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Ryan 2

Ryan Weeks

Owner and CEO of Weeks Family Farms with operations in Nebraska

How many generations has your family been farming?

“I’m a 5th generation farmer.”

Where are your operations, and within what geography do you operate?

“We operate in South-Central Nebraska near Hastings.”

What crops do you grow, and how diverse is your operation?

“Our operation is very diverse; we grow organic and Non-GMO corn, organic and Non-GMO beans, organic white sorghum, organic seed corn, organic and transitional barley, organic and transitional peas, as well as use cover crops on approximately 75% of our acres.”

Why did you decide to get into farming?

“I entered college intending to leave farming. I started studying Biological Systems Engineering switched to Business Management and back BSE.”

“As I was pursuing my degree I decided agriculture was where I wanted to be. When a little irrigated ground came up for rent, I decided to head back to the farm. During and a few years after college, I worked for a welding supply company while I started my farm part-time. I found that I preferred to work for myself.”

What is your favorite part of farming?

“Farming is a challenge. My favorite part is being out on the field. I enjoy the competition to see what you can squeeze out of every acre, especially without synthetic fertilizers. We are trying to farm organically, and we’re learning something new every day to change and adapt to a non-conventional farming environment.”

“I enjoy growing a variety of crops. The farm used to grow corn and soybeans, but we’re adding more to the mix all the time. It’s also enjoyable to be closer to the food system and having a closer connection to the consumer.”

What is one thing that would surprise people about farming?

“To be a successful farmer, you need a highly diverse skill set. On the farm, you do a daily application of math, science, biology, and chemistry. You also need an astute ability to manage a business. Operations have gotten so big, the numbers are bigger so the mistakes are bigger. You have to be careful at managing financials and looking at opportunities. It’s an all-encompassing job that uses every bit of education you get in school. I don’t know if there are other jobs like that that use the tools you gain throughout your education.”

What tech do you use today to look at the land/do business?

“Today, we use Advantage Acre. It’s helpful with soil testing and, drainage issues, water pooling. We also use ground-truthing and GIS data.”

What is the biggest issue facing farming today?

“Access to capital.”

What kinds of things do you think we should be doing to encourage more people to pursue a career in agriculture?

“Technology advances will help kids come back to agriculture. For those who don’t like digging in the dirt or running tractors, there are a lot of opportunities to come back to the business with technology.”

Why did you decide to join the CIBO Farmer Advisory Network?

“CIBO was out on my farm about a year ago and I found the tool useful and interesting. As it’s developed, I’m seeing that it now shows valid information that farmers, investors, and landowners can look at and pull to help them evaluate land. There are also a lot of good guys on the advisory network who I trust and admire. I value the opportunity to network and learn from this group.”

What are you hoping to get out of the board?

“Learning and having people understand what we’re doing as an organic farm. Agriculture has a lot of facets that can fight between each other – for example, GMO v conventional or organic v conventional. Organic is not a holy grail but a production practice. We saw profitability in it and we’ve seen some cool things from a soil health and microbial standard.”

“I’m looking to share that organic farming is just a production practice where we chose to not use pesticides, synthetics, or fertilizers. We chose to use cow manure and chicken litter for nitrogen needs. The operation uses cover crops to help hold back weed banks and this year we’re using mustard to accomplish weed control along with it acting as a natural fumigant for bugs. After it grows, we shred it, plant beans and hope they’re cleaner. Our mustard is someone else’s pre plant chemical. We view it as a production practice rather than debating the way we do things with others. In the end, all of us are farmers.”

What type of feedback are you looking forward to contributing to the board?

“That we really operate no different than a conventional farm and have some of the same needs from a technology standpoint.  There’s a perceived divide between organic and conventional farming. I hope the board sees it’s a good opportunity and it’s a production practice no different from ridge-till, no-till, or strip-till. I also enjoy conversations with large groups of producers who can share information with each other.”

What do you hope CIBO can make better?

“I’m interested to see if CIBO can show a difference in land values based on production practices over time. I think it will be valuable to show what the soil health history is when you sell a piece of property in the future. When you buy a piece of property that hasn’t been productive, you need to bring it up to a baseline production level and it can be costly. The farm across the road that is 1k/acre more may cost you upfront if it has better base fertility and microbial activity but is cheaper in the long run.”

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