Farm Heritage Series: Steward Farms, Inc. "It started with a dream and a letter"
25 July 2017
In 2006, while he was only a sophomore in college, Josh took a chance on achieving his dream of owning a farm and decided to write a letter to Jim Els, a farmer who owns land in Harrington near Josh’s hometown of Odessa, Washington. In the letter, Josh expressed his dream of one day operating a farm of his own. He also went on to tell Jim about how he and Katie, his future wife, had come from families involved in dryland wheat farming, but neither of them was in a position to inherit land or join a family operation. Jim responded that he had a few more years left before retirement but would consider leasing the land to Josh and Katie when the day came.
Four years went by and in the spring of 2010, Josh received a phone call he had only dreamt about. Jim Els was ready to retire and was looking to lease his land and sell his equipment to Josh and Katie. The Stewards knew that starting a farm was a risk and they had their reservations at first with buying out Jim purchasing the equipment and not to mention they had a baby on the way. They met with Jim and he showed them what it would take financially to get started. In February 2011, Steward Farms, Inc. was born and Josh and Katie were leasing Jim’s land.
Being their first time operating a farm, Josh and Katie knew it was going to be an uphill climb to get the farm to be a successful operation but they were determined to make it work. To keep up with the finances, Josh worked during the day as a full-time salesman for a Case IH dealership, Odessa Trading Company and then worked full time in the evenings on the farm making it possible for Katie to stay at home with their newborn son, Jack. By the winter of 2012, Josh and Katie were “on their feet” financially with farming and Josh was able to leave his job at Odessa Trading Company.
Settling into their roles as farmers, the Stewards rarely did the same thing on the field three weeks in a row; unless it was harvest season. As for their positions on their operation, Josh and Katie are both full owners of the operation which means they do a little bit of everything, including agronomy, marketing, record keeping, equipment operating, and mechanic work. Josh says, “We may do it all but a lot of credit goes to the fact that we surround ourselves with a great team of advisors to help us in all areas.” Since the start of Steward Farms, the operation has almost doubled in acreage. In 2014, the Stewards took on another lease that included pulling 600 acres out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land and putting it back into wheat production. By making that land productive again, Josh brought more money into his local and rural economy with purchasing inputs and hiring local businesses for needed services. A year later, Josh hired his dad to work on Steward Farms full-time allowing Josh to tackle the increased acreage.
With Steward Farms’ growth in recent years, Josh and Katie have been able to help the farm be successful with the USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program. The program has encouraged them to adopt new farm practices, such as using auto-guidance in all their equipment, variable rate fertilizing, minimal tillage, using satellite imagery, yield maps, tissue sampling, and soil sampling. They do all of this with the focus on improving soil health. The NRCS program helps to build a stronger agricultural industry with economic growth, jobs, and innovation. Doing their part in helping the Ag industry grow; the Stewards value farming and the fact that they literally get to reap what they sow every year.
Farming has taught Josh and Katie Steward to be humble and that you can’t control everything. Katie says, “No two years are exactly the same and you constantly have to adapt and change. When you adapt and change you have to surround yourself with experts and rely on them for advice and help in times of change."
Today the Steward’s lease their land with a primary goal of buying more land that will ensure a farming future for their children, Jack and the family’s latest addition, Sadie, their daughter. They want to establish a solid foundation from which their children can take off and grow the farm if it’s a passion they want to pursue. Over and over, Josh and Katie Steward credit Jim and Sue Els for taking a leap of faith on them in achieving their dream of owning a farm operation. The Stewards hope that with sharing their story and being advocates for agriculture it will inspire the younger generation as well as educate the general public.
If you would like to discover more of Steward Farms, Inc. journey, you can like and follow their Facebook page.
Read more stories from our Farm Heritage Series.