Welcome to Episode 63 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast.

Mary Ebert farms in Guthrie County with her husband, Adam, and serves as the chair of Iowa Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Advisory Committee (the committee that plans Iowa Farm Bureau’s popular Young Farmer Conference).

As we turn the page to 2021, Mary shares the challenges and opportunities she sees for Iowa’s young farmers, as well as some advice she’d offer her peers.


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Narrator: Since 1934 Iowa's farmers have turned to the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as their trusted news source. Now the Spokesman Speaks. Listen in and hear from leading experts on topics important to farmers and agriculture. Now here's your host.

Andrew Wheeler: To our December 28th edition of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'm Andrew Wheeler and today's episode is an opportunity to look forward into 2021 with a young farmer. Who's laying the groundwork for a bright future in ag Mary Ebert farms with her husband, Adam in Guthrie County. And she's also the chair of Iowa Farm Bureau's young farmer advisory committee. Among other things, Mary's committee helps plan Iowa Farm Bureau's popular Young Farmer Conference, which is important to mention right now because we just recently announced the revised details for the 2021 conference. It's going to be an online, two day conference held on Friday, January 29th and Saturday, January 30th. Like everyone who's listening here, I know we're all looking forward to that day when we can host these kinds of events in person again, but the online 2021 Young Farmer Conference will feature a full slate of dynamic presenters and some new wrinkles to help keep you engaged at home. So I encourage you to check out the details and register IowaFarmBureau.com, but not yet. First let's hear from Guthrie County farmer and Iowa Farm Bureau's Young Farmer Advisory Committee Chair, Mary Ebert. Farm Bureau's Caitlyn Lamm caught up with Mary earlier this month. So Caitlyn we'll take it from here.

Caitlyn Lamm: Hey Mary, thanks so much for joining us today. I know you weren't a hundred percent sure if our scheduled time would work in case you've had to load up some hogs from your farm. So obviously pigs are a part of your operation, but can you tell us more about your farm and farming background?

Mary Ebert: Sure. So Adam and I moved back to my home area 10 years ago, we were fortunate to have that opportunity and actually that all came about because my dad and him were talking and my dad said, you know, if, if you guys want to come back, we have a spot for you. We'll just start taking on custom hauling hog manure. So they started that project about 10 years ago, and then Adam and I also have a cow calf herd of our own. We custom raise hogs for Cactus Family Farms. We also have corn soybeans and alfalfa this past summer, we took on the project of raising over 200 broilers that we sold to people in our community. And we also have a donkey who runs with our cow herd. And then along with the work that we do with our personal operation, we also work for the family operation. And with that, we have a feedlot, row crop, and also hogs.

Caitlyn Lamm: So it sounds like you guys are certainly diversified and you keep pretty busy.

Mary Ebert: We do. I was. So when we first moved back, I had an off the farm job with extension and then three years ago, we transitioned to me being back on the farm full time. And I'm kind of naive. I thought, Oh, we'll have all this extra time. Since both of us are here working. And I feel like we've gotten even busier, but it's been a wonderful blessing.

Caitlyn Lamm: We know that, you know, farming, it's a way of life. It's also a way of making means and it has unique challenges. And of course that's true for young farmers, you know, you think of startup capital, farm, succession, learning to market a crop or animal. So, you know, what challenges have you encountered as a young farmer? And you said you came back to the farm 10 years ago. So with experience and time, have you noticed these challenges are changing or are you finding you're changing the way you approach them?

