Fitting The Way They Want to Farm

The Justisons are combining the best soils, best practices and best equipment to grow a farm business built to last through generations.

By Jamie Cole | Photos By Patricia Fuchs, Jamie Cole and Mike Less

Dave Justison smiles a little as he shows a screen shot of his Climate FieldView™ account. The pins marking their plots span several counties from their home base in Butler, Illinois. “Around 134 fields I have to keep track of,” he laughs, “125 miles from farthest to farthest.”

Then he turns a little more serious. “My brother, Tom, and I have decided… Before our days are over, we’re going to farm some of the best land there is, and that’s the type of land that we want to leave to our family.

“So that’s been our goal,” he says.

Adding acres is nothing new to the Justison family; it’s practically in their DNA. The clan arrived from Lithuania in 1928 and started with 80 rented acres, which they eventually purchased. “My father moved out on his own in 1945 and he and my mother rented 80 acres as well,” says Dave. “And my brother and I have built this farm to several thousand acres, and our children seem to want to continue. Since they do, we’re trying to expand it.” Tom’s son, Tommy, and Dave’s son, David, along with Dave’s daughters and their husbands, all work on Justison Farms.

Friends and associates are intrigued by how Dave and Tom have gone about pursuing their goal. Kelly Duzan of Kuhns Equipment, who works with the Justisons on their Fendt equipment fleet, says he remembers the brothers poring over spreadsheets of Illinois soil productivity, and studying data collected from sensors on their Momentum planter’s seed firmers. Soil temperature, moisture, organic matter… it’s all monitored in the cab and stored for analysis. “They tie all that together and then make a better business decision on what seed they’re going to plant, and where they’re going to get maximum productivity.”

Taking Advantage—And Care—Of the Best Ground

As the Justisons expand, they’re expanding into the best soil. “What got me started was looking at different productivity indexes in the state,” says Dave. He recalls discovering that the farms he grew up on had a productivity index (PI) of 100 to 105, some even below 100. “Some of the best soil in the state is 144, 145,” he says, “‘black soil’ that’s highly productive.” Besides getting into good ground, the Justisons practice conservation tillage, and double crop to get the most out of their high-end acreage.

“We grow quite a bit of wheat,” says Dave. “A lot of wheat, actually, for Illinois. And we double crop the wheat up until about the middle of July.”

Successful double-cropping is about more than taking advantage of excellent soils. It’s about caring for those soils while managing the practicalities of bringing corn soybeans in behind wheat. For the Justisons, that meant finding equipment that fit the way they wanted to farm.

Growing A Farm Efficiently with Fendt

“We had all Deere tractors, combines and planters,” says Dave. “Now, we have two Momentum planters, two IDEAL combines, and on our tractors now, we start with a (Fendt) 314 and then have a 1038, two 1050s, an 1151 and two 1167s,” he says.

The family’s conversion to a Fendt fleet began with the IDEAL combine. Besides being able to harvest faster with better speed in the field and higher capacity, “what really changed our outlook on the type on combine we were running was the quality of the grain we were getting in the grain tank,” says Dave. “We had less problems in the grain bins, keeping the corn and soybeans in good condition. Also, usually when wheat goes to a grain terminal you get a little dockage; they’re very particular about cracks or a little foreign material. That all stopped with the Fendt machine.”

Often, the planter is running right behind the combine as wheat comes off. “The way the machine is set up with the twin rotors and the excellent spreading system, it chops up the straw and spreads it so evenly that we can follow right behind the combine in planting the double crop beans. And it’s very important to get the soybeans in as soon as possible to get them germinated and growing.”

Meanwhile, the Justisons can leave more residue after the fall harvest. “The Momentum planter allows us to leave the soil rougher, which helps our conservation plan,” he says. The combine and the planter make “just the perfect combination for us,” he says.

“The way the Fendt tractor is designed, it’s a large engine that runs a low RPM,” says Dave. He says the family does need to do some tillage now and then, and the performance with the Fendt tractors was eye-opening. “I was running 10 miles an hour with a high-speed disc at 1300, 1350 RPM, and that’s kind of unheard of,” he says. Meanwhile, “our fuel efficiency has gone way up, and we don’t use as much DEF … our fuel bill has decreased quite a lot.

“And with the maintenance program Fendt provides, they change the filters and the fluids and we basically have no expense,” he adds. He says his repair costs used to be “half, if not two-thirds, of what my payment was” with his former fleet. With Fendt, “basically all we do is put fuel and DEF in them.” (See more about the Fendt Gold Star warranty here.)

Managing The Challenges to Farm Growth

The Justisons’ approach to growth and productivity may be exceptional, but their challenges are relatable.

Transportation. “One of the challenges of being spread out that far is getting from one farm to another,” says Dave. But he notes the Fendt equipment, all the way down the line from the combine to the planter to the tractors, “is narrow enough to fit down one lane of traffic. Also, our equipment runs faster down the road. When the speed limit is 55 and you’re going 34, people respect you a little bit more,” he says.

Labor. “What does it mean when you’re growing but the labor force is limited?” Dave asks. “That means you work more hours. But, what we’ve found with this technology is that we can plant faster and harvest faster and more efficiently without really spending more money. And the family members that we have to help us, (they) know how the equipment works.”

Learning curve. “The way of running the Fendt machines, they’re basically all the same,” says Dave. “Once you understand how that works, they all work the same way.” Dave’s son, David, likes the set-it-and-forget-it approach to field work. Once he selects the speed he wants to work, “You don’t have to touch the throttle, touch anything. It will hold that speed to the best of its ability at the lowest RPM and it’s usually the most fuel-efficient setting … You don’t have to touch it or do anything.”

Fendt “increased our efficiency and decreased our costs, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”Click To Tweet

David also says their equipment and management approach affords the operation some headroom as well. “Right now, as efficient as this equipment is … I would say we can gain acres right now, probably 20, 25%,” he says.

“We’ve had different companies, different brands of machinery,” says Dave, and Fendt “has increased our efficiency and decreased our costs, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”

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