Lessons Learned With Lifetime Farmers Mike and Betsy Holt

A couple from Maine discusses mistakes they made, working together as a team, and the best advice they ever received.

FarmLife: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Mike Holt: It’s probably when my dad said, “You need to marry that girl!” My parents and Betsy’s parents were good friends throughout their lives. In fact, they lived just 2 miles up the road, and Betsy’s mom worked as the bookkeeper for my dad at the Massey Ferguson® dealership. So, we had practically grown up together.

FL: What have you learned from older farmers?

Betsy Holt: When I was engaged and about to get married, my folks said, “Once you leave, you’re not coming back.” That’s because Dad wanted to make a statement that this is for life. It’s not easy because life is always full of challenges; but you can’t give up. It’s also important that you’re both on the same page.

FL: Name a mistake that taught you a lesson.

Mike: How much time do you have? I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Fortunately, none of them has involved something I couldn’t correct. I may have lost a little money as a result, but they haven’t been major or life-changing.

Betsy: We always try to put safety first, especially when it involves somebody working for us. We don’t want a mistake affecting someone’s life or health.

FL: How have you changed since you were younger?

Mike: Life seems to be going by at a much more rapid pace now. The biggest change, though, is the fact that Betsy and I both have jobs off the farm. We continue to put up hay and cut lumber; and we still raise a few replacement dairy heifers. But we don’t milk cows ourselves anymore.

FL: How has your lifestyle changed?

Mike: When we started out on our own, we farmed for three years without owning a tractor. But we got by, thanks to Mom and Dad, who lived across the road. One thing we do that’s different than some is we tend to keep our equipment for a long time. As we were able to afford equipment, we bought what we needed most and paid for it before we moved on to another item.

Betsy: Money was always an issue early in our marriage, because our first priority was to make sure our bills were paid. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs as a result.

FL: What have you learned about predicting the future?

Mike: The only sure thing is change. We already know that tractors and equipment keep getting bigger and farms are continually being consolidated. That goes for dairies, as well. The number of dairies in Maine today is a fraction of what it used to be. At the same time, the role of technology continues to increase. There are even dairies now that are using robotic milking systems.

FL: Has your definition of happiness changed?

Betsy: We never went on a vacation or even spent a night in a motel for the first 12 years of marriage. But I don’t regret it. If you’re going to be involved in agriculture, it has to be your passion and, for us, it has been. As long as we’re working together as a team, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

FL: What’s something you’d like to learn or do?

Mike: If you mean something like jumping out of a plane, I can’t think of anything. However, our main goal for the future is to see the farm always be a farm. I think that is something Dad always wanted, too. We don’t want to see it developed, but rather see somebody farm it, even if it isn’t family.

FL: What advice would you offer FarmLife readers?

Mike: Don’t be afraid of hard work and be upfront and honest in your dealings with other people. Tell it like it is.

Betsy: Another thing that Mike’s parents did that we’ve always done is before we make any large purchase—whether it’s a pickup, tractor or piece of equipment—we talk it over together, because we are a team. We look at it from all angles to see if it is going to be a benefit or an anchor.