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Young Family

No water marks. No sand bars. Corn emerges from these fertile bottoms of the Missouri River this year, just like last. Yet, two consecutive years of flooding in the northwest corner of the state brings with it two years of crop loss and yield data. Farmers here, normally, have 25-30 percent of their crop already sold. But, this year it’s not.

Still, their glass remains half full.

Faith in farming tells them it will be okay. Technology helps them plan for the future.

“We’re farmers,” Rick Gillenwater explains profoundly. “We have to be optimistic or we wouldn’t go out there and put that seed in the ground. I think things are going to turn out great this year.”

Gillenwater and brother-inlaw Kevin Young together operate Young Farms, Inc., a corn and soybean operation nestled in the Missouri River bottoms just southwest of Mound City off Interstate 29. Founded in 1952 by Kevin’s parents, William Leroy (now deceased) and Jeanie Young, the enterprise gleans hope year after year that the mighty Missouri will pardon her banks.

While floods in 2010 and 2011 left them with no crop to harvest, the duo remains steadfast in determination to climb back on the tractor and give it a go yet again.

Farming the Bottoms
“We are fortunate enough to farm what she and grandpa spent a lifetime building,” Gillenwater says turning to his mother-in-law.

Married in March 1956, Bill and Jeanie saw their own fair share of flooding through the years —1952, 1974, 1984 and 1993. “Hanging in there” is what Jeanie Young says is the secret to farming the sacred Missouri River bottoms.

Sand bags“We have had plenty of experience with flooding,”Gillenwater says with a nonchalant grin. “We’re seasoned. We’d just as soon have a few years off.”

Gillenwater and Young are optimistic, though, that this year’s growing season will bring different results.

And every day that goes by, the odds are more and more in their favor.

According to Kevin Young, “There are still a lot of broken levees. It would take a tremendous rain to get us backed up again.” Farming the bottoms doesn’t bring the rolling current of the Missouri River to Young Farms, but rather idle backwater.

A levee behind both Jeanie Young’s home, and the home where Kevin lives with his wife Regina, saves much of their bottomland farm from the river’s current, while the backwater leaves nothing but wetness.

“We’re fortunate to have had the flood insurance we had,” Gillenwater notes. “But, if you take the crop that we could have had versus what we got and sell it at $5.00, you’re talking a 25 percent across the board reduction in gross income. And, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Our expenses were the same.”

Gillenwater, who came to Young Farms in 1978 after marrying Kevin’s sister, Regina, realizes that despite how tough the floods have been on their operation, “if you just look around, you can find someone else in way worse shape than you.”

He credits having a good yield base, good crop insurance and an excellent foundation as being key to the operation’s survival.

“There have been some pretty heavy-hearted times but I never doubted that we would make it through,” he says.

Last summer’s flood was especially trying. There was not only lost crop, but also moving and shuffling of homes. Through it all, Gillenwater and Young were at the farm every day.

Chad McCollough & Corey Neill, FCS Financial staff, discuss the Young's operation.“We knew in February or March the water was coming,” Young notes. “We just didn’t know when. We were flooded in July.”

Gillenwater recalls his basement being flooded on July 4 during the 1993 flood. “I wondered then if I’d ever have to do that again (on the Fourth of July),” he recalls of having a sump pump rid the basement of water. “By mid-July last summer, everything was gone.”

A risk management tool, crop insurance is surely a critical element for Young Farms.

“We wouldn’t dream of farming the bottoms without insurance,” Young chimes in.

Although Young Farms is already set for insurance on this year’s crop, it wasn’t without paying a pretty penny.

With a number of levees still broken, insurance premiums have risen this year for farmers like Gillenwater and Young.

According to Gillenwater, the 2011 flood was just as devastating as the one in 1993, while 2010’s wasn’t as bad.

“We didn’t feel as threatened on the farm in 2010,” he notes adding, “but we still lost all of our crop.”

Tapping into Technology
“If you’re going to be successful, you have to be your own worst critic,” Gillenwater explains. “You do something and you go back and look to see what you could have done better.”

And, it’s that philosophy that led Young Farms to precision farming. “The precision is a result of us scouting the fields and realizing the seed wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” Gillenwater says.

Young explains their purchase of a Precision stand was to help make their own operation better. The purchase, though, has led to an off-season, sideline business called Unit Pros that serves friends and neighboring farmers.

