2 Brothers, 2 Tractors

…and lots of irons in the fire. With careers that involve education, farming and construction, the Ragaller brothers in Iowa have taken multitasking to new levels.

By Tharran E. Gaines | Photos By Tharran E. Gaines

Craig, left, and brother Mark, make the most of the time they have for farming with tractors from AGCO and Massey Ferguson that are in many ways interchangeable.

Craig, left, and brother Mark, make the most of the time they have for farming with tractors from AGCO and Massey Ferguson that are in many ways interchangeable.

Catch them at home on the farm and it may appear that Craig and Mark Ragaller are busy enough raising corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs. However, when they’re not working the nearly 1,700 acres they farm together between Vail and Westside, Iowa, the Ragaller brothers are involved in a number of other pursuits, including nurturing the next generation of central Iowa youth.

For the past 18 years, Craig has filled the role of special education and government/social studies teacher at Ar-We-Va Community School, a consolidated school that combines the towns of Arcadia, Westside and Vail. And until a few years ago, he was the head football coach for the Ar-We-Va Rockets.

In the meantime, Mark serves as a referee for high school and junior varsity football and umpire for high school girls’ softball.

Of course, that doesn’t include the guidance the brothers give to their own children. For Mark, it means helping his wife, Denise—she teaches, too, at the Carroll (Iowa) Community School District—raise three boys and one girl under the age of 6. Located approximately 2 miles away, Craig and his wife, Deb, have three children of their own, all destined to have “Dad” as a teacher when they reach high school.

If that weren’t enough to keep both men busy throughout the year, Mark also works part time for an electrician during the winter. Then in the summer, Mark and Craig both assist the industrial arts teacher at Ar-We-Va with freelance construction projects.

Naturally, the off-farm projects and employment mean the Ragallers have to be that much more efficient when they are working the farm. That’s one reason the brothers purchased a new White® Model 8523 12-row planter with interplant units about 4 years ago and adopted a no-till program on most of the farm.

This past April, they purchased a second White planter—an eight-row model with interplant row units—to avoid delays when Iowa’s short planting window finally opens.

“At this point, we’re basically no-till planting everything except the fields where we’ve applied manure or run cows,” says Mark, pointing to a 40-cow herd that spends much of the winter on cornstalks. “On those fields, we still run a field cultivator to work in the manure and close up the tracks from the cattle.”

“For one thing, no-till saves us a lot of time and fuel in the spring,” he notes. “However, that was also one of the stipulations when leasing an extra 400 acres. Due to the contours, the conservation plan required that the field either be terraced or farmed without tillage to prevent erosion.”

“We were getting to the point where we needed to do something different on a planter anyway,” Craig adds. “The advantage we have now, besides being able to plant no-till, is that we can manually vary the seeding rate on the go to match soil conditions.”

“Each click of the dial changes the seed rate by 5 percent,” Mark adds. “On average, we range from about 33,500 seeds per acre on corn to around 35,000. We have a few fields up north that we know not to push. But with as much manure as we apply around the home place, we’ve got areas that we can push pretty hard.”

Farming and raising cattle and hogs helps pay the bills, but it’s also a way of life for Mark (above) and brother Craig.

Farming and raising cattle and hogs helps pay the bills, but it’s also a way of life for Mark (above) and brother Craig.

Since Mark owns a hog operation that finishes around 1,500 to 2,000 head of feeder pigs each year, manure accounts for most of the potassium and phosphate used on any fields close to the home farm. In the meantime, anhydrous ammonia is used to fill the crops’ nitrogen requirements prior to planting in mid- to late April.

The ability to change planting rates on the go may get even easier, though, since Craig and Mark both purchased new tractors within the past year from Robinson Implement, Inc., in Irwin, Iowa. Both models are equipped with virtual monitors that will permit variable-rate control of the planter with the addition of a GPS antenna and the appropriate software.

The irony is that Mark and Craig have similar tractors, but from two different AGCO Corporation brands. While Craig owns an AGCO Model DT180A with front axle suspension that he acquired in April 2009, Mark owns a Massey Ferguson® Model 8460 that he bought last September through the trade of an MF 8150.

The beauty is that both tractors have nearly identical horsepower levels and both feature a CVT transmission and Datatronics® III technology. Equally important, the control system in the two tractors is nearly identical, which allows anyone familiar with one tractor—including two seasonal employees—to climb into the other machine and take off.

“I do most of the tillage and field work, which means I do a lot of work at night during the school year,” says Craig. “So I wanted a tractor I could rely on,” he adds, commenting that the ability to add a guidance system is of interest for the same reason.

In the meantime, Mark says the deal Lenny Robinson offered him on a nearly identical Massey Ferguson tractor was too good to pass up, considering the number of hours on his old tractor and the new technology on the 8460.

“We’re already looking at adding features like variable-rate planting,” Mark explains. “Everyone claims that is the way to go,” he adds, noting that he and Craig already have their fertilizer precision applied based on soil tests. “We have the capability to upgrade to yield mapping with the combine; and with the cost of seed and fertilizer, it’s getting too expensive to waste inputs.”

With fewer hogs between them—Craig used to own around 1,000 head himself before selling out—there’s less manure available these days, too, which calls for even more commercial fertilizer.

“It seems we just keep adapting to the pressures of time and money,” Mark concludes. “You definitely learn to multitask.”