Through custom work, an Iowa farmer finds a way to equip his family operation, and those of his customers, with the latest in ag technology.
What does it take to give a family farm an edge today? For Dennis Wegmann it’s the right combination of working his family’s own land and a healthy dose of custom farming.
“Custom work makes a big difference in a number of ways,” explains Dennis. “It does a lot more than bring in added income; it lets us upgrade to the latest technology, especially in the machinery area.”
Dennis started farming right out of high school in 1990, getting up every morning at 5 a.m. to milk cows. He worked first with his dad, Robert, on their land near Edgewood in northeast Iowa. A few years later, Dennis and his wife, Chrystal, bought additional land in partnership with his parents, and increased the dairy herd.
“We had both dairy and beef,” Dennis recalls. “When milk prices dropped, about 8 years ago, we sold [off all the] dairy and increased beef. That’s when we also pushed to do more custom work. “Not having to milk cows twice a day gave us more time to take on custom farming for neighbors,” he adds.
He got started with the purchase of a Hesston large square baler, which was something of a novelty at the time in this area of the country. Business was slow at first, says Dennis. “I put ads in the paper, and some farmers wanted to try it because it was something new,” he says of the baler. “But the first couple of years I didn’t do a whole lot.”
Dennis proved to be a trendsetter, though. Now, big squares have proven themselves and a couple of his customers have purchased their own machines. “That’s okay,” he laughs, “as there’s only so much one baler can do in a day.
“I usually bale for dairy farmers, so most of the hay is fed on farms, where I do the baling. But some of my customers sell hay, and they like big squares. The bales sell because they transport well.” And, Dennis points out, they produce better quality hay, “because the sealed big square chamber system keeps leaves in while hay is being baled.”
Spread the Cost
Another advantage of the big square is its capacity, which helps Dennis deal with the downside of the Midwest’s unpredictable weather. “We grow great hay, but we also have a lot of rain,” he notes. “That’s a benefit because we don’t have the irrigation cost, but it’s also a problem, since we often have short periods of good weather to get hay made for customers.”
That’s where the baler comes in. “Everyone cuts at the same time, then calls to have it baled. That’s why we like the capacity of our large baler, and why we upgraded to the new 2150 model last summer. It’s beefier and more efficient,” he adds, “and it has the latest technology.”
The cutting-edge equipment that Dennis brings to his customers extends beyond the baler. For instance, his new 2150 is equipped with the Harvest Tech acid applicator ‘Hayboss’ that reads moisture every few seconds and adjusts the rate being applied. “Customers like that; it’s a big plus and the reason we pick up new customers and keep previous ones,” he says.
The custom work also allowed Dennis to purchase a new Massey Ferguson® 8670 which, with its technological advancements and fuel efficiency, offers him and his customers more power at lower input costs. He says he uses the tractor to pull the baler, as well as do tillage, grain harvesting and planting work: “Anything the farmer wants done—if he wants me to put in the whole crop and take it out, we’ll do that.”
And because the cost of equipment is, in essence, shared, his customers get the benefit of top-notch farm tools. “A lot of farmers don’t have quite enough acres to get new equipment, so I can bring the latest technology to their farm through custom work,” he continues. “They like that.”
The Family That Works Together …
Now, after 16 years of custom farming, Dennis is established in this corner of Iowa.
He couldn’t, however, do the custom work if it weren’t for his family holding down chores on the farm. “There’s still work that needs to be done, and everyone still needs to pitch in,” he says.
With three generations working the farm, it’s a real team effort. In addition to Dennis’ parents, his and Chrystal’s four kids help out, too. Ashley, Colton, McKenzie, and Jordan, ages 8 to 18 put in time on the family’s nearly 900 acres of pasture, hay, corn and soybeans.
Chrystal, too, who works in town for a custom meat processor, also contributes to the family business. Of her work, Dennis says, “I just can’t give her enough credit.”
Such efforts not only help Dennis take on more custom jobs, but also provide the family more opportunities to work together, as well as a place to raise children that, according to Dennis and Chrystal, is second to none.
“It’s about the only place I’d want to raise kids,” states Dennis. He says his four children not only learn discipline that comes from daily chores, but also can take advantage of opportunities found only in farm country.
Their oldest, Ashley, for example, showed beef cows and heifer calves at the county fair in 4-H. She also won the barrel-racing contest several years in a row, along with a number of showmanship awards. She’s now studying to be a veterinarian at Iowa State University, channeling a love of animals she acquired from her parents’ farm.
McKenzie, 13, is also considering studying veterinary medicine, while Colton, 15, thinks he’ll go into law enforcement. Jordan, 8, is just happy to be a kid on a farm.
And when there’s a break in custom farming and family chores are done, they enjoy spending time together as well as helping others. Dennis helps local 4-H club leaders and also coached youth football for 4 years. He and Chrystal like to take the family on weekend and 1-day trips for a break in the routine.
The Wegmanns are living the life, says Dennis. “As a family, we enjoy the rural lifestyle as much as we like farming.”