Farming is all about taking a leap of faith, especially this time of year. Plant a seed and something wonderful happens — like the time Mike and Pam Clemens took a chance on their city-slicker son-in-law, Joe.
Joe Ericson was a pharmacist technician. A good one, in fact. And while he had worked on some farms growing up, he was no farm boy. He married a farm girl named Rachael, one of Mike and Pam’s four daughters. Rachael, an accountant, planned to live out life in Fargo with her husband.
Then life stepped in and threw everyone a curve. Mike and Pam’s Wimbledon, N.D., farm operation was growing. They needed help. “My employees were getting older and couldn’t work as many hours, so we were thinking about having family coming back,” Mike says. “I had four daughters and a son who was way too young yet. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we give Joe and Rachael a call?’”
The first call yielded no results. “Sorry Mom and Dad, we’re happy here,” said the Ericsons.
The second call — same answer. But something clicked on the third call.
“Rachael told us she was ready to come back to the farm,” Pam recalls, “but we were very surprised when she said, ‘Joe would like to try his hand at farming.’”
Cue the record-scratch sound effect here.
“Until then he hadn’t shown any interest,” Mike says. “We were nervous, but we said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’”
The next question was simple: “How’s this town guy going to fit into our farm operation?” Mike says. “We had to be upfront from the start, and told him if we didn’t think it was working out, we would tell him. And they were fine with that.”
“I knew going in it would be a big learning curve,” says Joe of his first try at farming. “’But we were excited to come up, because Rachael grew up there and we knew raising a family would be better there than in the city.”
Joe’s first job was driving a tractor with a grain cart during harvest. Whatever Mike would show him, he would do. “And the best part was, there were no bad habits,” Mike says. “It was a fresh start.”
That winter of 2010 a key employee left the farm, so Joe had to step up. He began driving semi-trucks. By spring, he had become the farm’s “planter guy.”
It turns out that Joe, the pharmacist tech, had taken computer programming classes in college. “He had a knack for technology — a gift for it,” Mike says. “And that was good because technology was a real challenge for Pam and me.”
Joe began managing all monitors and ramping up GPS and yield mapping. He would go to farm shows to pick out the high-tech tools needed for efficiency.
“Suddenly we started adopting technology at a fast pace,” Mike recalls. “He picked up the baton and ran with it. He stepped up to run a 24-row, 60-foot planter with on-screen data — color-coding varieties going into the field, mapping acres. That went so well, I could not believe it. He made it look effortless.”
Joe streamlined the farm’s harvest information coming off monitors by naming fields, organizing and maintaining data, and generating maps. He and Mike’s son, Brad, brought in variable-rate seeding and fertility, saving input costs on the farm’s bottom line.
“The latest thing he did was upgrade our grain handling with a wireless system between grain cart and combine with seamless data transfer, so all our production is categorized by field and number of pounds,” Mike says. “We would have had to go back to college to learn how to do that.”
Adopting technology is tough for many farmers. But for the Clemens, taking a chance on a city guy turned out to be one of their best decisions.
As for the job change, Joe says, “I’m glad we did it. As a farmer, for the most part you’re your own boss and you can spend more time with family. It was a very good decision on our part, too.”
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.