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A Nebraska couple works to build their beef operation and their community at the same time.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

March 11, 2021

6 Min Read
Mark and Haley Miles of Ainsworth, Neb.,
FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS: Mark and Haley Miles of Ainsworth, Neb., are working hard to boost their hometown, volunteering for causes that are important to them and building their cattle operation for the future of their son, Bogue, and the other youngest members of the community. Curt Arens

When it comes to strengthening communities across the landscape of Nebraska, farmers and ranchers have always been on the front lines. They have a strong sense of volunteerism, and they contribute without reservation every day.

As the Beef State, Nebraska beef producers are leaders among those who work for the betterment of their communities. Mark and Haley Miles of Ainsworth are among those young beef producers who care deeply about their hometown.

Mark is a fifth-generation farmer and rancher, with family heritage in Brown County dating back to 1887. He graduated with an economics degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and went to work as an agribusiness lender in Omaha for six years before returning to farm with his father, Bob.

Haley graduated from UNL with a degree in agriculture economics, as one of the first students in the Engler Entrepreneurship program. After college, Haley also worked away from her hometown in ag services, but she always hoped she could return home.

“We met in 2014 while I was helping a neighbor drive cattle to summer pasture across Haley’s family’s ranch,” Mark recalls. “We married in the summer of 2018 on her family’s ranch.”

Coming home

The couple with Ainsworth roots welcomed their son, Bogue, into the world last December, making him the sixth generation on the Miles place. For Mark and Haley, living and working elsewhere made them appreciate their hometown more. It gave them perspective that they use as they work on their own beef operation.

“My banking experience taught me how to manage risk and introduced me to a network of relationships and mentors that I continue to work with to this day,” Mark says.  

In addition to farming and ranching with Bob, the couple started their own 200-cow herd. With the help of three full-time employees, they graze 1,500 stockers on grass each summer and feed out their own home-raised calves and calves purchased from area ranchers in the 4,000- to 5,000-head family feedlot.

In 2018, Haley started her own business — Sandhills Blue Photography — photographing primarily small-town weddings and high school senior clients. “My business provides flexibility to control my schedule, which also allows me to work on the farm in many roles from processing cattle to calving out heifers,” Haley says. “With the addition of our son, I’ve added the role of full-time mom, along with my other ventures.”

Both Mark and Haley love their community. “The landscape of Brown County is unique because it is on the line of where the Corn Belt transitions abruptly into the open range country,” Mark explains. “It provides an abundant supply of the world’s finest feeder cattle in combination with unique feed and water resources.”

People around Ainsworth are part of this picture. “Aside from our parents, there have been so many people in the community who volunteered time to invest in youth while we were growing up, and it certainly contributed to both of us wanting to come back someday,” Mark says.

“I attribute my involvement in FFA and local economic development efforts to giving me a real appreciation for what the Ainsworth community is,” Haley adds.

“There is a real camaraderie here,” Mark says. “When our son was born the day after Christmas, we were overwhelmed with people bringing us meals for an entire month. As an ag producer, I believe that our community has provided good opportunities for young people who want to operate in agriculture.”

He points to a recently completed addition to Ainsworth High School that supports FFA, ag and trade education, along with providing facilities for livestock, welding, auto mechanics and woodshop.

Giving back

Both Mark and Haley seek to give back to their community. Mark serves as a board director for the Ainsworth Irrigation District, a role that his grandfather Henry was involved in when the district was formed in the 1950s.

“The district is one of the most integral pieces to our local economy, because it provides irrigation water for more than 30,000 acres,” Mark says.

He serves on the county zoning board as well. “I feel the zoning committee plays an important role in ensuring that agriculture continues to be the backbone of our local economy while maintaining fair property rights for landowners,” Mark explains.

Like so many families in rural communities, Mark and Haley are passionate about their church, the Evangelical Free Church in Ainsworth, where Mark serves as chairman of the missions team and Haley uses her talents on the church’s marketing and communications team.

Mark is a graduate of Nebraska LEAD 34, and Haley just graduated from LEAD 38. “LEAD was one of the best programs either of us have ever experienced,” Mark notes. “It built lifelong relationships and has helped us better understand this state as a whole, and it helped us gain perspective on issues outside of what we see in our day-to-day lives.”

For Mark, LEAD led him to join forces with classmate Bryan Palm of Mitchell, Neb., to connect with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. Mark personally delivered some of his own cattle to Chicago for students to utilize in their classes.

He and Palm then invited 10 students from CHSAS to come to Nebraska for a week to experience agriculture on the Great Plains. Over a three-year period, the two LEAD classmates shared ag experiences with the Chicago students, offering feedlot and ranch tours, cattle drives on horseback, float trips down the Niobrara River, and tours of corn, soybean, sugarbeet and potato operations — as well as tours of East Campus and College of Agriculture facilities at UNL.

As a result of their efforts to connect with these students who grew up in a much different culture, but who shared a passion for agriculture, several CHSAS students eventually chose to attend UNL, and one even interned for a summer at the Miles farm.

Bright future

Mark says that he believes the future of rural communities is bright, and that beef producers have a role to play in that future. “Beef production is the backbone of this community,” he says. “It provides a way of life and use for the land that no other sector of ag does.”

He adds that beef producers contribute to their communities by being good stewards of the land, and by using labor and resources to increase productivity and the value of the land.

The community benefits from these aspects of agriculture, and the lure of opportunity that agriculture can bring to a town. “There is a rally in our community right now, with young families who have chosen to move back to this area and raise their families here,” Mark says. “There are more than 10 families we can think of who were in high school with Haley and I that will have a child in the same class as our son.

“I believe it is important for beef producers to be involved in their community because it keeps a connection between Main Street and agriculture,” he says. “By serving together and working together, we all stay informed. We need each other out here.”

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Young Farmer

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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