Big Enough for Two
With a conservative approach to farming and a whole lot of teamwork, this Missouri couple finds the keys to running a right-sized operation.
By Des Keller | Photos By Charlie Riedel
Brian Ussary never really wanted to do anything other than farm the rolling land his father, grandfather and great-grandfather worked near the Platte River in northwest Missouri. As a small boy, he would spend the day at family gatherings playing with boxes of toy farm equipment. By the time he was 8 years old, Brian, now 60, was tirelessly tagging along with his father during chores and fieldwork.
These days, however, it is Brian being tailed in the farmyard by a protégé, one of his two grandsons, 3-year-old Mack. The possessor of his own trove of farm equipment toys, Mack takes every opportunity he has to spend time around grown-up farm machinery and his grandfather.
“I work. I help Papa,” Mack tells the adults nearby. So, what is his favorite activity? “Driving the tractor,” says Mack, at which point Brian laughs and is quick to point out that his grandson doesn’t actually “drive” the tractor.
Mack does know his equipment, though. When asked what kind of machinery he runs, Mack’s reply comes out as: “Maggie Ferguson.” The answer is adorably accurate enough.
Meant to Be
Mack and his younger brother, Mason, will undoubtedly become very familiar with “Maggie” in the years to come. Not only are their grandparents lifelong users of AGCO® brands in the field, Brian also has a collection of 27 meticulously and beautifully restored Massey-Harris, Ferguson and Massey Ferguson® tractors dating back to the 1930s.
Brian’s profession, of course, seemed predetermined. As a freshman in high school, he rented his first small piece of farmland. He would add to it over the next three years, and upon graduation kept pursuing his dream of farming.
In contrast, his wife, Channon, who in high school moved in next door to the Ussary place near Agency, Missouri, had no intention of farming—ever. “I had never even ridden a tractor and didn’t really care to,” says Channon, who dreamed of living in a big city like Chicago someday.
That didn’t prevent young Brian from stopping by Channon’s house to ask the teenager to a Fourth of July event. Channon wasn’t home, but her mother accepted the invitation on her behalf. Channon didn’t mind. She’d seen—and waved to—this handsome go-getter driving various vehicles and implements past her house for years. “We just started going out and that was it,” a smiling Channon now says. “He was a charmer, and it was an instant connection.” They were married eight months after that first date.
So, what about Channon’s aversion to farming? Apparently, it faded in the warm glow of young love. “I had been riding with him in tractors and combines for years and knew I could run them. When Brian’s dad retired, it only made sense that I step in.”
Turns out Brian and Channon worked well together, in farming as well as in marriage. The two credit their ability to coexist as part of the reason they’ve survived, even thrived. They’ve done it despite working an operation—1,200 acres—that would be considered small by 21st-century standards.
A nurse by training, Channon did work in that field for several years after she married. Eventually, however, Brian said to her: “You could work on the farm and help us make more money than you would working in town.”
They gave it a try, and Channon has never looked back. Soon thereafter they began having children, three girls who are now adults. Being raised on the farm, all three children have been immersed, beginning at a very early age, in all things agriculture, from equipment to crops, as well as the long hours.
In any given year, Channon does the bulk of the fall combining while Brian drives the truck, moving grain—Channon has maintained an aversion to piloting a semitrailer. They do have a couple of good friends who help during fall crunch time.
Living the Life
The Ussary crop mix is nearly evenly split between corn and soybeans. The farm hasn’t had livestock for years. The vast majority of their soybeans, though, are seed beans grown for Pioneer. The premium those soybeans fetch provides a level of diversification without too much extra work. (Premiums from various companies have ranged from 50 cents to $2 per bushel over the years.)
“Every little bit adds up,” Brian says of the seed beans. “We have to be careful cleaning the combine from one variety to another,” he adds, “but otherwise we don’t do too much different with those acres.”
The Ussarys own about half the acres they farm, and they’ve generally stayed out of debt. “We’ve been very conservative and, looking back on land prices from 20 years ago, we maybe should have bought more,” he wonders aloud. “Now, though, at my age I have to ask myself if I really want to go back into debt.”
The families of their three daughters don’t farm (two live nearby), so Brian and Channon believe they might be keeping the farm up and running until Mack and Mason, or other grandchildren, are old enough to take over. “My dad worked with me until he was 80,” says Brian.
As it is, Channon kids Brian good-naturedly about his lack of a hobby outside of agriculture. If he isn’t farming, he’s generally working on vintage tractors. Truth be told, though, Brian and Channon have taken a number of trips that have involved them pulling a flatbed along. Occasionally, the flatbed is used to bring home a “new” old tractor.
The two are planning a trip to Alaska within the next year and a half. No flatbed trailers allowed.