Often the road home for young farmers is neither paved nor straight. It can be a long drive, full of curves and detours. But for two Missouri brothers, the journey was worth it to be able to work together, alongside their dad on the family farm.
Like many young boys, Thad and Ross Becker grew up tinkering with tools as their dad, Dennis, worked on farm equipment in the shop in Audrain County. “We were always just around,” Ross says. “I think we just watched and learned from him.”
The two knew they wanted to follow in their dad’s footsteps and become farmers. They helped on the farm during their teenage years, fixing equipment and running tractors. But after high school, they went to college.
The oldest, Thad, attended the University of Missouri. He now works as a precision agronomy manager for MFA Inc., helping farmers incorporate and understand how new technologies can help with agronomic decisions on the farm. Ross attended Linn Tech, or what is now State Technical College of Missouri. He graduated and started working as a diesel technician.
That was almost 20 years ago. “It seems impossible,” Thad says. “It really does,” his brother agrees. They laugh. However, the look on their faces, despite all the years, shows a sense of accomplishment. Today, the brothers are part of Becker Family Farms LLC.
At first, the boys thought their road home was a side business of painting tractors in 2007. They even added a bay onto the shop, to show their commitment to the farm. Both thought this business was a way to diversify, make money and start farming.
The idea took off. At one time, they were painting seven tractors a year. Then life happened — marriages, children and job responsibilities. “We were working at night and on the weekends,” Ross says. “We really didn’t have any lives outside of it.” Something had to give. So, they pulled back on the side business. Last year, they painted only one tractor.
Their desire to farm did not wane.
The Becker brothers continued to pour time into their careers. Both of these jobs are full-time, off-the-farm occupations. Still, the brothers have some flexibility.
“We would still help on the farm with planting and harvest,” Thad says. The family farms not only in Audrain County, but also in Boone County. They run a corn, soybean and wheat rotation.
“We are fortunate to take off at times during spring and harvest,” Ross says. “Our employers are really understanding.”
Still, they were merely working on the farm, never owning a portion of it. Ultimately, that was the goal.
Then in 2018, the brothers had the opportunity to buy half of the family farm when their uncle decided to retire. Their dad, Dennis, owned half, while Thad and Ross bought the other — splitting it 25% and 25%.
“We are fortunate, and we know it,” Thad says. “Our uncle offered his portion to us. Not every young farmer starting out has that family connection who is willing or able to sell.”
Still, the purchase was not enough to bring both brothers back to the farm full time. “We’re closer,” Thad says. “We’ve talked that in the next five years, one of us will need to be full time, because of the workload.”
Thad keeps the books and does most of the repair on the precision aspect of the operation, while Ross troubleshoots and fixes equipment around the farm. And Dennis? “Dad knows all of it,” Ross says. “He’s still running the day-to-day.”
The three credit their ability to work together to help make the family farm run smooth. They sell grain through text messages. Other decisions are made while sitting around the large conference table in the shop office.
It is there that they discuss the obstacles still ahead for young farmers who want to be full-time farmers.
“Health care,” Dennis says. “Right now, both have health care at their jobs.” From experience, he shares how this will likely be a limiting factor for many young farmers moving forward. “My biggest living expense is health care,” Dennis notes. “But you can’t afford not to have it.”
Still, the boys look out for their dad. They don’t want to add more strain. “One deciding factor for when one of us returns is when are we getting to the point where he’s doing too much to keep up without one of us here to pitch in,” Thad says.
All three men are planning for the future, one in which Thad says may involve more diversification. “We’ve talked about raising direct-to-consumer meat,” Thad says. “We are looking at what is happening with electric cars. What will that do to our ethanol markets and the price of corn? We are looking at all options.”
Stay the course
Ross admits working off the farm is not ideal. It was not his dream; farming was. “Still, I understand why I am there,” he says. “I have a boss who works with me and understands my goals. I’m upfront about that. So, it is a good relationship.”
However, he offers some advice to other young farmers with second jobs — prove your worth. “I work hard while I’m there,” he adds. “When you are at work, be at work. Do your job, and do it well.”
For Thad, 20 years to own a piece of the farm was a long wait. Still he admits, “I have another 20-plus years I could farm full time easily,” he says. “I realize now there is no rush. There is still a lot of time. I guess that is what’s kept me moving forward. And I like my job.”
There is no set map leading young farmers back to the family farm. It differs for each individual, each family unit and each farming operation. However, the Becker brothers are proof that even the longest road eventually leads home if you persevere.