Published on Monday, January 9, 2017
For some, their farming career starts immediately after high school. For two men in North Dakota, the journey to full-time farmers was a little longer.
Fred Lukens grew up on a cattle and grain farm, but by the time he entered college his dad had retired. Fred played basketball at the University of North Dakota while completing both his undergraduate and master’s degrees. There, he met and married his wife, Jane. For two summers, between his communications, marketing and management coursework, Fred worked for Jane’s dad, Oscar, on their family farm.
After school, Fred dove into work at an advertising agency. Before long, the Lukens’ became the firm’s sole owners. It was a great fit and allowed Fred to stay engaged with agriculture. One particular experience as a young professional stuck with him.
“We had a consultant that worked with our group of advertising agencies who made a point once that everyone needs to consider a change of career somewhere around age 45. He said, ‘How many people have you seen that get to age 55 and have reached the peak? They're not going to be promoted anymore. They cease to be excited about their jobs and are just looking forward to retirement. How many of those people, when they get to retirement at 62, 65, are dead within five years?’ When he said that, I was only 35 years old or so, and I could name five people.” Fred recalls. “The point is, you have to be excited when you get up in the morning. That was always kind of in the back of my mind - somewhere around age 45, second career.”
During this time, Fred and Jane returned to the family farm to work on the weekends. Fred’s interests in agriculture continued to grow. About eight years later, opportunity came knocking. “I think we were 43 when Jane's brother asked if we wanted to take over their dad's share of the farm because he was 73 and wanted to retire. So, here was the change of career.” Fred explains.
By 1997, the Lukens’ moved from Grand Forks to farm in Aneta. Although Fred continued some consulting work on the side, he embraced the new challenges of farming. “Farming, like a lot of businesses is part science and part art.” Fred expresses. “The good farmers have the science down pat, but they're really good artists too. There are certain scientific things you really can't violate, but getting the most out of a corn plant is a lot of art.”
“We're trying different things all the time. One of my favorite business books was Sam Walton’s autobiography. He said, ‘The secret to success is not doing one thing 1,000% better, it's doing 1,000 things 1% better.’ And that's farming.” Fred smiles. “There are more than 1,000 things that we have. The big variable is Mother Nature. It is what it is. The weather and all that stuff can be fickle. As farmers, we have to try and live in that world.”
Fred has enjoyed his career change. “I love working with Mother Nature, trying to figure it out. God created a very complex world and it’s just fun to get a little better understanding of that and how to work with it.”
Over time, Fred gained more knowledge and the farm grew, opening the door for other family members to participate. “Scott Huso is the son of Jane's cousin. He is an exceptionally talented young man who used to work on our farm.” Fred explains.
In fact, Scott grew up on the farm Fred and Jane now call home. Over the years, Scott’s dad, Don, worked with Jane’s dad, brother and Fred. “My dad worked for them when my brother and I were growing up.” Scott recalls. “We started helping haul feed to the cattle in the winter and mowing the lawn and that kind of stuff because we’d just walk over. Working with my dad, I learned to drive the tractor at a young age. He’s a very good mechanic so I learned to do some wrenching from him, too.”
“By the time I was in the sixth grade, my dad would leave the John Deere 7720 combine at the field where we were harvesting. The school bus would drop me off and I’d jump in the combine and harvest the field, by myself. There was nobody else out there, just a couple trucks. My dad and I would do all the repair work on our combines, too.”
Although Scott enjoyed working on the farm with his family, he didn’t think farming was in his future. “I wasn’t the son of a farmer.” Scott explains. “My dad worked for a farmer, he owned a couple quarters that they’d custom farm for him, but it just never really crossed my mind to farm. I liked it and I liked agriculture, but I also liked playing the trumpet and was good at music. So actually, I went to the University of North Dakota to major in music. That lasted about a week.” Scott laughs.
After switching to pre-business and finishing his first year of school, Scott transferred to North Dakota State University to study Ag Econ. Between semesters, he went back and worked for Fred on the farm. Working for a crop consultant one summer also gave Scott the chance to learn more about agronomy. From there, he continued into graduate school at NDSU.
As he finished the grad program, Scott began interviewing for full-time jobs. He received several offers, but none were the job he’d been picturing for himself. There were so many decisions to make, but suddenly it became clear. “I'm sitting at my desk working on my thesis, just wrapping some stuff up.” Scott recalls. “Got a phone call from my dad early that morning. It was, 'Everything is okay, Scott, but your mom rolled her car on her way to work this morning.'”
Although his mom was alright, Scott couldn’t imagine getting a call like that far from home. He hung up and immediately accepted the offer with AdFarm in Fargo, the ad agency Fred was involved with.
Through his work at AdFarm, Scott spent a lot of time traveling. “Quickly, I realized you can get anywhere pretty fast. That's when my hang up about leaving North Dakota kinda went away.” Scott recalls. Soon after that, his career led to living in Canada for a few years. As his experience grew, an opportunity opened in Kansas City. That winter, he came home for Christmas and prepared to move south.
However, his career was about to take another unexpected turn. While Scott was home for the holidays a family friend, Tim, called and said he wanted to talk. “Why don’t you come out to the farm on Saturday?” Tim suggested. Unsure of his intentions, Scott agreed to meet. When Scott arrived, Tim sat him down in the office.
“'Brad and I are getting close to 60.' Tim explained. 'The easy option for us would be to have an auction sale, rent out the land, we're done. But, we've put a lot of time and effort into building this farm. We've got employees that depend on the job here. I feel a sense of commitment, and a sense of obligation to them, and a sense of pride in keeping this going. So, is it something you'd be interested in?'”
Shocked, Scott agreed to consider Tim’s proposal. By early February, Scott was preparing to move home to Aneta. In 2008, he started farming full time. Since then, Scott has grown into handling most of the day-to-day operations.
Then just over a year ago, Scott’s story took another surprising turn. "One day the phone rang and it was Fred, my distant cousin. I'll never forget, he said, 'Scott, Jane and I are thinking about exiting farming.' I said, 'Excuse me?' I couldn't really understand. He said, 'Jane and I are thinking about exiting farming and you're my first phone call.' I just about dropped the phone. I'm sure at some point in your life you’ve had situations when you're humbled beyond belief. That's what this was. He said, 'We're home right now, so if you want to come over and visit, come as soon as you can.' I got over there and Jane said, ‘You have been our plan.’ Even thinking about it now, it's just mind blowing because that's the farm I grew up on. This year, I rented that land, the same land I learned how to do things on. I was working there when I was 12, 13, 14 years old."
Looking back, it still surprises Scott to think about his life’s path. “I graduated and I started working as an account executive at an advertising agency and now I'm managing one of the larger farms in this area. Unbelievable.” He marvels.
Last winter, Scott went around to visit his newest landlords, which included Fred’s in-laws, Oscar and Nola. “Oscar was very, very happy that I'm farming his land. That, to me, was the ultimate moment.” Scott recalls. “Fred asked me to farm the land, and had talked to Oscar and Nola about it, but I don't know if they knew how things were going to happen. Because I'm a partner with another guy in Ridgeline Farm. So, I sat down with Oscar and Nola, and then Nola said, 'I'm just so glad you came over. I was thinking that you're this big farmer now, but now I realize, you're just the same old Scott.' And I thought, 'Yeah, I'm just the same 14-year-old kid that was working on combines over here.'”
That’s why Fred Lukens and Scott Huso farm.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, corn, soybeans, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, North Dakota, Scott Huso, Fred Lukens