Andrew worked seven years for a neighbor and then bought that farm. Jordan runs a company he and his dad co-own, a construction business that has built more than 70 houses in the Aurora-Central City area in the past six years.
All three men have created rural Nebraska jobs: A combined 18 full-time construction and farm jobs, and several other part-time jobs, by McHargue’s count. He said other economic benefits include more work for area construction subcontractors.
Young farmers don’t always return immediately. Alec Ibach’s journey back to his family’s Sumner farm and ranch took eight years: Four to complete a UNL degree; four more working at Farm Credit Services of America.
He and a co-worker, Nate Hartman, eventually launched Apache Ag, a company that sells seed and other crop products from a new office and warehouse near Miller.
Alec’s parents Greg, a longtime state ag director, and Teresa, a new state senator, wanted their triplets to work away from home before deciding whether to return. “They wanted us to do something else, to see other things and have other experiences,” Alec said.
Alec, his wife Meredith and their 2-year-old daughter now live in Kearney where Omaha native Meredith is a kindergarten teacher.
The timing of Alec’s return to the family business – corn, soybeans, and calves from a Black Angus-based herd – fit a need after Greg Ibach was appointed in fall 2017 as a USDA undersecretary in Washington, D.C.
Greg has now returned to managing his family’s beef production since he left government in 2021 and took a role at UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Alec still focuses on the farm’s commodity marketing, but spends most of his time with Apache Ag customers.
The path back to their family farm northeast of Lexington is less certain for the Batie sisters, Juliana Loudon, 32, and Cicely Wardyn, 29, who already have ag-related careers.
“Julie and I have said we don’t want to just give up the farm,” said Wardyn, so they’re doing succession planning with parents Don and Barb Batie.
Loudon, the ag teacher and FFA adviser at Overton, lives with her husband Doug and 2-year-old son on a small acreage between Elm Creek and Overton. She previously taught at Wood River and in North Dakota when Doug was completing civil engineer certification requirements.
Starting a family influenced the decision to return to Dawson County. “It was being home,” Loudon said. “That’s the way I was raised and I want my kid to have that, too.”
She helps farm on weekends and summers now, but wants to run the business full-time after her parents retire. Her sister’s family farm role is more complicated.
Wardyn was a legislative aide to Sen. Deb Fischer before returning to Lincoln to get a UNL graduate degree. She was hired in 2021 as assistant state ag director, and is now an agriculture and natural resources specialist in Gov. Jim Pillen’s Policy Research Office.
Wardyn said it will take time to figure out the details of her new role. She’s similarly uncertain about her family farm future.
“If Julie takes over the farm full time, what is my role going to be? I don’t know, yet,” she said.
Other young Nebraskans who aren’t tied to a family farm or ranch need other incentives to live and work in rural communities. They need child care, Wardyn said, places to gather, ways to get involved in the community.
Loudon said the many “unsung jobs” available must be better promoted at high schools and in hometowns.
“I have a list of 300-plus careers directly related to agriculture and only two are farming and ranching,” said Matt Kreifels, a UNL associate professor of agriculture leadership, education and communication.
There are now 209 different ag education and FFA programs in Nebraska, nearly double the number that existed a dozen years ago. Kreifels said most new programs started in 2010 and 2011 after it became clear that the strong ag economy had helped Nebraska fare better than most states during the Great Recession.
Nebraska has beginning farmer programs and incentives to help link young people with older landowners who don’t have children returning to family farmers.
“Keeping farming in the family is important,” the Farm Bureau’s McHargue said, “but you have to have someone to farm it … not everyone is able to or wants to do that.”
How to get future generations to live and work in rural areas is “the million-dollar question, not only in rural Nebraska, but also in rural America,” he said.