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Farming evolves around Hillsboro family

Staff writer

Farming has changed exponentially since Steve Bartel’s father farmed the family plot in Oklahoma.

Bartel challenged his wife Jeannie to drive one of his new tractors that has a computer monitor complete with a global positioning system in the cabin that allows the tractor to steer itself. She could not figure out how to start the complicated machine.

“The generation older, got in the tractor and drove it,” Bartel said. “Now tractors are more electronic. It’s funny to watch someone try to drive for the first time.”

Technologically advanced and expensive machinery is the reason Bartel is in business. As a custom farmer, he harvests and plants for other farmers using his combines, planters, and tractors. Some of his customers are older farmers and do not want to work all on their own.

“A 70-year-old may plant but not harvest,” Bartel said.

Other customers are absentee owners who cannot do the work. For others, it is less expensive to have Bartel harvest or plant than pay for a $300,000 machine.

“In general, agriculture is moving that way,” Bartel said. “It used to be that everybody had all the pieces of equipment that they would need.”

Since Bartel started in 1994, custom farming has changed incrementally over time.

Bartel is spending less time in the field and more time on the telephone. During the spring and summer months, Bartel’s two busiest periods, he has spent entire days driving from field to field checking on his workers, a cell phone never far away from his ear. He is talking to clients and potential clients, setting up times to harvest and plant.

“When you have to rely on someone else, it’s that time element,” Bartel said. “All five guys want to be first.”

To take advantage of high wheat prices, Bartel hired a crew to sew wheat on his farm, because a wheat driller is a machine he does not own.

Some aspects of farming, however. have not changed.

Bartel still feels a deep connection with the land. Recently, he harvested soybeans on the farm where he was raised.

“To me, that’s a lot of fun,” he said. “There are fields that mean more to you.”

Bartel said he enjoys working in the fields and, if he could, he would let someone else manage the custom farming business.

“Some families just manage it and they don’t set foot on it,” he said. “If it was up to me, I’d do all the farm work and have someone else manage.”

“If he could be his own boss and do all his own work,” Jeannie Bartel explained.

Farming is still a lifestyle, a commitment that requires Bartel to work around the clock.

Although the 16 to 20-hour workdays in the summer have morphed into 13-hour days in the fall, Bartel’s work does not end when he comes home. He has to take care of his cattle and his field on his land north of Hillsboro.

Bartel’s commitment has caused him to miss some family functions — birthdays and school activities. Bartel has four children — Seth, 17, Hannah, 13, Amanda, 10, and Emma, 2. Bartel has more time to be with his children now that his business is established; he said he made it to nearly all of Hannah’s volleyball games this year.

The family interest in farming has yet to wane. Bartel has taken all of his children for rides in combines and tractors. Bartel followed his father’s career path and it seems as though Seth is also interested in farming.

“It’s woven into your life,” Bartel said. “I’m the fourth generation to farm.”

Seth, currently enrolled at Hillsboro High School, helps his father during the summer.

“He knows how I do things,” Bartel said. “I miss him when he goes to school.”

Seth is also renting a milo field. Steve and Jeannie Bartel paid the rent but Seth has bought all the seed and equipment on his own.

Steve Bartel, who went to Tabor is asking his son to go to college so Seth can make an informed decision about becoming a farmer. Steve Bartel said an interest in farming among young adults is increasingly rare.

“Who knows where he’ll be in five years,” Bartel said.

If history continues to repeat itself, he could be working alongside his father in the fields, expanding the family business.

Last modified Nov. 4, 2010

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