Sitting around a table in their farm headquarters, it’s easy to understand what brings joy to John and Sharon Hendricks — their farm and their family.
The Hendrickses, of Bird City, Kan., are one of the six Kansas Master Farmer and Farm Homemaker couples for 2021. The couple has been farming in far western Kansas for nearly 50 years, and John and Sharon say though much has changed in that time, one thing has remained the same. And that’s making sure that the next generation has the tools, mentorship and opportunities to grow, just like the previous generation gave to them.
John grew up on the family farm near Bird City and went off to Kansas State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in ag mechanization in the late 1960s. While he was at K-State, he enrolled in ROTC and was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, serving two years in South Korea during the Vietnam War.
He returned in 1972 after his military service ended to farm with his father, Sigfred Hendricks, who was progressive for his generation. For example, Sig began irrigating with one of the first pivot irrigation systems in Cheyenne County in 1964, John explains.
When his father died in 1973, John continued to farm, using the skills and knowledge his father had passed along to him, as well as his college education.
“For years our dryland was basically a wheat-fallow-wheat-fallow-wheat rotation with very little sorghum sprinkled in here and there, but very little row crop,” John says. By adopting no-till and strip-till practices, the farm moved into raising corn. John says those no-till practices allowed the family to improve crop yields and reduce their labor.
A growing family
While John was busy starting his farming career, Sharon was moving to Bird City to use her newly minted Fort Hays State University elementary education degree to teach second grade. The two married in 1975, and then their three sons came along: David, Chad and Nathan. When the boys were young, Sharon stayed home and helped on the farm. But once the boys were in elementary school, she returned to teaching. She retired in 2010 after 25 years as an elementary teacher.
“Farming is more than an occupation, it’s kind of a way of life,” Sharon says, “because you work together as a family, which we did when the boys were young.” Whether running a grain cart or a combine, Sharon and John worked together to make their farming dreams come true, and they provided an example of teamwork to their sons that lasts even today.
The couple also contributed to their community, through service on many boards and membership in the United Methodist Church in Bird City.
A growing farm
Through the years, John and Sharon expanded the farm by using the advice of the Kansas Farm Management Association.
Whether it was deciding to add technology, add equipment or infrastructure, or deciding to invest in land, the KFMA provided the family with data to help the Hendrickses make their decisions, John says.
“They’ve given good advice, whether that was comparing analysis of what crops are showing more profit than the other — it’s been really good,” John says. He adds that over the past 50 years, technology — whether in the cab or in the seeds in the field — has been part of the family’s farming success.
“John’s always been progressive,” Sharon says. “I would say more progressive than maybe some would be.” For example, the farm uses yield maps, going back 15 years, to determine productivity on fields and prescribe variable fertilizer rates. Composite and grid soil testing also help the family efficiently apply soil nutrients.
A new era
Working with the KFMA, the family decided to form a corporation that owns the machinery, grain storage and farm buildings. And, now that their sons David and Chad have returned to farm, they’ve formed the Hendricks Brothers Partnership, which leases that machinery and infrastructure from the family corporation. John and Sharon started the gradual process of transferring farm ground and management to the brothers’ partnership about 15 years ago.
“It’s just been a real gradual process,” Sharon says.
“When they came back, we told them they could farm two quarters of ours,” John says. The rule was, when the family is working on your ground, you call the shots, he adds. That allowed the sons a valuable learning experience in managing farm ground while still benefiting from John and Sharon’s experience.
Today, the farm has not only expanded in acreage, but also added irrigated soybeans into its crop rotation, and the grain storage has been increased to accommodate the farm’s growth.
And while they’re being honored for their innovative farming methods and their community service, John and Sharon say the most rewarding part of their lives is watching their three sons find their own measures of success in farming and agriculture, and growing their own families.
John and Sharon say they take the most pride in watching David and Chad grow into their responsibilities as the next generation to farm, and seeing Nathan grow as a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University. The couple’s daughters-in-law, Amy, Maddie and Lindsay, and their nine grandchildren are also continuing the family’s tradition of community service and family farming in their own ways, too.
“Because of their success in managing and operating the farm, it has made transitioning to the next generation an easy process for John and me,” Sharon says.
Master Farmer extras
Advice from family: John and Sharon say the best advice they could pass along to their sons would be to treat others with dignity and integrity, and to find a career that makes you happy.
Family history: John and Sharon will be the first of their family to receive Master Farmer and Master Farm Homemaker honors.
Be sure to read about each of the members of the new class of Kansas Master Farmers and Farm Homemakers here:
Kevin and Vera Schultz story: Cattle, service to others is Schultz family brand
Kevin and Vera Schultz photo album: Faith, family and Herefords is Schultz brand
Ellis and Rita Yoder story: Yoders grounded in respect for land, community
Ellis and Rita Yoder photo album: Yoder family emphasizes family legacy, farm improvement
Jay and Stacy Rezac: Rezacs attribute family farm success to teamwork
Rezac photo album: Teamwork is the key for Rezac family