On any farm, one essential consideration in building a successful operation is the importance of establishing reliable long-term relationships, whether that be with neighbors, the grain elevator, or seed and ag chem suppliers.

For Bob Holzwarth, 78, and his sons Luke, 55, and Alex, 27, who raise corn, soybeans, and wheat in the rolling hills south of Watertown in northeastern South Dakota, one of their most important long-established relationships is with Hefty Seed Company in Watertown. This partnership stretches back nearly 30 years to when the location opened back in 1996.

“Economics and looking beyond doing things the same old way led me to Ron Hefty,” Bob said. “Ron’s ideas, knowledge and care for the soil was something that I admired.”

In that time since beginning with Hefty Seed, Bob has watched as his farm and the farming industry evolve significantly in practices and yield goals. With a greater focus on improving soils through fertility and better tillage practices such as adoption of strip-till, the farm has achieved building up ground to better retain moisture and release more nutrients from organic matter.

“I refer to myself as a ‘Hefty guy,’” he said. Being a Hefty guy for the past 20-plus years, I’ve seen a steady increase in yield. For example, organic matter has improved from 1% or 2% to 5% and even some over 6%. Now with all the new seed treatments, fungicides, and biologicals, things will only continue to get better.”

Though the operation now farms about 5000 acres, getting to this point has taken the efforts of three generations of Holzwarths. It all began with Bob’s dad, Albert, who started farming by renting a few quarters and building up from there, eventually purchasing the homeplace where Bob grew up and Alex lives today. Though he always knew he wanted to eventually transition into farming, initially Bob went to SDSU and received a degree in Mechanized Agriculture, then spent four years in the U.S. Air Force. After his military tour, Bob sold farm structures for Morton Buildings while picking up a bit of land here and there on the side. When his father, Albert, suddenly had a stroke in 1972, that permanently altered the trajectory of Bob’s life.

“I liked the military, but to tell you the truth, I was called to the farming business,” Bob said. “You can call it supernatural if you want, but that’s how I decided what I was going to do.”

In a way, history repeated itself with Bob’s son, Luke. He grew up on the farm working for his dad and continued to do so through college, where he studied electrical engineering, graduating in 1990.

“I’m kind of like my dad – becoming a farmer sort of fell into my lap,” Luke said. “I always thought that I’d end up on the farm, but I figured I’d be engineering for a while first.”

After initially being unable to find work in his chosen field, he continued with the family operation, eventually partnering with his uncles, Keith and David, to transition into farming for himself. In the spring of 1992, Luke began farming full-time, picking up more land and eventually accumulating roughly 1700 acres of the farm’s overall ground. Despite the difficulties of doing so, Luke appreciates the perspective he gained from having to figure things out on his own from a farm management standpoint.

“Dad was very wise,” he said. “He understood the importance of being able to make your own decisions and being your own manager. It’s a high-risk game. It’s not easy to get into, and it’s not easy to be profitable. He didn’t want me just being a son who was like a hired man – he wanted me to be my own boss working side by side with him, which has been a blessing.”

Unlike his father and brother, Alex wanted to get into the farming business sooner rather than later.

“I’d watch Dad move out of the yard, and I’d cry when I couldn’t go with him,” Alex said.

After finishing high school, Alex went to Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, returning immediately to the farm, eventually becoming a 50/50 partner with his dad. Farming is really all he’s ever known, and he’s working with the family and hired help he’s known his whole life. Recently, he contributed to the acquisition of a share of 1700 acres of ground, and the three men divide the duties equally across their 5000 shared acres, helping each other out where they can.

“You would probably think we might have an argument or two on who’s doing what, but it’s not at all like that,” Luke said. “We’ve had a good working relationship. The best part about being able to farm with my dad and now my brother, Alex, is that he allows us the freedom to try new ways of farming. That has fostered an environment that makes the work enjoyable, and it’s also a good way to transition from one generation to another.”

The Holzwarths’ familial partnership is the core of what makes their operation successful. In addition to that, they consider themselves fortunate to farm in a region with great soil while being surrounded by neighbors who are quality farmers and quality people who grow great crops. However, one of the great influences to their operation over the years has been their relationship with their local Hefty Seed agronomist, Jack Beutler.

“Jack is as a friend first, then a salesman,” Luke said. “He’s been there since the day they opened the store in Watertown, and he’s making sure to find us chemical all the time, especially suitable replacements when plans change. Jack is very good at understanding our operation, how we like to do things, and what seed and chemical are the best fit for us to maximize our dollar. He could just make the sale, but he doesn’t just do that. He works with us throughout the year – it’s not, ‘Well, I sold you some chemical and seed, so I guess I’ll talk to you next year.’”

Bob Holzwarth and his sons

Bob Holzwarth and his sons enjoy getting on the water to catch their limits. From left to right: Bob, Eric, Alex, and Luke

Overall, that relationship is built upon the philosophy of the free exchange of information on how to do better on the farm. For Bob, it started with looking for the best prices and proper application methods for his crop protection, but it’s progressed from there into soils and equipment strategies, as well as seed, Naturals, and more. Though he, along with thousands of other farmers, continues to regularly attend informational meetings like the winter workshops and the Ag PhD Field Day regularly, he can remember learning how best to handle the problems on his farm in small groups back in the early days of Hefty’s outreach.

“When we had the first meetings, they were lucky to maybe get 10 people there,” Bob said. “Hefty’s is all over now, but the knowledge that I got from them has been enormous at keeping our crops clean and taking care of them.”

“It’s the free flow of information that I find valuable,” Luke said. “Brian and Darren are not afraid of losing a sale because of giving information, and we’re trying things on our farm, sharing the information, and learning together, not only with existing products, but also new products, new methods, new ways to apply, and new ways to think.”

As the Holzwarths look to the future of managing their farm’s strategy and continued growth, that decades-long partnership founded in sharing knowledge is likely to remain a cornerstone of their operation for years to come.

“I don’t see our relationship with Hefty Seed doing anything other than continuing to grow each year,” Luke said. “You only get so many harvests. The Heftys stress to try and control what you can control while letting your faith work on what is out of your hands, and that relationship is what really matters most.”