Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
Garrett Gunderson is a 24-year-old farmer based just outside of Gary, Minnesota. Together with his father, Gunderson runs Gunderson Grain Farms, an operation focusing on corn, soybeans and wheat. Taking on the family farm, Gunderson is an exemplary “Future Farmer,” as he takes his business degree from MSUM and combines it with the wealth of knowledge he’s acquired from a lifetime of living on the farm.
Tell us about your farm. What do you do?
It’s just my dad and myself, we grow corn, soybeans and wheat. We farm about 2,500 acres.
With just you and your dad, who takes on what roles?
It’s pretty evenly split, both of us do pretty much everything.
Is it a family farm that you’ve been brought on to or did you start it together?
The farm was established in 1899, I believe, which would make it 121 years old. So it’s been established a while.
What is your educational background?
For college, I just went to Minnesota State Moorhead for business. I knew I was going to come back and farm, so I figured I’d go for a business degree. It probably still would have been a good choice to go to NDSU for ag, but growing up farming I kind of knew a good amount about the way it is. I’m more of a hands-on guy rather than opening up a textbook.
Did you always want to end up on the farm or did you ever have other dreams earlier on?
Nope, it was pretty much always ag. I thought about the military a bit in high school, but once farming is in your blood it’s kind of hard to get it out. It’s rewarding going from a seed in the springtime and putting it in the ground, caring for it all year and then coming to the end of the year to harvest it, knowing that you’ve accomplished something.
What are your plans for your farm in the next year to five years?
I am 24, and after [I finished] college, we expanded quite a bit. We don’t mean to get too big, but if something comes up we’ll definitely pick up more acres. Down the road, hopefully within a year or two, we hope to build a shop and start putting some money into some items on the farm.
When the going gets tough and there are things beyond your control, how do you keep motivated? How do you keep excited about showing up everyday?
Like I said, when it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. Farmers aren’t doing it to get rich overnight. I don’t know how to word it, but part of your pay is just coming out here every day and just enjoying being outdoors.
Have you made any recent management changes that have benefited your farm?
Technology-wise, you have my dad and he is about 60, and older guys kind of like to do things that they’ve always done. And since I’ve come on board, technology has been a huge change. So utilizing that more and ensuring you’re putting the right seed in the right piece of ground. We’re tracking everything better as far as the fertilizer and chemical that we’re putting down. So just being more efficient with everything.
What are some of those technology pieces that have helped?
The big one is Climate FieldView. So with that, you can pretty much track everything from planting through harvest and anything in between. It tracks anything you want to use it for. So fertilizing, chemical passes, planting, harvesting and any other fungicide that you put down, it can track that stuff. You can put test strips down in fields and skip passes to see if it is paying off or not.
Also, as part of FBN (Farmers Business Network), there are some other tools that we can play around with.
Has your father trusted you and seen the benefit in the new technology or is he totally hands-off?
It’s pretty much me who’s doing all that stuff. He definitely sees a benefit to it, but as far as technology goes, it would take me forever to train him in on everything. That’s why for most of it, it is easier for me to do it and he just sits back.
For a lot of it, we don’t have to have that Climate FieldView set up for the planting he does, but I can go back later into the computer and plug all the information in myself. So that’s a nice thing too, it’s not like he is forced to have to learn it. I can go back and edit stuff.
Where do you see the future of ag-tech? How can farmers implement that tech into bettering their practice?
There’s definitely a lot of precision stuff that we haven’t gotten into yet. I know we’re looking at getting into a new planter next year, so we might go the precision route on that. Everything costs money and it’s harder for smaller guys to absorb that cost because it’s expensive, no matter if you’re a big farm or not, it is expensive to get into. Obviously the bigger you are, you can spread out that cost.
Technology is only going to be going up from here, whether that is a scary thing or not. It is definitely helpful. Any of us who don’t necessarily get rich one year because of it, we are seeing the benefits of it. You know that you’re doing the right thing for the ground for years to come.
What’s the best piece of farming advice you’ve ever received?
I guess I’ve been told to not do it (*laughs). You gotta love what you do, cause it’s definitely not an easy paycheck at the end of the day. And some years you don’t get a paycheck. But you’re in it for the long run and just seeing everything from start to finish makes it a rewarding job. And you get to be your own boss.
So I guess, just keep with it because one bad year doesn’t mean the rest are gonna be just like that.
How do you stay up-to-date with happenings in the industry?
Whether it’s credible or not, we are in a few Facebook pages with guys throughout the United States. So you get to look at crops that are growing from your next-door neighbor to guys that are 1,500 miles away.
Other than that, just doing research online, listening to the radio, keeping up to date on stuff.
Any advice to farmers in our region?
For younger farmers, my advice would be: don’t be afraid to take chances. Don’t overextend yourself within your first couple of years, because you never know what markets are going to do. You could be farming for two years and have to quit if you overextend yourself. But if you’re smart and you understand stuff and market your grain to be profitable, you’re going to be farming the next year.
Just take chances and keep with it.