“A kid out of college can’t come up with $100,000 for a tractor by himself,” says 93-year-old Hardin County farmer Joe Rash. “I got help when I started farming; it’s no more than right that I help someone, too.”
The 2019 Iowa Master Farmer’s pay-it-forward thinking has helped both his son, Jerry, and grandson John get into farming. It’s also helped expand the operation and keep the farm in the family.
“It was really important to my late wife, Pat, that we keep the farm in the family,” Joe says. “Her great-grandfather Lyman Lockwood bought 80 acres from the government in 1854. In high school, I started working for Pat’s uncle Dean Spurlin.”
After serving in the Army, Joe with Pat started farming near Marshalltown for three years. In 1951, Joe began farming again with Pat’s uncle. “Dean bought some machinery to help me,” Joe recalls. “I borrowed money and rented land from him. He took me in, and I always felt I owed it to him to keep farming and keep the farm in good condition.” Joe and Pat added more acres to the initial land from her family and then gradually bought more land with Jerry.
“Years ago, we were farrowing 100 sows, with a small cow herd, a bunch of sheep and feeder lambs, fed cattle — and didn’t have as many crop acres,” Joe says. “But John wasn’t in the operation then. Labor became an issue, and in the 1990s, we sold the hogs and sheep, and started to focus on building a purebred Angus herd — and farming more ground.”
John worked at a commercial cow-calf operation in Nebraska for three years before coming back to the operation. “That was a good thing to do,” John says. “It gives a kid a chance to grow up a little bit and to see other people’s viewpoints.”
John cares for the 200 head of mature Angus cows, 50 heifers and 10 bulls on about 450 acres of pasture, and 200-plus steers and heifers on feed. Jerry does the fieldwork on the row crop and hay acres.
Joe is still involved in decision-making for big purchases. The trio talks things over; they meet most every day for lunch. “We’re not formal partners. No one gets a salary, and we have our own land and pay our own taxes,” Joe says. “It just seems like things fall into place.”
Betts writes from Johnston, Iowa.