Brothers farming land near Ethan that has been in their family for decadesETHAN — The Fergen boys are still working together on the family farm this harvest season.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
ETHAN — The Fergen boys are still working together on the family farm this harvest season.
That means long hours in dusty fields, driving combines and a truck loaded with soybeans and corn. The work is hard and the brothers, in their late 50s and early 60s, aren’t the young men they once were.
And you know what? They couldn’t be happier.
“This is when I love being out here,” said Tom Fergen, 61, as he watched his brothers Bill, 57, and Paul, 59, combine soybeans in a field on the family farmland two miles southeast of Ethan.
“We’ll do this as long as we can,” Tom said. “This is heaven on earth.”
The harvest is a happy time for farmers, especially when crops are in the bins, the yield is good and prices are high. The Fergens are near the end of the harvest. They are getting 140 bushels per acre of corn and around 40 bushels an acre of soybeans. It’s unusual for the corn to be in before the beans, but that is what has happened on a lot of farms this year.
South Dakota State University plant science professor Bob Hall said it all depends on when crops were planted and the soil conditions.
“It’s the year the farmers were dealt,” Hall said Wednesday. “They’ve got to deal with what crops come off first.”
Corn can be planted earlier than soybeans due to the nature of the crop, he said.
“The corn can tolerate cooler temperatures than the soybeans can,” Hall said.
He said while it’s a bit unusual, this year, with a wet spring that delayed planting in many areas, and a dry, warm late summer, changes have to be made to normal harvest schedules.
“Throw that out the window. The planting season was delayed, in some cases because of the moisture,” Hall said. “There’s going to be a little bit of everything.
“The bottom line is this: We had a late spring. We have a variable seeding time in the spring.
“In many cases, the corn got in, but the soybeans were delayed getting into the ground,” he said. “Has this ever happened before? Yes.”
Bill Fergen said he received good advice on what type of seed from Pat Weber and Bob Fuerst, who work at Agland Coop in Parkston. Fuerst is his nephew, but Bill said he respects his knowledge and does business there for that reason, not because of family loyalty.
They persuaded the Fergens to buy the mostdrought-tolerant seed that was available.
“Fortunately, I’m glad we did that,” Bill said. “It really paid off. I’m just amazed what we’re getting out of the fields.”
Peter Roth, producer marketing specialist at Dakota Plains Ag Center in Parkston, said farmers are bringing soybeans and corn in, with slightly less soybeans than usual so far, as some farmers are letting their crops mature before harvesting them.
The major issue with corn is moisture.
Dakota Plains closed at $5.68 per bushel of corn on Wednesday, if the corn is at 15 percent moisture or less.
Corn coming in the 17 percent to 23 percent moisture range is discounted, with farmers losing 50 cents or more per bushel if it’s wetter than 15 percent, Roth said.
He said the corn prices dropped sharply in the last two weeks, from around $7 per bushel to the current price.
“It seems like the funds need to take some money out to fund some of their other positions,” Roth said.
He also cited “harvest pressure” for the reduced price.
Soybeans closed at $11.24 per bushel at the Parkston facility.
Other jobs off the farm
The Fergens are holding onto most of their corn and letting it dry in bins on their farms, while hoping prices return to the $7 area they were at for months.
“Those grain bins pay for themselves,” Paul said.
The three brothers share the work during harvest season, with occasional help from their brother Dan, 60, who teaches at Mitchell Technical Institute.
All four of the brothers have had or still have other jobs.
Bill manages Mitchell School District’s bus service.
Paul has worked for more than 35 years for Ethan Co-op Lumber.
Tom, who lives in Mitchell, retired after more than 35 years teaching agriculture at Mitchell High School.
It’s the same fast pace their father Leonard kept, as he ran the family farm with his wife, Betty, and worked for Agline Co-op Agronomy for more than 30 years and as a substitute postal carrier and at other jobs, too.
“It’s bred into us,” Bill said. “But I am getting a little tired. I might need to take a break after we get done with these beans.”
Leonard died of a heart attack in 1993 and his sons have carried on running the farm as a way to stay connected to their father, and their family’s roots.
They farm more than 400 acres, split between corn and beans, on land on the eastern edge of Davison County.
“He wanted the boys to keep the family farm,” said Betty, 80, who lives in the same house where she raised her four sons and her two daughters, Cindy Fuerst, 54, and Jackie Wonnenberg, 48.
“That was his wish,” she said, looking at three of her sons in the family kitchen as they take a break from the harvest on a hot fall day.
“That was his wish,” she repeats.
Paul lives on the family farm with his mother and Bill and his wife, Lila, live on a farmplace a mile west, where they have raised four kids.
The land is owned and
“We make decisions together, around the dinner table,” said Tom.
“And I just work for them. Bill and Paul have the financial investment.”
Getting their crops in early has paid off, the brothers said.
“We were fortunate. We got ours in early,” Paul said. “It’s just like our grandfathers did.”
They had the corn planted by May 7 or 8 and the beans in a week later.
The dry late summer, with just 3 and 1/2 inches of rain at the farms, according to their records, didn’t hurt the yield, and a September frost didn’t hurt the beans, which had matured by then, Bill said.
While farming is big business, with tens of thousands in investment in equipment, seed and other costs, and a large return with a good harvest, it’s more than that to the Fergens.
Betty considered selling the land when Leonard died, but decided not to and she’s glad she made that decision.
“There’s nowhere else I’d want to live,” she said.
Betty said she’s “so proud” her sons work well together. They did when they were younger and have carried that tradition to their adult years.
“These boys have never got into an argument,” she said. “They have been troopers since they were kids growing up. I have to brag.”
Their grandfather farmed the land decades ago, then their dad took over, along with his brothers, and now the Fergen brothers are stewards of the land.
Bill’s son, Drew, 22, has bought some land in the area and is working with his dad and uncles. Drew also works for Paulson Sheet Metal in Mitchell, since two jobs are a family tradition.
Hard work, family and patriotism are all important to the Fergens, who are flying American flags from their combines this fall.
“It’s a tribute to their father,” Betty said.
Paul Fergen harvests soybeans on the family farm southeast of Ethan Wednesday afternoon. Below, brothers, from left, Paul, Bill and Tom Fergen, with their mother, Betty, stand beside a combine Wednesday on their farm. The American flag affixed to the combine is to honor their father/husband, Leonard, who died in 1993.