“Family first” is important to the Jim Brown family, with four generations all living within a few miles of each other, and all being part of the Greene County, Iowa, farm.
“My grandfather came to this farm from Oklahoma. My parents live on the homeplace across the road. Two of my sons live just down the road, and my sister lives between here and there,” Brown says. “We live on B Avenue, which we laugh [about] and say, ‘The B stands for Brown.’ ”
The farm was started by Jim’s grandfather, who also helped Jim get started in farming in 1984. Parents Paul and Sally taught Jim the value of a work ethic, which he and wife Donna taught their four boys — Brandon, Jacob, Trevor and Colin — and anyone who helped on the farm.
Through the years, the Browns have continued to add to the farm and provide opportunities for family members to become part of the operation. This has also allowed two of their four sons to return to the farm. Besides farming, Jacob custom-sprays, crop-adjusts and sells seed corn. Colin cares for the livestock, marketing nearly 15,000 hogs each year and caring for the small cow herd.
“Livestock provide another means of income and help improve the farm by grazing areas we are unable to crop farm and providing manure fertilizer for the ground,” Jim says. “The hogs and cattle are an important part of our operation.”
Start of ag career
Jim started farming during the 1980s, which was one of the toughest eras for farmers. This is where he learned more about work ethic and having a never-give-up attitude.
He and his dad had two separate operations but worked together on labor and with the equipment. Jim slowly purchased machinery and was able to purchase land with a beginning young farmer loan.
TECHNOLOGY: Jim Brown has embraced the use of technology on his farm and has seen continual changes and developments to make farming more efficient.
What started out as a farrow-to-finish hog operation with 75 sows, increased to 200 sows and finishing more than 3,000 pigs on the farm. The cow herd grew to about 50 head, and Jim was able to purchase more land with the equity he had built.
Always looking for a way to increase income, sows were farrowed on pasture, and the pigs were raised for Niman Ranch with no antibiotics or hormones.
This allowed for the increase in sow numbers, with the niche market providing a good market for the pigs. The pork side of the business has now shifted to son Colin, and while the sows are gone and they don’t feed for a specialty market anymore, he does finish up to 15,000 per year. Colin also cares for the cow-calf herd.
Changes in farming
Through the years of raising corn and soybeans, the Browns have tried to stay with the changing times and have used different management techniques to stay sustainable and care for the land. They have raised non-GMO soybeans, and nearly all the soybean ground is no-till to help keep organic matter in the ground.
“On the corn ground, we use minimal tillage to reduce erosion and improve the ground. We have experimented with cover crops and try to be proactive and be able to pass this ground on to the next generation,” Jim says.
Soil is tested regularly, as Jim wants to be sure to put back the nutrients that are taken off during a cropping cycle. Terraces and waterways have been added to fields to keep the soil where it belongs. Information gathered from yield map technology helps to pinpoint fertilizer and lime decisions in each field. Precision planting helps make the right management decisions on each acre.
Keeping crop rotations at nearly 50-50 helps with knowing what inputs are needed for the coming year and getting a better return on investment. The rising input costs mean being sure to make good decisions and not push the economic threshold too far.
Some grain is presold, while some is stored on the farm for marketing throughout the year. Jim has learned to move forward even when a marketing decision hasn’t been the best, as learning to accept a mistake will help for the next time a decision will be made.
A giving mindset
Raising a family on the farm is a task in itself, and volunteering in the community and with organizations is often something farm families are willing to do to give back to those who have given to them. Jim is a good example of someone who has a giving mindset.
Involvement in all aspects of the Greene County Farm Bureau helped in leadership development. Jim was a member of the board of directors, serving on the young member, legislative, membership, nomination, policy development and public relations committees, and serving as county president in 1996. He also served on state Farm Bureau committees and as a delegate to the National Soybean Advisory Committee.
He and Donna served as youth group leaders at their church for 15 years. As a member of the Southern Calhoun/South Central Calhoun School Board, he was able to hand all of his sons their diploma at graduation.
“Handing out diplomas to all the young men and women was my favorite part of being on the school board,” he says. “It’s awesome to not only see my sons, but all the students achieve.”
Jim continues to be involved at church, on the Lake City Country Club board and with the Lohrville Lions Club, and he is always willing to help wherever needed.
As with any farm, the farmer often thinks about how and when the next generation will be involved. Succession planning started early on with the Brown family and has continued with Jim and his sons.
Communication is also important among a family with so many people involved in the decision-making. Involvement from all who work on the farm regularly helps to keep the farm together for the next generations.
Passing the farm on to the next generation takes instilling a hard work ethic in everyone on the farm, getting up early, getting chores done, having equipment ready and getting everything done.
“Work hard, play hard and pray hard” is a motto Jim has used, although not necessarily in that order. Having time to do things they enjoy helps make the work time pay off. Adapting to new technologies for raising crops or livestock allows the farm to be ready for the next generation.
“Challenges come with farm life when we are dealing with health of livestock, drought, floods, derechos, marketing, sustainability and making a profit,” Jim says. “Those all come on a daily, weekly, yearly basis — and you must adapt to survive.
“In every family farm operation, I think it is the goal to pass it on to the next generation. That started with my grandpa and then to my dad, and trying to get that passed on is also challenging with the amount of equity that has been built and what it takes to farm today. We try to do what we can to maintain that family farm status and the lifestyle it brings with it,” he adds.
It looks like the next generation is ready to take on that role, and the grandkids must continue to schedule time to ride in the combine with Grandpa and learn about the farm from him.