In an industry rife with challenges from weather, crop pests, markets, rising input costs, and more, one seldom-discussed hurdle for some farmers is maintaining good relationships with your neighbors. For Joe Burns, 55, and his brothers, this issue is multiplied a thousand-fold. The reason? They farm on the edge of a continually growing city.
“We do have an urban sprawl issue,” Burns said. “We’re getting pretty well surrounded by homes. A lot of what we farm is within city limits.”
Joe and his brothers – Bill, 58, and Tim, 65 – are partners in the family business, TBJ Burns Farms. They primarily raise corn and soybeans on more than 2000 acres just outside of Sioux Falls, SD, the largest population center in the state. While farming has been the family business for generations, the current Burns farm was established back in 1954 when their father moved to the area from Sioux City, IA. At that time, Sioux Falls had a population of about 55,000, and most of the farm was several miles away from town. Since then, the city has grown to nearly 200,000 inhabitants, and development continues to encircle many fields.
Joe and Tim Burns prepare their planter for the 2020 season. Three brothers make up the partnership of TBJ Burns Farms, and they equally manage the 2000 acre operation.
Despite this, the farm hasn’t had any problems keeping acres.
“Losing a quarter to development – I used to have concerns like that,” Joe said. “But it seems like we’ve been okay. Back in 2008, we worried that in 10 more years we wouldn’t be here. Here we are more than 10 years later, and it hasn’t been much of an issue.”
Even so, much of their farm has become surrounded by homes, and road congestion has especially become a hindrance in getting timely farm work done.
“Traffic is kind of a challenge,” Joe said. “Sometimes when we finish a field, we’ll have to find something else to do for a couple hours until traffic calms down.”
Congestion notwithstanding, the Burns brothers have maintained good relationships with their neighbors, though getting spray applications completed can be tricky when adjoining properties are increasingly made up of homes and gardens.
“As a rule, our neighbors are pretty good to us,” Joe said. “A big percentage of people seem to understand what’s going on, that you’ve got to get it done. You just have to be careful when and how you spray, and it doesn’t hurt for the neighbors to understand your situation.”
Keeping the neighbors in mind is a part of the planning discussions Joe has with Lee Fischer, his Hefty Seed Company Agronomist. The Burns farm has built a relationship with Hefty Seed over the past 30 years, and on some of their acres, they’ve started to raise seed production soybeans for Hefty’s. When determining the right soybeans to grow on the Burns farm, Fischer recommended they use Enlist E3 out of consideration for nearby yards.
“They’ve got to be leery of what they spray with the city approaching on them so quickly,” Fischer said. “This new Enlist E3 technology has allowed them to be able to go out there and kill weeds without having to worry as much about volatility and drift concerns.”
Continued development presents another challenge to farming their acres – much of the land that the Burns operation farms is rented and quite variable, and it’s a balancing act to apply fertility to get the most yield out of each acre while keeping in consideration that some ground may be converted into business and residential use.
“At the end of the day, my goal is to keep the big picture in sight,” Joe said. “You realize you’re not always going to do everything completely right, but you try to keep your mistakes to a minimum. It’s a matter of making the best use of what you’ve got. That’s the goal of doing everything that way.”
Joe Burns strolls through his family’s property, with a newly constructed apartment building just across the street in the background. As the metropolitan area grows, the Burns family has had to take extra care to be mindful of residential neighbors when making applications.
As his farm makes input plans for the year, Joe frequently refers to the reliable information provided by the Ag PhD television program, as well as Ag PhD workshops on topics such as herbicide application planning and tiling efforts to improve his ground.
“For sure, the clinics certainly have helped us make decisions along the way,” Joe said. “I’ve always liked how they go through the chemical programs and pricing on everything so you can start making a plan. The tiling clinics have also been interesting. I’ve never been disappointed in any tiling I’ve done on my farm.”
While Ag PhD’s information has been helpful, the Burns brothers will continue to take advantage of the advice provided through their long-standing relationship with their Hefty Seed Agronomist, Lee Fischer. To Joe, this relationship and the service his farm receives is the greatest benefit to working with the company. And it just so happens that using agronomic knowledge to help farmers address the unexpected is Lee’s favorite part of the job.
“That’s what really sets us apart from the other people out there,” Fischer said. “I’m not a salesman. I’m their agronomist, and I want them to be successful – that’s my number one goal. If they find success and they trust me, that’s the most fun part of my job. I love going out and solving problems for people.”
Each farm has its problems, and every season presents different challenges on every farm. Having a partner to help you solve those problems goes a long way.
“Every year, making a plan always seems like a moving target,” Joe said. “You have to go from Plan B to Plan C and so on, and you need somebody that’s knowledgeable about fertility and seed and herbicides, insecticides – when you have to switch to a different plan and all the things that come with that, it’s nice to have Lee to bounce ideas off of. Lee is on our farm several times a year. If we ever have anything we need to have looked at, he’ll come down and look at it.”
As the Burns operation continues to contend with challenges from weeds, insects, and diseases – or neighbors – Joe knows he has a valuable partner in his agronomist.
“I’ve always enjoyed Lee,” Joe said. “He’s very honest, and he has a lot of qualities that make him easy to work with.”
If you need to bounce some ideas off of a Hefty Agronomist or are looking for some answers to help you face the challenges on your farm, visit your local Hefty Seed Company or CLICK HERE to find an agronomist near you.