Crop farming at a young age

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CRESTLINE, Ohio — At just 26 years old, Crawford County grain farmer Casey Niese is in a position that many young farmers would envy.

Along with his father and grandfather, a cousin and various other employees, Niese Farms operates in nine counties on a little more than 12,000 acres.

But even though Niese is young and brings new ideas to the operation, he listens to the wisdom of his elders.

“I’m very fortunate that I’m in the position that I’m in, with still having my grandpa (Jerry) and my dad (Rick), because they’ve seen the bad times and they’ve seen the good times,” Casey said.

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Age: 26
County: Crawford
Education: OSU Agricultural Technical Institute
Acres: 12,600
Crops: Corn and soybeans

The next generation

Casey said there’s actually a lot of job opportunities in agriculture and rural communities, but young people have to be willing to look and sometimes move away from home. He often meets with high school and college students at educational and career-based events.

“If it’s something they’re truly passionate about, they may have to move away for a little while. There’s plenty of farm opportunities out there — they just may not be at home.”

The period from 2009 through 2014 was one of the best times agriculture has ever seen, with corn prices that topped $7 bushel. But Casey said as good as those prices were, he knew they wouldn’t last, especially with the way his father and grandfather saw prices tumble in the 1980s.

Being cautious

Expecting a change in markets, Casey said the farm sat pretty idle during the good years, in terms of growth. And that plan worked out well, he said, because in the past few years, even amid low crop prices, the farm has been able to add another 1,600 or so acres.

That’s what being patient has done for the farm, which is fighting the same low profit margins as other crop farmers, but with a careful eye on the future and good marketing.

Rick Niese handles most of the marketing, while Casey manages fieldwork and budgeting. His cousin Chad is in charge of the shop, but they share roles throughout the year. The farm employs six people full-time and as many as 25 during peak season.

Casey said he wasn’t planning on going to college after high school, but his dad basically made it a requirement if Casey wanted to return to the farm. So, Casey earned an associate’s degree in crop management from Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute, where he furthered his knowledge of managing a crop farm, and also made some key connections.

Since graduating college in 2013, Casey has worked to improve the farm’s recordkeeping and budgeting, and now they have budget numbers from each farm, so they can do a better job of managing across multiple locations.

The family owns more than half of the land they farm, according to Casey, but the owners include aunts, uncles and extended family. With a better handle on the numbers, he said they can make an accurate offer to landlords and show them what the land costs to farm.

The Nieses work hard to build good relationships with landlords, offering tiling services, conservation practices and upkeep based on the farm and the arrangement. The focus is treating “every acre the same,” whether it’s owned or rented ground, Casey said.

Although spring and fall are the busiest times of the year, there’s work to do all year. Casey enjoys going to industry meetings to network and learn new ideas, and likes knowing he’s producing food for other people to eat.

“I feel like there’s nothing closer to God than what we do,” he said. “You put a seed in the ground and you pretty well leave it up to Him to let it grow. It’s gratifying knowing you are feeding the world. That you are doing something to help society.”

Niese Farms
Niese Farms

Casey also likes to help young people, especially those in the local FFA. As a member of the Buckeye Central FFA Alumni Committee, he goes into the schools to talk about soil testing and crop production, and he tries to encourage students to pursue jobs in agriculture.

“I always try to encourage those kids, because there’s going to be work out there — you’ve just got to go look for it,” he said.

In fact, the year Casey graduated college, in 2013, his first job was on a custom combining crew out West. He became full-time at Niese Farms in 2015, but he said the off-farm job helped him see how other farms do things.

Looking ahead, Casey said it will be increasingly important to do a good job of grain marketing, and making smart business decisions about growth. He said farmers will also need to pay attention to input costs, and whether achieving a higher yield is really worth the extra cost.

He looks forward to farming with his family, and making industry friends who he can share experiences with — whether good or bad.

“Making connections can really be beneficial,” he said. “If you surround yourself with the right people, it can make you a little more comfortable.”

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Farm and Dairy has featured young farmers throughout the year. Read more of our Young and Farming features here.

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