By Lynn Betts
Shaun Lambertsen says the diversity in leasing arrangements and adaptations he makes to help multiple landlords reach individual goals are the strength of his farming operation near Martelle in Jones County.
“Some tenants might say farming differently for different landlords complicates their life,” Shaun says. “That’s true to some extent, but the energy and ideas that come from two people on the same page is really exciting, and it makes for good relationships with our landowners, who we see as partners.”
Shaun learned the importance of communication and meeting landowner needs before he ever started farming, when he worked four years for Hertz Farm Management shortly after graduating from Iowa State University.
“I could see the farmers who were growing quickly had an ability to identify with owners and adapt to their priorities,” Shaun says.
Humbled by his selection as a 2018 Master Farmer, Shaun says what most excites him and his wife, Valerie, is working together with landowners, suppliers, consultants and others in a partnership to succeed.
Landowner in high school
Shaun wanted to farm when he was 3 years old, says his father, Dan. As a high school junior, he got a loan and bought 19 acres of high-producing farmland.
“It scared me, because I had seen the emotion involved when people lost their farms,” Shaun says. “But it was a good time to buy, and that single move paid quickly for the land and my college education.”
From that original 19 acres, Shaun and Valerie have steadily built their operation in eastern Iowa to the point of owning 671 acres and operating 2,805 acres, all but 93 tillable.
Shaun owns about a fourth of the land he operates, custom-farms 12%, farms 25% on crop share and cash-rents the rest.
“It’s a good combination. The benefit to crop share is less upfront money for us, and the energy we get from everyone working together for profit,” he says. “The custom farming takes some stress away because of less risk, and cash rent is necessary for growth. Some of our rental agreements are for three to five years; some are flexible cash rent agreements, for as long as 15 years. We don’t do much on an annual basis.”
Meeting landlords’ requests
With a variety of landowners comes a wide mixture in goals and values. For example, an owner from Nebraska concerned about soil health wants cover crops that allow something with living roots to grow on all his land all year-round.
In that situation, Shaun furnishes labor, machinery and management in return for 30% of the proceeds. “That lets me experiment and learn from a different system,” he says.
On the other hand, another owner wants Shaun to do everything he can to reach 400-bushel yields on corn.
The Lambertsens use variable-rate planting on 20-inch row spacing for both corn and soybeans. Shaun’s top concern is soil compaction; he uses mostly quad track tractors. Manure from seven hog buildings, which were intentionally spread out and built in locations near fields they would fertilize, is applied with drag hoses as much as possible to alleviate compaction from manure tanks.
Valerie oversees the manure management plans and does the books for the farming operation. Prescription fertilizer and seed, crop scouting, autosteer, bee plots, grass waterways, water quality testing, strip tillage and vertical tillage, headlands, and buffer strips are part of the Lambertsens’ operation.
The Lambertsens say their best investment was a red barn housing their horse, Lady, and sheep, chickens and rabbits.
WORKING TOGETHER: Shaun Lambertsen (second from left) talks with his landlords — his father Dan (left), grandmother Mary Carol Lambertsen and great-uncle Bob Plattenberger.
“We’ve built some of our best memories and formative moments for our four boys there” — Ivan, 14; Dean, 10; Eli, 7; and Charlie, 5, Shaun says. “Besides serving as the base for 4-H and FFA projects, the barn and especially Lady have provided an opening for us to promote quality pork production to farm visitors.”
While serving as vice president of the Anamosa School Board, Shaun was instrumental in passage of a school bond that resulted in a state-of-the-art performance center, science labs, new ballfields and security systems.
Shaun and Valerie led planning and fundraising for an Equestrian Center at the Jones County fairgrounds, and are members of the Iowa Corn Growers, Jones County Pork Producers and Farm Bureau. They are active in FFA and 4-H, and at their church, St. Paul Lutheran.
Betts writes from Johnston.