By Lynn Betts
After nearly 20 years of farming in Jones County in eastern Iowa, Shaun and Valerie Lambertsen can point to several farm management and financial moves they’ve made during that time that have helped them build a successful operation.
What they want to talk about most, though, are the relationships they’ve formed with people in their community. And the Lambertsens — members of the Iowa Master Farmer Class of 2018 — say they’re most proud of working with young farmers to help them succeed in agriculture.
One of those young farmers, Kyle Vavricek, 29, is an independent subcontractor managing seven hog buildings, each feeding more than 2,500 hogs a year.
“I knew I wanted to come back and farm after I graduated from Iowa State University about five years ago, but I didn’t know exactly how that was going to happen,” Vavricek says. “It’s tough for a young person to get ground to farm. Dad has 400 acres, and we do 1,500 acres of custom farming together, but that’s not enough to support two families.”
Vavricek began working part time as a hired hand for the Lambertsens. “We contract-feed with Dave Eichelberger; seven buildings average 2.25 turns per year at 1,250 hogs per fill,” Lambertsen says.
“Kyle did chores for us four days a week and helped load hogs in and out as a part-time employee for three years. But he was looking for something more. I was afraid we’d lose him,” he adds.
One day two years ago the two sat down to talk about what Vavricek wanted for his farming future and how he could get there. Six months later they sat down again and worked out a subcontractor arrangement that put Vavricek in charge of the pigs.
The Lambertsens still have the contract with Eichelberger and manage the manure, but Vavricek is responsible for the health, feeding, loading in and out, and “everything else above the slats.” And Vavricek gets a percentage of the payment from Eichelberger.
“I was nervous for the first six months. The health and well-being of the pigs was on me,” Vavricek says. “But I had taken on more responsibility and improved my skill set when I worked as a hired hand. That was critical for me being more comfortable.”
A seven-year agreement that was established two years ago has already been extended. “Now, we’ve had a son born. I’m starting a family, and the sub-contracting arrangement for producing hogs has really worked out well,” Vavricek says.
The Lambertsens also rent a farm in partnership with another young farmer, John Bowers, who produces beef. Likewise, the Lambertsens rent pastures to young farmer Brian Greazel. And they have employees who may be future partners.
“We’re surrounded by some really great people helping here,” Lambertsen says. “And we like to make the most of that by partnering with them.”
Betts writes from Johnston.