Large-scale farmer helps small-scale farmer


As the harvest season was winding down, Dean Dringenburg’s old combine decided to be stubborn.

The 59-year-old rural Seymour resident was trying to finish combining his soybeans with a 39-year-old piece of equipment.

He had several issues with it and had to call a repairman three times.

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“The last several years, I’ve had great luck with my old equipment. My combines hardly had any problems,” Dringenburg said. “I guess this was kind of my year to pay for it.”

The third visit by the repairman was the final straw. Dringenburg just wanted to be done with harvesting.

He was watching Nathan Newkirk harvesting a nearby field. Newkirk rents part of the ground Dringenburg farms.

That prompted Dringenburg to ask Newkirk if he could help finish his field. Newkirk happily agreed.

“I was getting frustrated, and Nathan was there combining, and I said, ‘Hey, you just want to finish mine?’” Dringenburg said. “I appreciated it because I’m tired of dealing with this. He finished up my soybeans, so that made my year go a little easier. Then that way, I can just maybe have my combine working for next year if I want to try it again.”

One could say it was a combined effort.

Newkirk, 46, said he was happy to lend a helping hand. That attitude holds true among most Jackson County farmers, he said.

“I’d say any of them would help anybody else out that got shorthanded or got in a pinch,” Newkirk said. “If somebody’s stuff breaks down or if somebody’s combine burnt up partway through the season, we’ll go and help them get everything done. Same way in the spring. If somebody has a big breakdown where they can’t get (planting) done, we’d go help them.”

This was an example of a large-scale farmer helping a small-scale farmer.

Newkirk farms about 1,800 acres with corn, soybeans, wheat, orchard grass and alfalfa hay and has nearly 70 cows. Most of the farm ground is within 5 miles of his home near St. Paul Lutheran Church Borchers, but he also has ground as far south as Sauers and as far north as near Mount Healthy Elementary School in Columbus.

It’s his full-time job under Newkirk Inc., and he has one full-time employee, plus his son, a junior who helps whenever he’s not in school.

Dringenburg, on the other hand, only farms about 120 acres and it’s part time because he has worked for Cummins Inc. for 33 years as an electronic engineer.

“I’ve farmed my whole life,” Newkirk said. “My dad and my uncle farmed before. That’s who taught me. Everybody farmed back then some way.”

He now lives on the farm his grandfather bought when he married, and farming is a year-round effort.

“There’s so much of the record-keeping and planning and all that, and then with the cattle, that takes up a lot of time through the winter,” Newkirk said.

He and his wife, Gwen, also are insurance agents.

“I try to focus on that through the wintertime because it’s crop insurance or farm insurance, and the farmers aren’t going to deal with any of that stuff whenever it’s busy time,” Newkirk said. “They only want to deal with it in the off time, so that works good.”

Dringenburg’s farm goes way back to the 1880s when his great-grandfather from Germany bought the land.

His grandpa, Fred, started farming on the land, and his father, Harlan, farmed until he was about 85.

“They were both schoolteachers and farmed in the summertime,” he said. “I deviated from family history and I became an engineer, which is full time, so then I just helped my dad (part time) and he was able to work until his retirement on the farm. Between the two of us, we did pretty good for a long time.”

Growing up on the farm, Dringenburg’s family had pigs, cows and chickens and raised crops. When he moved away from home, his father cut back on the animals.

“His house is in the hills, so he kept some cows just because you can’t really farm hills,” Dringenburg said. “They are really only good for pasture, so he kind of cut back to a few cows and the land farming.”

Later when his daughter, Karen, was involved in Jackson County 4-H, she wanted to show sheep, so they made an appearance on the farm.

Even though Karen’s 4-H days are over, Dean and his wife, Kim, still have a few sheep.

“We rent out our pasture where Dad lived, and a neighbor puts cows there for most of the year,” Dean said. “Then they take them off pasture in the wintertime when it gets to the point they shouldn’t be out there.”

Dean said he doesn’t farm very many acres these days since his full-time job keeps him busy. The fields are pretty much all soybeans and corn.

“It’s just a way to be connected to the farm community and get outdoors and keep my old equipment running,” he said. “I still enjoy cutting some firewood and doing some other things. That’s not farming, but then you’ve got the farm tools all there — the tractor and everything — to do it with, so it kind of is all connected together.”

Large full-time farm operations can afford to buy larger and newer equipment, Dean said, so he was glad to see Newkirk be willing to help when asked recently.

“You can get to the point where you’re making something old last a long time,” Dean said of his antique combine. “New ones are just so expensive, it’s not practical. At that point, if it breaks completely, then I just quit and give that up and let Nathan do all of it.”

Kim said it saddened her when Dean said he couldn’t afford to buy a new combine.

“Even a used combine would be expensive,” Kim said. “This is why the number of small family farms is dwindling. Small farmers can’t afford equipment, and they can’t compete with the large farmers.”

But this time, it wasn’t about competition. It was about helping a fellow farmer in need.

For Newkirk, it was about doing the right thing.

“That’s it,” he said. “Just being willing to help your neighbor out, no matter what business you’re in.”

Dean said he was always taught to help people when he could. It’s ingrained in him. He’s glad it’s ingrained in Newkirk, too.

“We all go to the same church and talk, so we’ve all got appreciation for each other. It’s just great to know you’ve got people like that around that are willing to help when you need it,” Dean said.

“Those on the receiving end generally really appreciate it, and when you do that, it also makes you feel good to be able to do it,” he said. “I’m sure Nathan got a kick out of just spending a couple hours helping me. Sometimes, farmers just live to be able to use their equipment and do something for people. It’s just a great way of life that you’ve got to be able to be willing to help people when you can.”

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