Through Unit Pros, Gillenwater and Young modify the existing seed meter on a planter and retrofit it with one that is precision modified.

“The goal is to improve seed placement, spacing, planting depth,” Gillenwater explains. “You want all of the seed evenly spaced and out of the ground at the same time.”

The nine-year-old business has experienced tremendous growth in its tenure. The two estimate installing between 400 and 600 meters per year. This year, they’ve had 18 planters in the shop, six of which were brand new.

“Technology is the future of farming,” Gillenwater says. “You don’t have to farm with the latest technology, but you have to compete with the guys who do. Somehow you have to be able to stay competitive in the farm market.”

Gillenwater explains that with the precision-modified planters, some farmers have saved as much as 10 percent on seed costs.

“The goal is not only to have the plant population that you desire, but you also want every one of those stalks to have a uniform ear,” Gillenwater says. “If those stalks are too close together or too far apart then that doesn’t happen.”

“If you end up with doubles, one of those plants won’t produce an ear,” Young adds.

He continues explaining that on 17 ½ feet, with 30-inch rows, saving one ear of corn will gain you seven bushels per acre.

“In our view,” Gillenwater says, “the most important piece of equipment a farmer has is his planter. You get one shot at putting the seed in the ground correctly.”

Young Farms also uses an iPad as a precision farming tool. “I used to plant 5 miles an hour,” Kevin explains, “until this year. The iPad has showed me to slow down. I planted at 4 ½ miles per hour—all my acres at 4 ½ to 5 miles an hour.”

Rick further notes, “The iPad gives you a high resolution planting map in real time as you are doing the job. So, if Kevin is planting and the ride on his planter gets uneven, he will know it. If the singulation or spacing starts to become erratic, he’ll know it—in real time—not three rounds later.”

Kevin says most of their customers are good friends, so they talk often and compare notes.

Rick chimes in, “We’ll meet in town and everybody will bring his iPad; that’s no kidding.”

Aside from precision modified planters and iPads, Young Farms seized another piece of technology a couple of years ago to speed soil drying time. A Water Hog pump helps rid the land of surface water.

“It will pump 30,000 gallons per minute,” Kevin says. “If we had a 4-inch rain, you could pump the water off with the Water Hog in a few hours.”

The duo is also considering the purchase of a sprayer equipped with boom sensors that with the help of an optical eye would indicate how much nitrogen should be applied.

And rather than grow their operation by purchasing more land, Young Farms instead is hopeful it can improve yield on existing acres. “We’re trying to take what we have and make it produce the most,” Kevin notes.

“The pencil will tell you whether or not it’s time to buy,” Rick adds. “The way ground is selling for and what you can make off of it, to us it’s not time to buy.”

Passing the Buck
When it comes to financial assistance, Young and Gillenwater say there was no other place to consider but FCS Financial.

“We’ve been with FCS since 1952, right from the very beginning,” Young notes.

And over the years, Gillenwater says they couldn’t have done business with a better place.

“We’ve been through some floods with FCS and they’ve stuck with us. They’ve treated us really well,” Young adds.

“I need to know one thing about crop insurance. It’s 1-800-Corey Neill,” Gillenwater says referring to FCS Financial’s Corey Neill, who helps Young Farms fulfill its crop insurance needs.

“We can’t be a specialist in everything,” he adds. “It’s everything Kevin and I can do to try and stay up on the latest technology in farming and try to do the best we can out on the farm with what we have. There are so many hats to wear. We don’t make financial decisions without calling Chad (McCollough).”

In addition to Neill, Young Farms also works with FCS Financial’s Chad McCollough for personal and business including equipment, real estate and operating loans.

“Looking to the future, Rick and Kevin don’t just consider this year,” McCollough says. “They’re looking down the road at what improvements they can make in their operation. And, they don’t throw all their eggs in one basket.”

Neill adds, “They understand the risks they are up against here in the bottoms. They understand what crop insurance can do for them and how it manages that risk.”

All in all, McCollough credits Young Farms with keeping on top of its bottom line. “They don’t just do something because that’s the way it has always been done.”

Gillenwater re-emphasizes, “You can’t be an expert on everything. You have to have people you work with that you have faith in and that you can trust.”

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