tell You Grew Up On A North Dakota Farm

Farming is more than just an important occupation, it’s most definitely a way of life. That’s especially true if you were born a farm kid, and farm kids in North Dakota learn early that the Northern Prairie has its own set of rules. If you grew up here, then here are a few of the things that likely set you apart from your friends from town.

1. You drove a truck before you should have.

Your parents needed help, and you probably got behind the wheel of a pickup or a grain truck before you could see properly over the top of it. On a farm in North Dakota, everybody pitches in, and that includes the kids. It might seem dangerous to somebody who didn’t grow up here, but there aren’t many traffic jams on North Dakota roads. That is, if you were driving on roads at all.

2. You know how to pick rocks – maybe even by hand.

In parts of North Dakota, rock picking is an annual ritual that is as grueling as it sounds. Yes, you do indeed pick the rocks out of the field in order to protect the equipment, and yes, there is modern equipment to make the job less of a chore. There always seems to come a time, though, when a rock or two (or more) demands a personal touch. Rock piles in North Dakota stand as ancient shrines honoring the hard work – and bitter complaints – of generations of farm kids.

3. You can find the sweet spot on a washboard gravel road.

First off, do you know what a washboard road is? If not, you are definitely not a North Dakota farm kid. Thanks to the state’s relentless erosion and struggles with drainage, some roads degrade into a mass of natural speed bumps that can shake your fillings loose and turn your truck’s suspension into lutefisk. Farm kids know a secret, however. There is often a sweet spot where you can put your tires in order to minimize the vibration. Occasionally, this trick involves placing one tire on the shoulder of the road, and should only be attempted by true North Dakota farm kids.

4. You spent a good part of your youth in a coulee.

When you grow up in a state with virtually no visible topography, you tend to gravitate toward whatever hills you can find. In North Dakota, they are shallow ravines known as coulees, and for many farm kids they are the closest they came to a ski hill (or any hill, for that matter). They have trees that aren’t carefully planted in a straight line and sometimes they even include a small stream. Coulees are perfect for bike riding, sledding, hunting, camping and the occasional get together with friends.

5. You wave to everyone when you drive.

Even if you don’t know them! Here in the northland, you always acknowledge another driver, whether they are your neighbor or the UPS driver making a remote delivery. Waving as you drive is a tradition in rural North Dakota, perhaps because you can drive such a long way without seeing another vehicle. Or, perhaps it’s simply because farmers around here are just extra friendly, showing their respect for another soul lucky enough to be out driving in the dusty twilight of a long North Dakota summer sunset.

The next time you see a banker from First United Bank, ask them about their experiences growing up in North Dakota. Many of them are part of farm families themselves, and those who aren’t have spent the better part of their lives working with those who are. It’s these shared experiences that separate an average bank from an ag bank, and a by-the-book lender from an in-the-field partner.

Did everything on this list sound familiar? Are you a real North Dakota farm kid, or perhaps you wish you were? The beauty of North Dakota is that it welcomes everyone and makes a lasting impression on us all.

Posted in Ag

What Do Farmers Do All Winter, Anyway?

Everyone knows that farmers work hard during the growing season. They normally spend daylight hours in the field, and late nights in the shop or in front of a laptop. Predictably, all that high profile summertime work can lead non-famers to make some general assumptions about farmers and their work schedules. Some are based on truth while others are not. Here’s a short guide to the myths and reality of what farmers in North Dakota do when the weather turns cold.

Myth or reality? Farmers spend winters on vacation.

Myth: Farmers are just like everybody else in the winter. They may get away to the tropics or spend a long weekend snowmobiling. They take their families to theme parks and sporting events. However, farmers do not spend the entire winter in the Bahamas or in an ice house. There is simply too much to do on the farm – even in the winter.

Myth or reality? Farmers don’t have a set schedule.

Reality: This is true. A farmer can set his or her own schedule. Unfortunately, that schedule often revolves around the weather. A farmer’s team has to work when the weather is fair because there may not be a chance if the weather turns ugly. For example, in a perfect autumn there would be time for tailgating, but oftentimes Saturdays are spent on the seat of a combine.

Myth or reality? The busy season starts with planting.

Myth: Farmers start working on spring planting almost immediately after the fall harvest is complete. They spend time selling the crops they just harvested, of course, but at the same time they begin meeting with their ag banker to strategize for the upcoming year. “A retail business doesn’t close for a month after their fiscal year ends, and neither does a farm,” says Matt Beneda, ag banker at First United Bank in Park River, North Dakota. “We start looking for a way to ensure that next year is better than the last.”

Myth or reality? Farmers are their own boss.

Reality: A farmer’s spouse may beg to differ, but for the most part a career in agriculture puts you in charge of your own destiny. In fact, that flexibility is one of the main reasons people choose farming as a vocation. Perhaps it is the pioneer spirit of those who choose a challenging career. 

Myth or reality? Nothing happens on a farm in the winter.

Myth: A visit to a farm will disprove this misconception very quickly. “Farmers spend summers working in the business,” says First United Bank’s Beneda. “They spend winters working on their business.” Not only do farmers manage their resources during the colder months, they use that time to maintain their equipment and educate themselves on new technology and techniques.

Myth or reality? Farmers spend winters tinkering.

Reality: No farmer can afford to pay a mechanic to fix and maintain all of their equipment and gear. It would cost too much or take too long – or both. They count on the local dealership for help with big issues, but generally handle small problems and maintenance themselves. That way, when a seeder has minor trouble at 11 p.m. during planting, the farmer can make the repair – or at least make an adjustment – without shutting down the entire operation.

Myth or reality? Farmers only work half the year.

Myth: Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do farmers need to organize their finances, they need to re-evaluate their insurance, assess and purchase new equipment, plan out their crop rotation, review the books and pay taxes (almost a full time job in and of itself), order seed and much, much more. 

In many ways, a farm is like any other business. It does different work at different times, but it always stays busy. On the other hand, there are many ways in which a farm is different. All of a farmer’s rewards are not from the sale of crops, for example. A farmer is rewarded with the sight of a brilliant spring sunrise in the crisp April air, the smell of new growth as the summer soil yields plants for the first time, the deep rumble of a heavy truck during harvest, and the peaceful stillness of a midwestern January afternoon. 

What do farmers do all winter? They work, they play and they appreciate a job unlike any other in the world. What do you do?

Posted in Ag
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