When you sit down and chat with John and Kristi Kretzmeier around their dining room table, it’s easy to get lost in conversation about 20-inch row crops, raising crops without grain storage and adapting reduced tillage to their black, heavy soils. Both can tell you all the ins and outs of why they do what they do. But if that’s all you talk about, you miss out on the most amazing story the Kretzmeiers can tell. These 2017 Master Farmers started from scratch. They’re first-generation farmers.
“I started out working for another farmer while I was in FFA at Benton Central High School,” John says. “Working for him was my supervised ag experience project.” John later won national recognition for his ag placement proficiency in FFA, but the award wasn’t what was most important to him. The project gave him experience and convinced him that he wanted to farm.
Meanwhile, Kristi grew up on a farm near Rochester. Her dad, George Krom III, co-hosted the 1989 Farm Progress Show and was later named a Master Farmer. He still farms today, but his operation was too far away to be of help to John and Kristi, who wanted to start on their own in Benton County. John’s dad, Harris, worked for an ag supply business but didn’t farm.
“We started from scratch,” John says. “My father-in-law’s operation is 75 miles away. We had to figure it out on our own, although everyone was supportive of what we wanted to do.”
John farmed the first 200 acres he rented on his own by trading labor for use of another farmer’s equipment. “My own relatives wouldn’t rent me the land where we now live for a couple years,” John says. “I guess they wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing.”
John and Kristi married in 1990. For the first 10 years, John recalls, they both worked off-farm jobs so they could support themselves while trying to get established in farming.
“I worked for Midwest Swine Service, doing a job which doesn’t even exist today,” Kristi says. “The main business at that time was obtaining information on back-fat measurements and other carcass parameters. I worked from home, doing mostly computer work assembling the data.”
“Whatever we made from farming went back into the operation, when possible,” John says. “It’s the only way we could support ourselves and get established farming at the same time.”
Neither work off the farm today. Both are fully employed in their farm operation.
Tillage, narrow rows and more
If you visit the Kretzmeiers, you still want to have that conversation about cropping practices before you leave. They do several things that are fairly unique.
“We don’t have any grain bins,” John says. “We elected a long time ago to market in other ways, and not invest in grain handling and grain bins. We custom-hire our grain hauled out of the field in the fall.”
When it comes to tillage, the Kretzmeiers run a Case IH vertical-tillage tool in the fall after corn harvest and plant soybeans into that seedbed in the spring. They like to make a very light pass with the vertical-tillage tool over ground going to corn the next year in the fall, and then follow with a field cultivator ahead of the corn planter.
Since their labor supply is limited, they switched to 20-inch rows, and plant both crops with one planter. “We feel like we’re getting advantages over 30-inch rows for both crops,” John says.
Meet John and Kristi Kretzmeier
Location: Fowler, Benton County
Education: both graduated from Purdue University in ag economics
Crops: corn and soybeans, typically including corn after corn
Livestock: 15-sow hog operation to raise 4-H pigs; 15 beef cows, selling as 4-H animals; sheep for their kids’ 4-H projects
Employees: no full-time employees
Children: Kenzie, sophomore at Butler Junior College, Eldorado, Kan.; Clay, 17, senior at Benton Central; Carson, 14, freshman at Benton Central
Tillage: vertical-tillage after corn in fall ahead of soybeans; field-cultivate ahead of corn planting in the spring; use 20-inch rows for both crops
Leadership roles: John — past-president, Benton County Farm Bureau; 2017 president, Indiana Shorthorn Association; vice president, Benton Central FFA Alumni; member, PCARET group supporting Purdue Extension; Kristi — former member, Benton County Extension Board; past woman’s chair, Benton County Farm Bureau; co-leader, Jr. Farmers 4-H Club; auction committee clerk, Benton Central FFA Alumni; Master Gardener, Extension; Master Naturalist, Extension
Notable: met while John was an intern for a chemical company, preparing plots for the 1989 Farm Progress Show, which Kristi’s family co-hosted that year
Check out the slideshow below to learn more about the Kretzmeiers' operation.