Mary Ebert: I would say we've definitely changed our way that we approach them. Our biggest thing when we first came back and I would say it's probably true for any young farmer is the amount of capital it takes to get started. For example, when we first moved back within the first year, we had bought our little 1200 head hog barn that we had, it was a pre-existing site, but our banker would not sign off on us purchasing the farm or the pod barn until we had a custom contract in hand. And we also had to take out a life insurance policy on Adam to make sure that everything was covered in case something bad happened. So to kind of go around that or, or to help make that work, we were really aggressively looked into FSA young farmer funding, and that's been a great opportunity for us to take advantage of that. And the biggest thing too is it's something we have constant conversations about, you know, you need time and years to be able to build that working capital. So that change isn't going to happen overnight. The other big thing, we've kind of, we it's, I'm not going to say, well, I guess I could say it's a struggle, but it's something you just learn to work with and handle is just time to get everything done. You know, there's only so many hours in the day and there's so much going on typically being a crop and livestock farm, but to kind of work around that, we kind of have little business meetings here and there of communicating back and forth of what needs to be done for this week. And even down to prioritizing what has to get done for the day specifically, you know, because there is only so many hours in the day, so that's kind of helped. And the other big thing I think is just sometimes young farmers are out there specifically feeling like they're the only ones going through the challenges that they face. And we always just kind of remember and tell each other. And you're reminded when we were out doing our social interactions with other Farm Bureau, young farmers is that we're not alone, we're all in it together. And everybody's facing the same challenges.

Caitlyn Lamm: I think that's a great point. You know, when you talk about starting up in, you know, using FSA for young farmer funding and different beginning farmer loans, my husband and I went through that a couple of years ago, we were buying our first 40 acres of land and all that paperwork. Well, first of all, there's a lot of paperwork as you know, and it's worth it. But even for us, like he had always helped his dad on the farm. But the, the beginning farmer loan required that you had experienced, you know, managing the financials for, I think three or five years, I'm like, well, we're really beginning, well, FSA works with us, but even sometimes that can be a challenge just navigating all of those different programs. Cause luckily there's so many of them, but knowing which one is right for you. So I'm glad that it worked out for you and Adam too.

Mary Ebert: Absolutely. Each County office is different than the next County office with FSA. And so I would say after working with those individuals in our FSA office for 10 years, we've gotten to know quite a few of them very well. And so, you know, it's important to build those relationships. It's important to, we always talk about how it's important to build the relationship with your financial officer too. So it's not that you're just showing up, you know, one day out of the year to update your financials for the year. And you're back out the door that doesn't work to, to start off on a good level, they need to know what your operation entails, what you are about with your family values and, you know they, you just need to get to know each other.

Caitlyn Lamm: When you talk about other young farmers feeling like they're the only ones going through these challenges and your role as chair for the young farmer program and in your involvement with Farm Bureau in general, I know you've connected with a lot of young farmers across the state. So what are some of the common sentiments you've noticed in this younger group in terms of a farming outlook or attitudes toward agriculture in general?

Mary Ebert: I think the biggest thing that resonates with the whole crew as I would call them is that we're all very passionate about what we do. You know, first and foremost, I'm sure it's the same way with you and your husband, very passionate about what we're doing very hardworking. A lot of times, it seems like when we congregate for the Young Farmer Conference each year, we'll have, you know, the conversations after at night and kind of talking about the struggles that we each had for the year. And, you know, you may give advice, you may just listen and say, yep, I can totally relate. Adam and I talk about, quite a bit about how we're not just farming, we're running a business and that's something to keep in mind. I would say the young farmers are very business oriented or try to be because you're constantly trying to improve your operation. We're definitely a creative bunch. Even if some of the guys don't think they are because we're constantly looking on ways that we can improve or, you know, be a little more financially sound. And then I would definitely say, we seem to be a very frugal group as well, which I think is good because you know, margins are tight currently and they will continue to remain the same.

Caitlyn Lamm: Yeah. And those are really great points. And even when you talk about looking for ways to improve your operation, you know, at the beginning you were listing off all the things that you guys do, you know, your custom hauling hog manure, or your cow calf herd, raising custom hogs. And then you said you added 200 broilers to your farm. So what kind of spurred that on and how did that go this year?

