Growing up, Paul Havran made a list of three things he would do: graduate from Drake University, farm and retire from the military.
Thanks to the Veterans in Agriculture program, Havran has been able to check farming off his to-do list.
"I was able to graduate from Drake University with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. I’m going to be retiring from the military someday, and I just purchased some land in Milo, Iowa," said Master Sgt. Havran, a recruiting and retention manager for the Iowa Air National Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing division.
Havran, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves infantry division before his work with the Iowa Air National Guard, tapped into the Veterans in Agriculture program to get his start in farming.
Veterans in Agriculture is a collaboration between farm and veteran organizations in the state, including Home Base Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach, and others.
Havran was invited to the group’s first meeting in 2012, where he was connected with people willing to help veterans get their start in agriculture.
The Veterans in Agriculture program works to connect veterans to opportunities in agriculture in the state, according to David Baker, vice chair and interim treasurer for Veterans in Agriculture. He got involved through his work as a farm transition specialist with ISU’s Beginning Farmer Center.
Baker, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a farmer, said it just made sense for him to help other veteran-farmers find their way into agriculture.
"As a veteran myself and as a farmer, I felt a close connection to those individuals, and I felt that I could offer services and expertise in how to do it," Baker said.
He helps veterans learn about various loan programs and tax credit programs for which they might be eligible.
To get started, veterans fill out an online application, and the program works to match veterans with farmers who might be able to provide an opportunity to learn more about careers in agriculture, or an opportunity to farm themselves.
Growing up in Des Moines, Havran had been around other farms and even worked on numerous farms throughout college. But he had never lived on a farm.
After his parents’ moved to an acreage near Milo, Havran developed a working relationship with Donnie Hunerdosse, his parents’ neighbor.
Building a cow-calf herd
Working with Hunerdosse, Havran, 52, is now working toward building a cow-calf herd, growing and selling hay and raising crops.
Hunerdosse, a Warren County Farm Bureau member, provides the equipment and expertise in farming, Havran said. "He’s taken me under his wing, so to speak," Havran said.
But he said it was through Baker and the Veterans in Agriculture program that he learned about the credits and programs that were available to help launch his farming career.
"The programs are there to help veterans, but we have to have people who understand those programs and can assist, and that’s where Veterans in Agriculture is leading the way, they can bring those entities together," Havran, a Madison County Farm Bureau member, said.
The Veterans in Agriculture program also offers opportunities for veterans to network and share their experiences. Soon, the program will be working with local equipment manufacturers and dealerships to offer discounts and training related to farm equipment.
Baker said the program hopes to offer a farm equipment exchange program.
The idea is for farmers or landowners to donate equipment they no longer need to the non-profit organization. Veterans in Agriculture would then allow the veteran-farmers to use the equipment for their agricultural endeavors.
The program also works to connect veteran-farmers through its social media efforts. It’s another platform to connect veterans and expand their support system, Baker said.
Within the next few months, the program hopes to open an online store. A portion of the proceeds would be used to support the mission of the Veterans in Agriculture program, he said.
Veterans in Agriculture supports a variety of veteran farmers in agriculture, Baker said. Not all veterans are involved in growing corn and soybeans or raising livestock, he said. Some veteran-farmers have found their way into agriculture through vegetable production or other niche markets.
No matter the direction, Baker said the Veterans in Agriculture can help veterans get started.
"I’m a veteran and a farmer and it really aligns with the mission of enhancing and empowering veterans to succeed and to thrive in agriculture," Baker said.
Havran said the program is successful in its mission.
"There are numerous individuals who want to get into farming that really don’t know how. That’s where the Beginning Farmer Center and Veterans in Agriculture comes into play," Havran said.
Decisions, hard work
He admits that, like the military, farming is full of decisions and hard work.
"Farming is research, research, research. It’s very similar to the military where you gather as much intel as you can and then make a decision," Havran said.
Baker says that veterans make great farmers because of the qualities and skills they gained in the military.
"The discipline that the military demands of you carries over (to farming)," Baker said. "The discipline of getting up early in the morning to take care of the chores you need to get done, and strategize about what you can do today that improves your situation, improves the farm."
Like farmers, veterans also have a respect for other people and a deep love for the land. "Farmers are loving, caring people. They care about the soil, the earth, the environment," he said.
Havran said he’s excited for the opportunity to farm, and is looking forward to working with his daughter, Elisha, also a member of the Veterans in Agriculture program and the Air National Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing division. She hopes to join him on the farm someday.
"It’s exciting," Havran said. "I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I look forward to growing my cow herd and my farm."
For more information about the program, go to iowafarmerveteran.org.