Mary Ebert buckled her two sons into their car seats and set out to do chores on a sunny fall morning last week. A few minutes after arriving at their destination, 4-year-old Logan and 2-year-old Tucker grabbed their buckets and climbed over a gate to help feed a group of newly weaned calves.

It was a typical morning, if there is such a thing, as Mary and her husband, Adam, juggle the demands of raising a young family and establishing their farming operation in Guthrie County. They also have a 6-year-old daughter, Heidi.

“Every day is different,” says Mary, who was recently elected as chair of the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Advisory Committee for the 2020-21 year.

One morning they’re feeding calves, the next she’s arranging child care so she and Adam can wake up in the middle of the night to load out hogs from their swine finishing barn. They also have crops to tend — growing corn, soybeans and hay — along with a custom manure application business. Both Mary and Adam are also active in their church and volunteer as EMTs.

As chair of the Young Farmer Advisory Committee, Ebert hopes to help other young farmers navigate the challenges she and Adam have faced since starting their farming careers a decade ago.

The social network

The social network offered by the young farmer program is equally important, especially with a pandemic added on top of the usual day-to-day challenges of farming, she notes.

“There’s so much uncertainty right now. Stress is running high,” says Ebert. “People need to know it’s not just them who may be struggling.”

The Eberts began farming 10 years ago, about a year after they both graduated from Iowa State University. Mary says they were fortunate to move back near her family farm, where they help her dad and three brothers raise crops and feed livestock. That allowed them to trade labor for the equipment they needed to plant and harvest their own crops.

Getting into farming

“The equity to get started is overwhelming,” she said. “Had we not had the opportunity to get started with the family farm, I don’t know if we could have done it.”

Raising livestock provided an­­other steady source of income as the Eberts purchased a 1,200-head hog barn and secured a custom feeding contract.

“Our banker wouldn’t give us a loan unless we had a custom feeding contract,” says Mary, who majored in animal science.

The Eberts, who feed for Cactus Family Farms, added a 2,500-head hog barn three years ago. Fortuitously, the added income helped ease Mary’s decision to leave her job as Guthrie County Extension program coordinator when Tucker experienced health problems after being born prematurely. “If we wouldn’t have built that barn, I couldn’t have stayed home,” she reflects. 

During her time with Extension, Ebert helped coordinate educational sessions and connect farmers to programs offering low-interest beginning farmer loans. The seminars drew interest from farmers across the state looking for information on how to tap into USDA or state funding programs to purchase land or livestock, she says.  

“I don’t think word is getting out like it needs to,” Ebert says. “There’s no reason people shouldn’t be applying and using those programs.”

(Photo above: Mary Ebert feeds calves with her sons Logan and Tucker. She says the social network provided by Iowa Farm Bur­eau's young farmer program is extremely valuable in today's challenging farm environment. PHOTO / GARY FANDEL)

Young Farmer Conference

That’s one of the issues Ebert is keeping in mind as the young farmer committee begins planning the 2021 Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference and other activities. The gatherings will likely look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Ebert says the young farmer committee is working hard to develop content that offers the same networking and educational opportunities as always.

Her family’s own Farm Bureau involvement is a direct result of attending the annual young farmer conference, she notes. Adam joined the county Farm Bureau board soon after attending the conference for the first time and has held various leadership roles, including county president. They joined the Young Farmer Advisory Committee in 2018, representing District 4 in west central Iowa.

“We really enjoy being on the committee,” Mary says. “Our passion is agriculture and providing support for other young farmers.”