By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
A new survey finds there's no bigger challenge to young farmers than land. Locally, the price for an acre of farm ground jumped a whopping 35 percent last year. Despite the challenges, young farmers like Ben and Jamie Keep are optimistic.
"I am fifth generation on this place here," Ben said.
A century after the first home was built on this farmstead outside Cotesfield, a new generation goes back to the past, with a diversified family farm.
The Keeps raise corn, soybeans, sorghum, cattle, Charolais, Herefords, and more.
A young couple with interests in both crops and livestock, Ben and Jamie have no trouble staying busy.
"I'm never bored, I have something to do all season of the year, whether I like it or not," Ben said with a laugh.
They say their parents provided the framework to get started, but say they've had to establish themselves too.
Jamie said, "It can be a challenge getting a foot in the door. It takes a lot of knowing people, working with other people to get it all started."
Ben and Jamie grew up 50 miles apart. They attended colleges in different directions -- Ben out west in Chadron and Jamie north at South Dakota State.
Ben went to work for the forest service, but farming was in his blood.
"I kind of missed it, always wanted to come back home," he said.
They're involved in Farm Bureau's Young Farmer and Rancher program, which has motivated them to be more vocal about their passion.
"Farmers and ranchers have to tell their story and we don't do as good a job as we should," Jamie said.
They enjoy reaching out to kids, keeping in touch with pen pals not a world away but a little over an hour away.
Jamie said kids have told her milk comes from the grocery story, but don't make the connection to the farm.
"You don't think of it, even a town the size of Hastings how much there is a disconnect but it's definitely there," she said.
Ben says he's been called a factory farmer on Facebook, a label he struggles with, saying he runs a hundred cows and 500 acres of crops.
"There's a lot of hard headed people that don't want to listen to what people living on the farm and ranch tell them," he explained.
Jamie works as an insurance agent in St. Paul, and helped coordinate the Charolais Junior National Show in Grand Island last year.
They say the skyrocketing price of land is maybe the biggest obstacle to young producers, but they're in it for the long haul.
Ben said, "There's all kinds of challenges in the world, including capital to get started but if you can hang on, there will be opportunity to continue it."
For their efforts, NTV honors Ben and Jamie Keep as Farm Family of the Month. They will appear Sunday night at 10:35 on NTV's Grow. To nominate a farm family or farm youth for our monthly honor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.