From the Farmer's Tractor
September 28, 2008
John Buck, 37, runs Buck Farms in New Bloomington, Ohio. A third generation farmer, Buck started driving tractors when he was eight years old. Currently, he farms 800 acres of wheat and soybeans and custom harvests a couple thousand additional acres annually.
How did you get into wheat farming?
I’ve been farming wheat all my life. My grandpa did it, and so did my dad. After my father passed away about 10 years ago, I began farming on my own. My wheat goes to a local elevator for processing and then it is loaded onto rail cars and shipped to the east coast, or down to the Gulf of Mexico. Some of my wheat goes to feed grain, but the majority is processed into flour for baking needs.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
One of the biggest changes is in tillage. When I started farming on my own, about fifty percent of what we did was no tillage. Now I do one hundred percent no tillage. Also, now we are looking at different varieties of the wheat crop through genetics in order to raise a better crop with more desirable traits as well as one that can be grown in a more sustainable way.
How will wheat farming evolve in the next five years?
I think we’re going to become more consumer driven. Different consumers are looking for different things in their wheat, and we are going to start growing more of what the consumers are asking for. For example, if consumers want a higher protein wheat, that’s what we’re going to grow.
What is your greatest challenge as a wheat farmer?
Keeping the dollar level there. The profitability of any crop needs to be a factor. We’ll lose money if the market does not support what we are growing. The cost of fuel is another big factor in this, as it takes more dollars to get food to your plate. Everyone’s expenses go up as a result.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
We have to think out of the box and guess what the consumers want because the retailer may not know right off the bat. Many times, consumers stumble across a variety they didn’t think much about at first and determine that variety to be the best one. We try to match their needs with a high quality product.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
No tillage is huge obviously. And we’re reducing our use of herbicides. We choose whatever products we do have to use wisely, and limit spraying whenever possible. We do crop rotation too. I rotate my wheat with corn and soybeans. We also look at energy conservation and limiting our fuel use, or extending it with synthetic oils. Water conservation is crucial as well.
In light of rising wheat prices, what do you think about the trend to produce half loaves of bread?
Americans need to realize that we have had cheap food for a lot of years, but times are changing. We are in a global economy now, competing with China and India for many goods and services. The idea of reducing sticker shock for people is like playing peek-a-boo with a baby. Prices are not going back down.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
I’m heavily involved with the Farm Bureau, and through them I talk to consumers at the county, local, state and national levels. I’ve learned that most kids, even those that grow up next to farms, don’t know where their food comes from. This is even true in Ohio, where agriculture is the largest industry in the state.
We try to educate consumers about the American farmer and have them visit our farm to learn more about the industry, and how it’s changing now that the world population is growing and less developed countries are making more money and buying our food. American farmers provided a cheap source of food for a lot of years, but that era is probably over. The future will be interesting for us.
John Buck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.