Moderator Frank Sesno (left), and farmers Ray Gaesser, Deb Gangwish and Jay Hill at 2017 Commodity Classic
DOWNTURN MOVES: Farmers Jay Hill (from right), Ray Gaesser and Deb Gangwish answer questions posed by moderator Frank Sesno, George Washington University, about their strategies for coping with current low commodity prices.

3 farms, three strategies for tough times

The three farm owners plan to diversify further, keep equipment longer and use precision ag tools to survive the dip in commodity prices.

At the Bayer AgVocate Forum, three U.S. farmers outlined their strategies for getting through the current tough financial times.

Great Plains diversification
Deb Gangwish, co-owner of PG Farms Inc. and The Diamond G, Shelton, Neb., said she and her family are going to diversify more and step up their use of precision agriculture.

DOING MORE: Deb Gangwish says their strategy is to diversify more.

The family farm, which has 20 full-time and 10 part-time employees, has already diversified significantly. They grow wheat, corn, soybeans and small grains; raise and feed beef cattle; and operate custom seed corn harvesting and trucking businesses. They have also diversified geographically, establishing an operation three hours north of their central Nebraska headquarters. The family plans to diversify further into specialty grains — perhaps popcorn — in 2017. PG Farms and The Diamond G are using precision farming tools in every aspect of the operation in an effort to operate more efficiently.

“We need data to farm smarter,” Gangwish said.

Corn Belt patience
Ray Gaesser of Lenox, Iowa, who has farmed 50 years, says he is focused on riding out the down cycle in agriculture. The corn and soybean grower farms with his wife and son. Their primary strategy is to keep their equipment longer.

HOLDING TIGHT: Ray Gaesser says he will make new machinery last a long time.

“We bought a lot of machinery in the last couple years,” he said. “It will last a long time. We need to remember that.”

Surviving low-price cycles in agriculture is largely a matter of patience, said Gaesser, who started farming at age 15, when his father died. “You need to know when to be patient and when to be aggressive,” he said.

Gaesser learned those lessons through experience. Traveling and being an avid reader of economic and financial publications have helped him see the global market cycles that affect commodity prices.

Southwest sizzle
Jay Hill is a 32-year-old New Mexico vegetable, pecan and cattle producer. He started Hill Farms in partnership with his father, who did not operate his own farm. He started farming full time in 2008.

ADDING MARKETS: Jay Hill has branched out in hydroponic and organic production, and has started a retail store.

Hill’s strategy is to diversify his production and markets. He produces more than 18 million pounds of fresh onions and 3 million pounds of fresh lettuce. He also grows carrots, cabbage, pecans, alfalfa, cotton, pinto beans, corn, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons and New Mexico green chiles.

In 2012 he started a small beef cattle herd, which has grown to 60 head of mother cows.

In addition, the operation involves a restaurant and grocery distribution business based out of his commercial pinto bean cleaning facility.

Jay also owns and operates Wholesome Valley Farm, which includes hydroponic greenhouse production, organic vegetable production and vegetable seed production.

Construction is underway on a farm-to-market store, which will sell Hill Farms produce as well as produce from growers around the Southwest. Jay retails a line of New Mexico chile sauce online and in grocery stores.

Outlast downturn
It may not be easy, but these three farmers say they will somehow outlast the downturn in the farm economy.

“We have the grit and determination to survive,” Gangwish said.

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