Farm Progress

2017 Master Farmer says costs and conservation both benefit.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer

March 9, 2017

3 Min Read
MOVING FORWARD: Alan and Theresa Thompson say their focus continues to be moving forward slowly with a firm foundation underneath. They like to be early adopters of new ideas and inventions.

Controlling costs was a major motivation for Alan Thompson. “A good friend Charlie Neff from South Charleston and I went to a farm in Lexington, Ill., to learn concepts on no-till or strip tilling in 1989,” Alan says, who experimented by starting with no-till soybeans in 1990. In 1992, the farm converted to 100% no-till corn and soybeans, except for newly tiled fields.

“The reason why we did that was for cost control,” Alan says. “We felt like we couldn’t afford the equipment to farm conventionally. It’s been a big benefit to our farm with less machinery costs. I’m all for the principles of no-till — all for conservation — but it has to pay.”

In 2011, the farm began experimenting with cover crops. For 2017, 1,500 acres were planted in cover crops. And Alan is also strip-tilling with phosphorus and planting corn over the top. “Phosphorus is a hot topic and farmers need to work more toward strip till and plant over it. It’s a best management practice and an environmentally friendly practice, too.

Adding tech to the field
Alan saw the value in drain tile. In total, 4.55 million feet of drainage tile have been installed on 4,518 acres on both owned and rented ground.

The farm is also credited with the installation of 25,000 feet of waterways covering 23 acres of land since 2008.

And since 1974, 1.65 million bushels of grain storage has been built and drying capacity added to handle 2,500 bushels per hour. “You have to be an aggressive marketer,” Alan advises. “We use futures and our own hedging account and operate as any grain dealer would. Marketing is a key to the success we’ve had on our farm.”

Technology has also helped to advance the farm. The first light bar was installed in 1998, with a price tag of $7,000, Alan says. “Now you can probably buy the same thing for $900. But all the technology we’ve ever tried has paid. I’m a frugal guy, and I hated the idea of the expense, but it has paid off.”

Alan recalls when Bryan started farming and bought a full-blown guidance system for a tractor that cost about $25,000. “I thought he was nuts, but we had it on four more the next year,” he concedes.

The future
On-base percentage counts. “We never care about hitting anything but singles, but we don’t want to strike out,” Alan says. “We want to just keep moving forward slowly and build a firm foundation underneath. Our focus has always been about concentrating on what it takes to survive in the long run.”

Consolidation continues to be a concern. “It doesn’t mean we like it, but the whole world continues to consolidate, from grain elevators and co-ops to equipment manufacturers, seed corn companies and more in the ag industry,” Alan says.

It’s also true at the farm gate, although Alan says he never intended to be a large farmer. “We wanted to be in the game and not miss out on opportunities that came our way,” he says. “You have to aggressively jump on an opportunity when it comes your way; don’t think too long about it and be ready to act.”

While there are no plans to retire in the foreseeable future, Alan and wife Theresa are now renting 800 acres of their owned ground to their children. “In the future, more of our acres will be rented to them, and they can take on our rented land in increments,” Alan says.


About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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