Mary Ebert: Well, it is, it's interesting how that all came about our family. There's seven of us kids. We also have chickens, I guess, with the family operation that my dad likes to take care of before my mom passed away, we used to raise a bunch of broilers and we would butcher them ourselves. And, you know, everybody would have meant for their freezers for the winter. Well, after my mom passed away, she was always kind of the one who would stay on my dad of, "Hey, these birds are getting big." We need to process them well after she was gone, we ended up processing them when they were much bigger than what they needed to be. And so I told dad, you know, rather than trying to do this all ourselves and get it done because you know, it wasn't happening in a timely manner. Why don't we have them go to a local processor? We have, we're fortunate to have a very good locker close by. And he was, Oh, you know, we can do it ourselves. And I said, well, you know, dad, if you tweak this just a little bit and you raise a few extra than you would cover your costs, if you were selling your extra ones, you'd cover your costs of your processing for your kids. So that was kind of the end goal in mind when we took this on. And then it kind of turned into, well, the chickens brought the main farm I may or may not be there every morning, right away. So I said, Hey dad, we have an old grain bin here. We have an old corn crib that we can connect together. What if we raised them at our house, we have three little kids. They love to help with it. So we took it on. And then between him and I, this summer, we took care of the chores and we split the profits on it and going forward. Now, when he decides that he no longer wants to be a part of it, I told my children, I said, this will be a great opportunity for you to raise money for college for yourselves in the future years, you know, broilers are pretty easy to do during the summer. Not a, not a whole year, time commitment. And everybody loves farm, raise fresh chickens. So why not? Why not diversify a little bit and give it a try and see where it goes?

Caitlyn Lamm: That's awesome. I love how you can get your kids involved too. And you kind of make it a fun aspect of, of the farm too, for them.

Mary Ebert: Yeah. We, honestly struggled on the final day that the last batch of broilers went our four year old insisted one had to stay. I was like, this isn't the intent of this, but there was actually one that I had a little bit of a lame leg that we weren't going to process anyway. So he became a pet around here.

Caitlyn Lamm: Oh boy, does he have a name then?

Mary Ebert: I think it's fluffy.

Caitlyn Lamm: Fluffy. That makes sense.

Mary Ebert: Fluffy has now transitioned over to the farm where the other chickens are at

Caitlyn Lamm: The chosen one.

Mary Ebert: Yes. The chosen one. He's kind of like the Turkey being pardoned on Thanksgiving.

Caitlyn Lamm: Oh, that's funny. That's a great way that you kind of assess what was happening on your farm and Oh, a way that you could adjust your bottom line to make it work. Because you were talking about young farmers being a frugal group. We know margins are tight. And you said that you used to have an off-farm job. And we know that more commonly, it used to be mom and dad or grandpa farmed, and that's how they made their living. And now we know many young people are carrying off-farm jobs or trying to get into more niche markets to stabilize their farm business, or even building upon the traditions that past generations built and using new research or tech to adjust that bottom line. So what are some of the opportunities you've seen that this younger generation has been more willing to try?

Mary Ebert: I would say definitely the niche opportunities like you just talked about. I'm just thinking off the top of my head. I met Shelby Smith last year with the Grow Your Future Award. And that is the girl who raises the crickets, never in my life would I think that I would talk to my dad like, Hey, this is a business opportunity. Did I think we could pursue is raising crickets for her? The other one that I think is pretty big, that's kind of starting to grow momentum in Iowa was the aquaculture and hydroponics side. I think that's a really good opportunity that is kind of expensive startup, but you can do pretty well for yourself once you get into it. And then a lot of the other opportunities that you see within the Grow Your Future Award, which I think is awesome. And, and we do some of that too, is the custom work opportunities. Like we have our own custom baling that we do on a small side, but there's a lot of different ways that people can enhance their business, their farming operation without stretching out too far. If you know what I mean? Like if you're already baling your hay anyways, why wouldn't you, you know, find out, go out and seek some other custom jobs from neighbors of somebody who doesn't have the tractor and baler to use.

Caitlyn Lamm: Absolutely. That's a good point that you don't have to totally like reformulate your farm, but look at what opportunities might already be existing close by.

Mary Ebert: Going back when you were talking about Adam and I kind of having business meetings, it's I think it's important for everyone to communicate with your spouse, whether you're working alongside them on the farm or on your off the farm job. But you know, our business meeting, we can call them business meetings, but they're not much, they're just basically like weekly updates. Like what do we have going on for the week who needs to go, where for, you know, kids' activities and what needs to be done, what bills need to be paid. And is there anything like an appointment with your banker that you need to set up for the week? They're, they're not hard. They're just, let's talk a little bit and then go our separate ways and do our things.

