Ben Hollingshead has always had a lot of irons in the fire.
“I’m just wired that way,” says the 34-year-old Hollingshead, who is serving as the 2019-20 chairman of the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Advisory Committee.
In college, he double-majored in agronomy and animal science, minored in ag business and was an active member of the livestock judging team at South Dakota State University. After graduating, Hollingshead managed a chicken egg-layer farm, sold seed corn and began farming with his dad and younger brothers Alex and Chet.
Today, he’s busier than ever as a full-time sales agronomist for Key Cooperative while remaining active in the family farm near Ogden, which includes raising about 70 cow-calf pairs, feeding pigs from wean-to-finish and growing corn, soybeans and hay.
Juggling multiple work and family commitments is a reality for many young farmers, says Hollingshead.
“Most of us carry jobs off the farm while also trying to balance family life and be part of our local communities,” he says. “That’s why it’s great that (the IFBF young farmer program) can connect us all, so we can lean on and learn from one another.”
Hollingshead and his wife, Jeanne, have three children — William, who will turn 6 next week, along 4-year-old Nora and 2-year-old Owen.
They are also active in their community, with Ben co-chairing the planning committee for Ogden’s annual town celebration and Jeanne, who is a registered nurse at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, volunteering at Boone County’s Free Clinic every month.
Hollingshead credits his wife for keeping the family’s schedule organized. “Jeanne and I have to maintain a high level of communication,” he says. “Without her, my boat would be sunk. She coordinates some of those activities four to six months ahead of time.”
The couple were appointed to the IFBF Young Farmer Advisory Committee (YFAC) in 2017.
“Farm Bureau is one of those things we prioritize,” Hollingshead says. “With this committee, it’s something Jeanne and I are able to do together. We’re really enjoying that and made some lifelong relationships.”
Previously, Hollingshead served as Boone County Farm Bureau vice president, president and voting delegate. He says the county leadership experience gave him a different perspective upon joining the young farmer committee, especially in regard to Farm Bureau’s policy development process.
As YFAC chair, he hopes to get other young farmers more involved in policy development.
“We have massive attendance at the Young Farmer Conference every year. How do we engage them and bring them into the rest of what Farm Bureau is?” he asks.
Counting on livestock
As with many young farmers, Hollingshead says Iowa’s strong livestock industry is the reason he and his brothers were able to come home after college to farm.
“We decided if our farm was going to have a future, livestock needed to be part of it. If it wasn’t for livestock, we would not be farming,” he says.
They built a hog barn together in 2007 and started contract finishing hogs, which provided a steady income stream, Hollingshead notes. They later added a cow-calf herd and retrofitted an old building into a feedlot area to finish the calves on feed.
“We didn’t want to go big into debt, so we just started growing incrementally,” Hollingshead says. “Once we got the ball rolling, it kind of started snowballing.”
With pasture hard to find in the area, they’ve had to be creative in finding grazing and haying opportunities, Hollingshead notes. They’ve seeded some of their more environmentally sensitive ground into permanent grass and utilize cover crops and corn stalks for fall grazing.
The cattle, in turn, provide an opportunity for the brothers to adjust to market conditions. With slim or negative returns projected for soybeans this year, they decided to try a double-crop rotation of oats and forage sorghum in one of their fields. It’s provided a good feed source and also helped with weed control, Hollingshead reports.
“We did something different than just plant soybeans,” he says. “It doesn’t work for all the acres, but it’s a piece of the puzzle.”
The manure from the hogs and cattle also returns a benefit to the row crop side and helps keep commercial fertilizer costs down, Hollingshead points out. As an agronomist by training, he’s a firm believer in soil tests to put nutrients where they’re needed.
“I live and die off the soil test,” he says. “Until you soil test, you’re just guessing.”
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