Farm Heritage Series: Engelhard Family Farms
13 September 2017
“Challenges are meant to test you and to teach you”- Nathan Engelhard
Seeing potential in fertile land in Unionville, Michigan, Leonhard and Barbara Engelhard founded Engelhard Family Farms in 1892. Nestled in the heart of the thumb and passed down from father to son for over 125 years, co-owners Dennis and Cindy Engelhard and their son, Nathan and his wife Amy Engelhard work together to make Engelhard Family Farms a successful conventional and organic operation.
Engelhard Family Farms, originally a milking operation, transitioned to a cash crop operation raising corn, wheat, dry beans, and sugar beets. After joining the operation in 1978, Dennis grew it to be a large conventional farm with over 6,000 acres. Thanks to adapting changes in technology and advancements in weed control, Dennis was able to do less with more. When farm prices were low in 2002 and not producing much of a profit for the operation, Dennis decided to gradually transition some of the land from conventional to organic.
The transition to organic was not accomplished overnight; Dennis transformed 80 acres at a time and learned new procedures and benefits along the way. The hard work paid off and Dennis grew the business yet again. Well into its fifth generation, Nathan and Amy have taken the reigns on the organic farm and have continued to make it grow. Today their operation consists of 1,000 acres of organic corn, soybeans, dry beans, and wheat.
Nathan says, “For any farm or business to grow it has to change and adapt to new and updated technologies.” To get the yields they want by switching to organic, they work the ground twice with a field cultivator before planting. Within two to three days, they come back in with a tine weeder that looks like a large thatcher to break any new weeds that are growing in the top couple inches of the ground. When the crop comes up they come back with a double rotary hoe which is one behind another in a single pass to control a large majority of the weeds. With new skills and utilizing different resources, it’s these techniques that include a lot of new technology that Dennis is very proud to learn.
Dennis also keeps paperwork on every field about when they were in there and what they did with every pass. “Each field is assigned a lot number and weights are kept for yield tracking for traceability reasons in case something goes wrong. With everyone wanting to know where their food comes from today this best helps us track their food and gives us an idea about the steps it went through before it got to their table,” Nathan adds.
Just like other farmers, Nathan says that one great thing about agriculture is that every day is different with new challenges and obstacles. That is why he enjoys the opportunity to lead their operation in day to day decision making and also still be able to get his hands dirty as much as possible. Nathan loves to be able to work with multiple generations at the same time and says it’s the greatest joy on the farm.
Planting season is at the top of the list when it comes to Nathan’s favorite equipment and time of year. He says, “Planting sets the pace for the entire year and every decision you make at that time affects the entire year.” Don’t think he dislikes harvest season; that came in as a close second. “When harvest season arrives you get the opportunity to see firsthand what your successes and failures were during the year and start to figure out how you can manage and change that going forward into the following year.”
Many farmers who have planted and harvested longer than Nathan will tell him to just keep his eyes and ears open. As a farmer, Nathan says you only get 40-50 chances to master your craft; that is if you’re lucky. Farming has taught Nathan that he must always be content with what he has but never satisfied. “We are content in our work and in seeing what it’s produced over the years. I have learned the secret joy of trusting in God’s providence and experiencing His constant goodness” Nathan says.
On Nathan’s desk sits 19-quart mason jars of which 18 are crops. The 19th jar, which Nathan is most proud of holds the dirt those four generations of his family have provided along with the same dirt that Nathan and Amy are currently raising the sixth generation, their son, Lawson on. Agriculture and farming are not just a job for Nathan, it’s a true passion of his and something that he’s proud to tell people.
The biggest goal Nathan has set for Engelhard Family Farms is to sustain their operation for the next generation by taking care of the land and build the business. Being able to hand something down to the next generation is the key to the success of the generations to come, not only in assets but in knowledge and wisdom that comes from years of farming the same dirt.
“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”- Vince Lombardi
That is the quote Nathan has on his desk that he reads every day. “Challenges are meant to test you and to teach you. If you look at them as a teaching tool you won’t be a burden for you”, says Nathan.
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