Gackle, North Dakota
Mike Zenker is a fifth-generation family farmer in Gackle, North Dakota, where he raises row crops: barley, soybeans and corn.
He’s been on the farm since 2008, and he took it on full-time in 2012.
A family affair
For the Zenkers, farming is a collaborative, family business. While they each have their own operation, they work together on everything, as a family.
“There's a whole group of us, which is really fun to work with,” Mike said. “We’re really able to help each other out and work together to get the job done.”
Jason Rohr, who serves as the senior insurance specialist at AgCountry Farm Credit Services and who works with the Zenkers, is amazed by the teamwork he sees across the families’ operations. “What impresses me most about this operation is that it is very much a family operation that is heavily invested in each other,” Jason said.
The Farm Credit difference
Chad Rudolph, vice president and loan officer at AgCountry Farm Credit Services, focuses on understanding what makes each of his customers unique, and that goes for the Zenkers, too.
“Every farmer that we work with is different. As loan officers, we have try to be as precise as we can with our customers,” Chad said. “We have to know their financials and know where they want to take their farm. Then, we show them the different types of tools that Farm Credit has to offer, which allows them to make those hard decisions.”
When times get tough
The past few years have proved very challenging for Mike and his operation.
“We thought 2018 was bad. Well, 2019 just got worse,” he said. “Our 2019 harvest literally finished on July 1, 2020.” Unable to harvest due to weather, his corn crop sat in the field all winter, causing astronomical losses.
“No matter what you do, the weather has control,” Mike said. “It really starts to wear on a guy.”
That’s where Farm Credit comes in. “Without the help of Farm Credit, and everything they offer to us, it would be a real struggle for us just to keep our head above water,” Mike said.
One tool that Mike utilizes to protect himself against constant uncertainty regarding the weather is crop insurance.
“Crop insurance is designed to protect the producer against a multitude of perils, which would include anything from a crop failure all the way through to not even being able to get the crop planted in the spring, which is what Mike experienced in 2020,” Jason said. “Additionally, if there is a drop in market prices, the revenue protection program protects farmers against that.”
The importance of optimism
Despite the challenges and uncertainties he faces, Mike remains hopeful.
“You're always optimistic that what's out there in the field this year might be the best crop you have ever grown, because you want to keep this farm going; you want to keep it going for your kids,” he said.
Mike hangs on to that optimism, waking up each morning with the belief that there’s always going to be a brighter day.