Growing up on the family farm in Rolette, North Dakota, as a child, Bill Mongeon remembers that there was always something to do. “It was always a steady job from when you grew up,” he said. “You were never without work.” Though this sort of lifestyle may sound strange to people who didn’t grow up in a farming environment, for Bill, farming has always been his life. We sat down with him to learn more about his story and life on the farm.
Being raised on the family farm provides plenty of opportunities for not just working together and staying busy, but instilling a family culture in the operation as well. Bill and his brother are third-generation farmers, with his son Garrett and nephew Matt entering the operation as fourth-generation farmers. In many ways, the Mongeon farm is in a transitional state right now, with Matt currently being full-time in the family farming operation while Garrett is just finishing up college, deciding which path will be right for him.
For many, choosing a vocation means leaving your childhood home for good, setting out to create something fresh. But for Bill and many before him, his vocation was found right at home, investing in the farming legacy of his ancestors and sharing that with his own children. Bill himself even set out to pursue something outside farming. He left North Dakota and studied Diesel Tech for a year in Wyoming. Yet when he was called upon, he returned to the family farm to help with the harvest. That was 1985, nearly 40 years ago, and Bill is still a farmer to this day.
Having been a farmer for nearly 40 years, it’s safe to assume Bill has found something he truly loves. “I love the wide open country,” he said. “I love being outside—there’s just [a feeling of] peace and calm in the early mornings.”
Bill is his own boss, which he says is both a good thing and a bad thing, because you’re in charge of everything you do, yet in the end, it’s always rewarding because when push comes to shove, it’s up to you to make things happen and the lasting result is very fulfilling. “It’s just one of those jobs where you have to be on your toes all the time and learning all the new stuff there is to learn all the time because [farming] is constantly evolving.”
It’s just one of those jobs where you have to be on your toes all the time and learning all the new stuff there is to learn all the time because [farming] is constantly evolving.”
In terms of evolving, Bill has seen farming and ag tech do so immensely over the last 30-some years. Although technology played a role in farming when he was just getting started, it’s nothing compared to the technology that goes into a farming operation today. “When we started out, it was a lot more relaxed,” he said. “We learned at a young age how to run equipment; you just jumped on a tractor, and all you had to do was go work the ground and keep the weeds from growing. If you made a mistake, it wasn’t a big deal. Nowadays, every pass you make in a field has a pretty specific purpose. And you don’t just jump out there and go, you have a lot of technology involved in what’s going on.”
Farming has become less like just driving a tractor and more like running an air traffic control tower; there are so many moving pieces and data points to make everything run smoothly. Today, mistakes are less forgiving. Whether it be machinery or chemicals, farming operations are just more expensive to maintain and more costly for mistakes.
“The fertilizers are expensive, so we’re trying to maximize profits where the land is good, and then minimize losses where it’s bad,” Bill said. “We’re constantly trying to find all of our operating costs to maximize return.”
When it comes to implementing technology, Bill’s mid-sized farming operation runs smoothly with the help of many software and tech tools. One of his favorites is a software for planning and tracking yields called Climate Fieldview. This tool allows him to track and compare varieties, fertilizers and store info from each year all in one database, which in turn enables him to see where costs are going and where he can create better efficiencies in his operation.
“I always used to embrace [technology] when I was younger, and now as I’m getting older, it’s time for the younger generation to take that over—it’s kind of overwhelming sometimes,” Bill laughed. Thankfully, his son Garrett and nephew Matt are at the helm ready to take over the operation someday.
If Bill could offer any advice to other farmers, he believes that technology is going to continue to be a valuable tool in farming and that it’s important to keep an open mind about the technology of tomorrow. “From [the time] I started, things have changed so much,” he said. “I’ve heard stories from when my dad was young and how much it’s changed, and for me to look at what the technology is going be like even 10 years from now is kind of mind-boggling, because it’s an everchanging business and it’s getting to be more and more high tech all the time.”
Yes, adding more acres to your operation is one way to grow, but Bill credits technology as a large factor in what’s given him the opportunity to grow and do a better job. The very essence of Future Farmer Magazine is to tell the stories of those embracing technology and positioning themselves to be successful, not just today, but tomorrow for the next generation as well. There are a lot of tools available to help farmers grow and maximize their yields, the technology that’s been behind a lot of these seeds, whether it’s wheat, corn, soybeans or canola, has improved dramatically. There are a lot of technology and management practices that can be focused on to keep getting better.
And most importantly, Bill wants to thank his wife Gail.
“I couldn’t do it without her. Farm wives don’t really tend to get the notoriety they deserve, but they do deserve it. They put up with a lot of stress and she is amazing.”