Teaching to farm: Farmer tries to better ag industry and own community
Monday, May 16, 2011
Charles Hinkebein admits farming can be a risky business. It's expensive, unpredictable and a long-term investment. But he's worked the Southeast Missouri land for most of his life, and he still believes farming is one of the best careers a guy can ask for.
"I've got a million dollars in the ground and nothing to show for it yet," says Hinkebein. "There are so many things you have to invest in. It's not like you pack a lunchbox, go to work for eight hours, then come home and don't worry about it. Here, we worry all the time. We've got to get insurance on the crop, hail insurance -- there are so many things to invest in, and then you have to wait eight to nine months for the payout."
Hinkebein's father and grandfather were farmers, and he still farms their 2,500 acres near Blomeyer, Mo. In fact, he's been working the farm for about as long as he can remember.
"[My father] tied two-by-fours on my feet so I could reach the pedals of the tractors," says Hinkebein. "In my life, it was always my dream to farm. Some people are born on a farm and never want to go back to see it or work in the dirt. It was the opposite with me. The closer I am to the earth and the dirt, the better."
Today, Hinkebein, along with his son-in-law, raises corn, wheat, soybeans and sorghum. His 11-year-old grandson already dreams of becoming a farmer, and Hinkebein says that's OK -- as long as he goes to college first. In fact, Hinkebein is such a firm believer in education that, when he won $2,500 for a not-for-profit through the Monsanto Fund's America's Farmers Grow Communities program, he donated the funds, and some of his own, to Delta Elementary School.
"I'm all for academics. Kids need to come out of school learning and knowing what they need to do. You've got to have an education these days," says Hinkebein, who lives only a few miles from the school that educated himself, his children and, now, his grandchildren. "Plus, [Delta] is a farming community. They've got an agriculture background."
Hinkebein continues to teach himself about farming, as well. He uses parts of his farm for test plots and soil sampling, and even enters farming competitions sponsored by groups like the National Corn Growers Association. The association helps offset the cost of seed and fertilizers, and each farmer's techniques and results are published in a booklet each year. Hinkebein always looks forward to meeting other farmers, discussing what they're working on, and swapping ideas.
"I try something new every year on my farm. Mainly I like to see how I can raise the bar," says Hinkebein. "I try a little of everything. I'm working with wheat this year."
Hinkebein says farming has changed drastically during his lifetime, mostly due to better technology, such as auto-steer tractors and chemicals designed to prevent agriculture problems. He says farming will continue to evolve, whether it's through drought-tolerant corn or advanced fertilizers or brand-new equipment.
"The technology, chemicals and tools have changed so much," he says. "In the 1970s, if you did 100 bushels of corn, you were doing something good. My grandfather probably only made 40 or 45 bushels, but that was good for his time." Hinkebein says the national average is around 165 bushels, and he usually does about 280.
"Now, if I do 250 I think I'm doing something wrong. Times have changed, and they're going to keep changing because of the technology out there," he says. "It's a business, I'll tell you. There's a lot to keep track of. You can't just plant and leave and forget about it."