Caitlyn Lamm: For those who aren't as involved in Farm Bureau yet. What do you see as the biggest benefits to being involved in the young farmer program or Farm Bureau in general? And in what ways have you seen that being involved has helped you manage your family farm? You know, we

Mary Ebert: Were really fortunate when we moved back, we went to our first Young Farmer Conference. And then pretty soon after that, we got a call from our local regional manager at that point, Ryan Steinfeld. And he said, Hey, we saw that you guys went to Young Farmer Conference. We actually have a spot on the board would either of you be interested in joining up. And so it was actually Adam who jumped on right away, just because I, I said, you know, Adam, if I'm off the farm working my job during the day, I'm getting social interaction. It's, you know, within ag, something we're both passionate about, you know, you take this opportunity to go out and do something different to rather than just being on the farm 24 seven. But we both really gotten involved. I do help with ag in the classroom activities. And Adam served in different offices on our County level, but there's so many opportunities at Farm Bureau provides. And typically how it goes is someone goes to their first Young Farmer Conference and they see all the opportunities that they have in front of them, but they typically don't know about them until they get there and see them. But some of the biggest things for us is first and foremost, the networking opportunities, you know, you're meeting other young farmers across the state who maybe in the opposite corner of the state that you're in, but are going through the same struggles, you know, maybe have the same family dynamics going on. The other thing is for us, Farm Bureau provides some of the best professional development opportunities. We love going to Young Farmer Conference every year because we know that we're going to get a bunch of professional development that we wouldn't get around our local area. You know, if it's advocacy training, if you're going to a marketing workshops, so you can learn how to better sell your grain even the business development side of things, of whether or not you want your business to incorporate, or, you know, a farm succession planning, how that's going to look. And the most important thing is that I feel like it provides the opportunity for you to get out and have your voice be heard when you're talking to your legislators. You know, they don't sometimes know there's a problem going on in their rural area, unless they get a phone call from someone saying, Hey, did you know this is going on? Is there something we can do to help alleviate this problem?

Caitlyn Lamm: And I like how you talk about all the different opportunities at the Young Farmer Conference. I know as, since I've been with Farm Bureau, I've gone and I always leave feeling a little bit more refresh, like, okay, this is why we're doing this. And these are different ways that we can do this or make our operation better. Especially when you know, we're still pretty new to crop marketing. So hearing different perspectives and outlooks is always really important. And just comparing notes sometimes and seeing what other people are doing and how you can make small shifts, maybe in your operation, that's working for someone else who's kind of in the same boat as you, but yeah, just being able to lean on other people and know that you have support throughout the state from like-minded farmers is important too.

Mary Ebert: Absolutely, I think Adam and I both hope that when someone leaves the Young Farmer Conference, especially a person who's never been to there before that they feel refreshed and recharged to go out and tackle the farming operation and the challenge that they may have. And like you said, meeting new people, even if you can walk away with meeting one new friend that you can reach out to throughout the year, and whenever you have a bad day or you have a, you know, something, you want an idea you want to bounce off of them. That's what our hope is.

Caitlyn Lamm: At the end of 2019. I think everyone was ready to turn the page into 2020. There felt like there was a lot of optimism and hope a new year. You know, it can feel like a clean slate, but 20, 20 wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Maybe that's a nice, you know, the pandemic, derecho increased mental health challenges may make someone weary and wonder, you know, what does next year have in store for us? And we don't have a crystal ball, I wish. But what advice do you have for young farmers as we near 2021?

Mary Ebert: Where do you start?

