Wambolts grow business on satisfaction
Huntley — Dennis Wambolt’s dad moved to Huntley in 1968 after a farm he was renting in Morrill, Neb. was sold out from under him. Today Dennis and his sons Adam, Andrew and Mason continue to farm in the Huntley area, focusing on quality hay,corn and some wheat.
“We mostly raised sugar beets in those early days,” says Dennis.
“We would only put hay in our corners or small fields where we couldn’t irrigate. When everything else was done we’d do the haying. Now the first thing we do is our hay,” adds Andrew.
“We farm a lot of ground that neighbors used to farm but went out of business and left. We lease a lot of that ground. We put in sprinklers and help neighbors put in sprinklers. You can only raise what you can irrigate here,” explains Dennis.
The Wambolts irrigate using sprinklers and ditch water. Farmers can’t drill any additional irrigation wells in Goshen County and there isn’t any water in the ground where their farms are primarily located.
“Most of our water is Goshen Irrigation District (GID) water and they’re one of the best irrigation districts in the country. They do a really good job of delegating water for the entire year and ensuring every guy has what he needs. It’s worth a lot to have a really good irrigation district,” notes Dennis.
“Ditch water is as good or better than pumped water. It’s warmer and the silt and other nutrients in it are beneficial to crops. When you pump water it costs money and it’s very cold,” adds Adam.
However, one advantage to using sprinklers over flood irrigation is the timeliness of application they provide.
“By the time you get hay off a field you’ve used a week, so you have two weeks to irrigate then you have to give everything a week to dry out for the next cutting. You can’t get much done with flood irrigation because it takes so long. But a sprinkler will run over it in two days and won’t get it too wet,” explains Dennis.
“We would like to put in more sprinklers, but that’s pretty hard to do. It’s hard to plan for expenses with the economy the way it is right now,” says Andrew.
The Wambolts aim for four cuttings of hay annually, but sometimes have to settle for three due primarily to weather conflicts.
“It all depends on Mother Nature. Last year we were going to start cutting hay May 25 and it started raining. We didn’t start cutting anything until the middle of June. We’ve still got some of our fourth cutting hay in the field from last year because of the weather,” says Adam.
The Wambolts market their hay to a variety of customers, but their primary focus is dairies and ranchers.
“We’ve got some dairies we send our better hay to, and we have a lot of ranchers we sell round bales to. Ranchers like round bales and dairy guys like square bales, so we do both. I’ve got some pretty loyal rancher and dairy customers and they help us a lot.
“We try to work with our customers. The dairy guys had a bad year last year because milk prices were so low. They couldn’t afford to pay the big dollars for hay so we made it work,” explains Dennis.
“Our hay wasn’t as good last year, and their milk prices were low so it worked out for everyone,” adds Adam.
“One of the best things we’ve done for our hay deal is put in scales so we can weigh trucks right on the farm. That’s a huge advantage we have,” explains Andrew.
“We can sell hay any day of the week. A lot of people want to buy hay on the weekends and there wasn’t a place to weigh because everything was closed. If they call us knowing they can get loaded immediately it’s a good deal. If they can pay we will load them anytime,” adds Dennis.
“We’re in the market to sell hay. We want to sell as much as possible. When we have the opportunity to market some we better be able to. We also want to sell customers hay more than once,” comments Adam.
“We try to be agreeable, that’s the most important thing. When people find out they can come to you and be treated fairly they’ll come back. If you cheat them you’ll only do it once,” notes Dennis.
“And they will tell their friends and neighbors, either way,” adds Andrew.
The Wambolts currently market most of their corn to a local ethanol plant.
“Almost all of our corn goes to the ethanol plant right now. We did sell some to a few feedlots. Everybody around here wants a heavy, dry corn and we try to consistently produce that,” explains Dennis.
The Wambolts also utilize technology such as GPS and auto-steer on their equipment to increase efficiency.
“We use GPS that tells our exact location and helps us drive straight and can show how many acres we’ve covered,” says Adam.
“The auto-steer really helps with fertilizer application and allows us to get even coverage on a field. We don’t over- or under-fertilize. It also eliminates under or over-lapping, which makes us more efficient,” adds Andrew.
The Wambolts have practiced strip tillage, a form of minimum tillage, for 20 years and had one of the first strip till machines ever made.
“Basically, strip tilling is just tilling the land you’re going to farm as opposed to tilling and plowing everything up. You’re leaving trash, which protects the ground. When you plant corn and the seedlings start coming up there’s a lot of protection there. With bare ground the elements can get to your crop more easily and more erosion can occur. There are disadvantages, like the ground doesn’t warm up as fast, but for us the advantages outweigh the negatives,” explains Adam.
Both Adam and Andrew grew up farming with their dad and grandfather and plan to continue the family tradition.
“These guys have been helping since they were real little; doing anything you wanted them to. It was amazing to see what they could accomplish at a young age,” comments Dennis.
“It’s hard to walk away from everything we’ve built. My grandpa has farmed his whole life and my dad has too. We don’t want to just walk away,” explains Adam.
“We’ve been involved since we were little kids and I would much rather do this than sit at a desk or computer all day. It gives us a degree of freedom, too,” adds Andrew.
But both add that there are a low number of young people returning to the farm, especially in their area.
“We were at a Symplot meeting recently and Andrew and I were easily the youngest people there. The average age was older than my dad, and that’s the average age of the farmer today. With the Death Tax being reinstated next year, it’s not going to get any better, either. That would kill our chances to continue farming. We would have to sell everything just to pay the tax and that’s horrible,” says Adam.
“Another thing is the Cap and Trade. We’re already paying enough for energy, it’s one of our largest expenses and we’re taxed enough,” adds Andrew.
As for the future, all three men agree they would like to see a dairy brought into the area.
“They bring in and turn over a lot of money within a community. Just consider the jobs they would create. They buy hay and corn and produce milk and manure, both of which are marketable here,” explains Dennis.
“My grandpa always said new money comes from the land. Money starts on the farm and the farmer spends it in town and it’s turned over four or five times before leaving the community. No other industry does that,” says Adam.
Being well-informed and customer-oriented has created a successful farming enterprise for the Wambolts that Adam and Andrew plan to continue as long as possible. Dennis adds that there are a lot of wonderful people and marketing opportunities in the area that make it a great place to live and farm.