The Clay family includes twins Hadley and Hayden, Hudson, Andy and Kacey.
|Meet Andy Clay, a seventh-generation farmer from Jamestown, Mo. |
|There are more challenges than weather and markets, kids and careers for Missouri farmers.|
|A seventh-generation farmer helps correct the disconnect between the farm and the grocery shelf. |
As the huge combine makes another round, swallowing 12 rows of corn at a time, a tractor-pulled grain cart empties a full load of grain into trucks at the end of the field. The cart can’t keep up. Driving the combine, farmer Andy Clay has to stop once again for the grain cart to come to him so he can empty the combine’s grain bin. With corn spilling over the bin, he’s full.
After experiencing drought last year and a late start to the 2013 corn crop, the yields are welcome news for the Clay family. It’s all part of the roller coaster called farming. Corn is looking good, but the soybeans took a beating from the summer dry spell. Those yields are uncertain.
Andy is the seventh generation of his family to farm north of Jamestown, Mo. Since 1816, diversification has been an important part of the farm. Andy and his father, John, farm 3,600 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. They manage 380 head of cows and for the past 14 years have owned the Jamestown Agri Service feed mill.
“Our operation has always been diversified,” Andy says. “We also do a lot of custom spraying and trucking in relation to the feed mill and our own production.” With so much going on, father and son rely on 10 employees to keep everything running. In turn, that diversity insures those workers have a 40-hour-a-week job they can rely on throughout the year.
As the combine lumbers through the corn field, yields are averaging 180 bushels per acre on the bottom land farmed near the Missouri River. Not all of the corn crop will yield this high, half of their row crops is grown on less productive land above the bottoms. The grain is dumped into semi-trailers and hauled to their feed mill. What doesn’t get used at the feed mill is delivered to a Cargill grain elevator in California, Mo.
Ethanol plants are too far away to make that a feasible alternative for the Clay’s corn. Corn silage, where the entire stalk is ground for feed, was cut on a regular basis to feed cattle until a few years ago. As corn prices rose, it made more economic sense to shell the corn and rely more on hay and distillers grain, a high-protein by product of the ethanol process, to feed cattle. Last year was an exception. With little to no corn yields, the only option was to cut 450 acres of silage.
Managing all of the inputs and outputs is what makes farming such a juggling act. And every year is different. But it is an occupation Andy hopes his children follow. He and wife, Kacey, have three children. Their oldest, son Hudson, is 5 years old and just started kindergarten. The 3-year-old twins, a boy and girl, are Hayden and Hadley.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience growing up on the farm for anything,” Andy says. “Every day after school there was nothing I looked forward to more than riding in the tractor with my grandfather or father. I hope my children have the same feelings when they are older as they do right now. Kacey and I are doing everything in our power to keep this opportunity going for them – to carry on the tradition if they decide to do so.”
The children are already farmers, raising a pair of hogs named Rocket and Princess. The hogs are all about developing a work ethic and stewardship.
“It means the world to us that we are raising our kids like this,” Kacey says. She owns her own business, a beauty salon in Jamestown, and is a part-time cosmetology instructor at Merrill University in Jefferson City. “Our kids see the true value of work and how much their dad works on the farm. They appreciate what he does.”
Juggling her business, job and farm paperwork with the children keeps Kacey moving as fast as her husband. Both of their parents are close by and lend support when needed.
Kacey was raised on a farm with cattle and horses and was already familiar with farm life when she married Andy. “I was baling hay right there with Andy before we had kids. When I went into cosmetology school I farmed part-time. It was neat to see what Andy does every day. As a farmer’s wife, I appreciate the time I have with him.”
There are more challenges than weather and markets, kids and careers. As government agencies demand more from farmers and the general public becomes farther removed from the business of farming, Andy feels like the deck is stacked against him.
“After the 1993 flood a lot of this land was bought up by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the (Missouri) Department of Conservation, the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service. It is hard to compete with our own tax dollars when this land is being taken out of production,” he says. “It affects our business because we have to travel farther for less productive land. It affects everyone in our community because taxable dollars are being taken out of the system. It is a huge challenge for us.”
Getting the general public to understand the predicament is an equal challenge. Andy says the type of neighbors farmers live with has changed drastically over the past 10 to 20 years. “Then, when a tract of land was up for sale it was bought by a neighboring farmer. Today that is not the case. People are buying land strictly for recreational uses. That’s great, but they may not agree with what you are doing on your farm.”
Kacey is finding in her profession people have a big disconnect between the farm and the grocery shelf. “People I talk to are like ‘He spends how much time in the combine to do this? For what?’ People just don’t understand what it takes to make their food. I am very passionate about spreading the word that farmers are busting it to feed you.”
As Andy makes another round in his combine, he has his smartphone at hand. Whether he is texting an employee, looking up the weather and markets or posting a harvest message on Facebook, he knows these days all are equally important.