Caitlyn Lamm: I don't know. That's why I'm asking you

Mary Ebert: I've learned, that when we come across tough situations and struggles in life, there's usually a lesson that we're supposed to learn behind it, right? There's a reason why we're going through it. So I'll start off by saying that I always try to figure out what the lesson is that I'm supposed to be learning. And the other thing I can say too, is in my husband's home area and Cherokee County in his dad's old milk parlor, there's a quote up on the wall that says tough times, don't last but tough people do. And we've used that quite a bit this year, but it's, it's been modified or enhanced. As I say that tough doesn't necessarily mean what people normally think of when they think of tough, right? This big bodybuilder, tough to me means someone who's resilient and acknowledges when they are struggling and need help. I think that's the most important part. Otherwise you can't move forward with whatever struggle you're facing. So don't be afraid to ask for help. The ag sector supports one another and hopefully people realize that they're not alone. And it's a sign of strength to reach out for help, not weakness because especially since suicide rates are at such an all-time high, we know that the farming profession is, is definitely included in that. So if you're struggling, I would say, reach out, talk to your spouse, talk to a neighbor or a friend or a pastor or someone you trust. The other thing that's important too, is if you're kind of scared to seek help, Iowa Farm Bureau has a lot of resources at your fingertips that you can, you know, incognito or secretly go online and look at and figure out where you need to go to get the help you need. I know it's all listed under the stress and mental health resources on our website. And I have referred people to that, especially after this, there's a lot of different things you can do. You guys had put out some wonderful podcasts this summer about mental health and stress there's webinars, and you can look at different venues to seek free counseling. So I would definitely look into that. And then the other thing too is going forward. You know, when we talk about the lesson we're supposed to learn from our struggles, I think it's always important to analyze what went well for the year and what you can improve on. And with this year with a lot of different specific examples, everything was totally out of our control, right? We, we couldn't control the duration. Joel, we couldn't control the drought. We couldn't, we couldn't control the coronavirus. So if we can't control it, then we just have to learn to let it go and keep our eyes in front of us on the road, rather than in the rear view mirror. And then the other thing is you got to build your network of professionals. So when you need help, you have your team there, ready to reach out with open arms, to help you with whatever you need. If it's your financial officer, if it's your accountant with doing things with your taxes, if it's your insurance agents, when you have a drought or hail claim, make sure you build your team, choose them wisely, and then use them wherever you need.

Caitlyn Lamm: All right. Well, Mary, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to chat with us. We look forward to hearing more about the Young Farmer Conference and thank you for serving Iowa Farm Bureau's young farmer program as chair this year.

Mary Ebert: Well thank you for having me first of all. And second of all, thank you for all the work that you guys put in behind the scenes, because we appreciate all of your time and hard work.

Andrew Wheeler: All right? We'd like to thank Mary for making the time to join us on the podcast. You've got to feel real optimistic about the future of agriculture in 2021 and beyond knowing that we have these good, hardworking young farmers like Mary, who were starting to make their mark. And remember before the interview, we mentioned that now is the time to register for our online 2021 Young Farmer Conference. Mary and her team have done a great job of adapting and putting the online conference together. So head out to IowaFarmBureau.com to read the agenda and get registered. And one more thing before we leave during our last podcast episode, we mentioned Iowa Farm Bureau's Economic Summit Webinar series, which is also coming in January. In fact, that series begins January 14th and it will feature a new expert each Thursday. So in total, the series will include six weekly webinars during the months of January and February. Dr. Sam Funk is heading up that webinar series. So we'll have him on the podcast during our January 11th episode, so he can tell us more about that upcoming series. And of course, if you'd rather not wait that long, you can always head out to Iowa Farm Bureau.com. Right now, learn more about the webinar series and get registered today. And with that, I'll wrap up this episode of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I hope that you've picked up something insightful from our conversation with Mary Ebert, and I'd encourage you to join us for our next regularly scheduled episode on January 11th. In the meantime, I hope you and your families enjoy the rest of the holiday season and have a happy start to 2021. Thank you for doing the work that inspires everything that we do here at the Iowa Farm Bureau. And thanks for listening to the Spokesman Speaks.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to the Spokesman Speaks a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcast episodes at IowaFarmBureau.com/Podcast. You can also find and subscribe to the Spokesman Speaks podcast in the Apple podcast app, Google podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews, and we welcome you to email us your feedback podcast@ifbf.org.

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Since 1934, The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it has the largest readership of any ag newspaper in Iowa. While The Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, providing the ag news and farmer education that matter most. You can find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.