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Farming smarter

Top 8 tips from a National Outstanding Young Farmer

-Photo courtesy of Katie Decker
Ben and Susan Albright are shown with their children; Aiden, Myla and Teddy. The Albrights were recently honored as one of four National Outstanding Young Farmers. Winners are evaluated on their land stewardship, modern business practices and community involvement.

LYTTON — If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Ben Albright’s first grade school photo tells an entire story. While the “battle scar” on his head might have upset some kids, it didn’t bother this farmer-in-training.

“I proudly displayed a goose egg from an uncooperative gate that hit my forehead the previous weekend,” said Albright, 38, a fifth-generation farmer from Lytton. “It was proof my dad had trusted me to watch the gate as he was feeding cattle.”

That trust helped spur Albright’s love of farming. Today, he and his wife, Susan, raise corn, soybeans, cattle and cover crops. They feed around 2,300 head of cattle annually in the Albright family’s two feedlots, farm approximately 1,070 acres and run a Pioneer seed business.

The couple was honored earlier this year in Bettendorf, Iowa, as one of four National Outstanding Young Farmers (NOYF) for 2019.

NOYF is designed to foster better urban-rural relations, offer networking opportunities for farmers, promote the importance of America’s farming community and celebrate the diversity, productivity and efficiency of today’s agricultural professionals. NOYF winners are evaluated on their land stewardship, modern business practices and community involvement.

“The NOYF winners are an impressive group,” said Albright, who noted that the other 2019 winners farm in Illinois, Maryland and North Carolina. “We’ve stayed in touch with many of them, and it’s interesting to learn about their farming operations.”

Lessons from the field

Albright can share a lot of practical advice, too. Here are top 10 things he has learned about how to succeed in farming:

1. Don’t be afraid to start small. In fifth grade, Albright opened a checking account and took out a loan co-signed by his dad so he could buy a few pigs of his own.

“I still remember how proud I was of the pen I built in our barn and the first feeder pigs I raised,” Albright said.

2. Find your passion. Albright showed pigs for a few years in 4-H, but he discovered he was more interested in raising cattle.

“While cattle were more responsibility and required a larger investment, I thought they were much more interesting and rewarding to care for,” said Albright, who started raising cattle in high school.

3. Broaden your horizons. Albright earned his ag studies degree with a minor in agronomy from Iowa State University in 2004.

“At this point, my dad still had my two younger brothers at home to help on the farm, so he encouraged me to explore other opportunities in agriculture,” he said.

During college, Albright completed internships with Farmers Cooperative, Mycogen Seeds, Golden Harvest and Dow AgroSciences.

“I enjoyed the seed industry,” he said, who worked as a district sales manager for AgriGold after graduating from ISU.

4. Grow where you’re planted. After Albright’s younger brother Nick graduated from ISU in 2005, the brothers had the opportunity to work for their dad, Alan, and begin their own farming operation.

“We started as hourly employees,” he said. “Farm Credit Services of America gave us a cosigned loan, and we partnered on two pens of cattle with dad.”

By 2006, the brothers purchased a 450-head feedlot, a John Deere 3020 and an Oswald 250 feed-wagon on contract from their father. By 2008, the brothers ventured into row-crop production by crop sharing 160 acres and cash renting 80 acres owned by their grandparents. They also bought a 20 percent share of a combine.

“This was the year when our informal partnership became Albright Brothers Incorporated,” said Albright, who noted the business has expanded in the last 10 years with a 900-head feedlot, more farm equipment and more farmland.

5. Take calculated risks. In 2015, Albright had the chance to become a Pioneer sales representative and take over the local seed agency.

“After much discussion with my brother and family, we decided this was a great way to diversify our operation,” he said, who formed Albright Seed LLC.

6. Be willing to try something new. Water and soil conservation are vital to Albright’s farming operation.

“We use buffer strips, grassed waterways, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) windbreaks, no-till, cover crops, settling basins, manure management, nitrogen stabilizers and conservation tillage to limit our impact on the soil and water,” he said.

When a massive drought hit his area in 2012, Albright began experimenting with cover crops to help his soil weather tough conditions. He started with approximately 20 acres of cover crops in 2012 and is now up to 320 acres, including rye and oats for grazing cattle.

7. Teach others. Albright was involved in a research study for several years to document the economics of grazing cover crops.

“This was a successful project, and I’ve shared the results by hosting a field day and presenting at conferences,” said Albright, who is currently involved in a new study to see if there are soil health benefits to grazing cover crops.

Albright has also helped area farmers learn more about no-till. He began experimenting with no-till on 160 acres in 2007.

“We’re now no-till on more than 40 percent of our acres,” he said, noting that this is not the norm in his area. “I’ve shared my experiences and have gotten some neighbors to try no-till.”

8. Give back.

“Living in a small community means there’s never a shortage of opportunities to get involved,” Albright said.

He is a past president and current voting delegate for the Calhoun County Farm Bureau board; an Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) Ag Leaders Institute graduate, former IFBF Young Farmer Advisory Committee vice chair; Practical Farmers of Iowa member and Soil Health Conference presenter; Garfield Township clerk; and Calhoun County Cattlemen board member. Albright’s wife is an active volunteer in the South Central Calhoun school district, and the couple serves on the worship committee at their local Lutheran church.

Giving back helps create a community where families and farmers can thrive for years to come, said Albright, a father of three young children.

“I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else. Going forward, I want to continue improving my farming techniques and be a mentor to help farmers keep conservation in mind and still farm profitably,” he said.