Like a lot of young farmers, diversification is key to the success of Jamin and Whitney Ringger’s farm outside of Gridley, Ill.
Advice from seasoned farmers in their community and from Master Farmers in the Cultivating Master Farmers program has also helped the couple grow the operation since buying into the Ringger family farm in 2005. But the road hasn’t always been a smooth one.
“We got married in 2009. Then in 2011, my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer,” Jamin says. “At that time, I owned 35% of the farm. Two years and three brain surgeries went by until he passed in 2013. We had neighbors pitch in that year to help, and we’re blessed for that.”
The Ringgers have since grown the acreage they farm from 1,000 to 1,200. They’ve scaled back from having four sites with hogs to two. They no longer farrow sows, instead buying 12-pound hogs and finishing 10,000 per year.
“In 2015, when a hog barn burned down, the very next week we had 40 or 50 people come out and help clean up,” Jamin says. “The community is great, and it’s really humbling to know there are so many people willing to help you.”
As they’ve scaled back their hog operation, they’ve gone from putting two-thirds of their fields toward corn production and one-third in soybeans to closer to 50-50, though corn still takes up a little more acreage. They feed out the corn they keep from rental agreements and store it on the farm along with soybeans.
“It’s a little bit easier now that we don’t have lactating sows and we aren’t raising piglets, but still, even from a 12-pound pig to the time it’s finishing weight, we’ve got seven different rations that we’re feeding in that time frame. It still changes quite a bit,” Jamin says, noting they feed grain distillers from an ethanol refiner in Galva, Ill. While it’s farther away than other refiners, “they typically offer the best price, so it pays to go that far.”
The Ringgers buy soybean meal to feed the hogs and use their own stored soybeans as a hedge against fluctuating prices.
“I try to spread it out over the months, just because we’re buying soybean meal for protein,” Jamin says. “If soybean prices go way up, then meal prices are probably going to go up, too, so it’s usually a good idea to sit on a few beans just in case we get a rally.”
The Ringgers also have a rotating wheat field. While Jamin says it’s “definitely not my favorite crop,” they need the field for applying hog manure.
“If we didn’t need a spot for the manure, we wouldn’t grow it,” he says, noting the rare wheat field in his area of central Illinois usually isn’t there to make money, but rather to help manage a diversified operation. “As soon as the wheat comes off, we start knifing in manure. We usually get a good corn crop following wheat, but we just hope to make enough to break even on it and call it a year.”
WHEAT HARVEST: After harvesting his one wheat field in mid-July, Jamin Ringger says he got a good crop this year. His only hope with the acreage is that he will break even with the wheat sale, as he mostly uses the field as a place to deposit manure.
Whitney, like Jamin, graduated from Illinois State University. She was a teacher at Midland High School for four years, until Jamin’s father passed away.
“It was such a hectic year, and we had a baby,” Jamin recalls. “We were running around all over the place and decided it was time to stay home.”
Whitney was raised on a farm in Princeville, Ill. She says she likes the country lifestyle. She manages the finances of the farm and takes meals out to Jamin during harvest and planting seasons.
“It’s hard managing a home when he’s busy, but growing up on a farm, I kind of knew what those seasons look like and what to expect,” Whitney says. “It’s getting a little easier now that the older two are getting a little older — they’re 5 and 7. We get our time in with him with a few rides in the combine.”