Introducing Hultgren Farms
For most, receiving phone calls at 3 in the morning is an unnatural and unpleasant experience. For Minnesota farmer Noah Hultgren it’s just another day, or night, on the job. During harvest, farmers like Noah work around the clock to ensure Americans and others around the world have food on their tables. Curiosity got the best of us, so we sat down with Noah to get a glimpse about what life on a farm is really like.
The Hultgrens hail from Kandiyohi County, Minnesota, where they farm the same land Noah’s great grandfather cultivated in the 1930s. Noah’s grandfather, Lowell, was to go into World War II, but was held back to help tend the farm since his two older brothers were already in the service. Lowell and Noah’s grandmother Lucille farmed together with Noah’s great grandfather, Walter. Noah credits them for making the farm grow into what it is today and mentioned that while his grandfather passed away in 1997, Lucille is still “alive and doing well at the age of 94.” He also noted that he and his family currently live in Lowell and Lucille’s home on the farm that was built in the early 1970s.
Noah, his wife Paula, and their three young daughters Ella, Samantha, and Hannah work together with Noah’s parents, Duane and Nancy, and his brother, Nate, to run the family farm. A typical day varies season to season, with harvest and planting certainly demanding the longest hours.
During fall harvest, from around the first of September through the first part of November, the Hultgrens, along with a couple of full-time employees, work in shifts around the clock, harvesting sugar beets, corn, and kidney beans. Typically, these shifts result in 14 to 16 hour work days, with phone calls coming in at all hours of the night. When asked if he had any time to sleep, Noah responded matter-of-factly, “During harvest, you get your sleep when you can get it.” Noah went on to explain that his family works six days a week, but that they have always taken Sundays off for church and family time. He said, “We do not farm on Sundays for religious reasons and the feeling that you can’t work seven days a week. Your mind and body do not stay sharp enough.”
The majority of the Hultgrens’ land is devoted to growing corn, sugar beets and kidney beans, with the rest split evenly between soybeans, sweet corn, and alfalfa. Noah is primarily in charge of the sugar beets while his brother, Nate, calls the shots on kidney beans. Both of these crops require more hands-on management than the others. For example, sugar beets are harvested 24 hours a day in the fall while kidney beans can only be cut at night when the ground is wet and harvested during the day when it is dry.
Most of the crops do not have to travel too far once they are harvested. All of the corn silage goes to a local dairy about a mile up the road. About 75 percent of the total corn crop will end up there when it is all said and done, both silage and shelled corn. The rest of the corn is stored and dried on the farm, with about 10 percent going to an ethanol plant the Hultgrens invested in near Atwater, Minnesota, and the remainder contracted out with local elevators. The sugar beets are delivered to a local cooperative that Noah and Nate are a part of. For sugar beets, Noah and crew have to work around the occasional temperature shutdowns. If it is cooler than 28 degrees or warmer than 65, the sugar beet processing plant will close down to avoid losing the sugar content of the crop.
Kidney beans have a further distance to travel with most going to a processing plant about 5 hours away in Menomonie, Wisconsin. The soybeans are mostly raised for their seed and stored on the farm until the seed company is ready to take them. Feed soybeans are typically hauled directly to local elevators. The Hultgrens usually make four cuttings of alfalfa per year with the large majority of that being chopped and delivered to the same local dairy that their corn goes to.
The Hultgren operation is a quintessential family farm. Noah’s wife, Paula, who did not grow up on a farm, enjoys chipping in to help Noah and the crew around the farm whenever she can. She also works full-time as the mom of three young daughters and works with the local school and church. Noah says his girls will come and ride with him some during harvest because he isn’t home very much during that time but that his nephews will ride with him and his brother for as long as they can and at every chance they get. “They love the tractors,” Noah said.
He also spends time in the winter months and throughout the year traveling to Washington D.C. and the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul where he advocates on behalf of Minnesota farmers as the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.
The Hultgrens got into the field early this year, with the planting of sugar beets starting on April 11th and corn shortly after that. Noah commented that April was an odd month temperature-wise, with snow covering the ground on April 27th and 28th and 90 degree weather the next week. Noah said, “We had to set the planter a little deeper this year to find moisture. Right now we have emergence on everything but soybeans.” He went on to say, “Everything that is coming up looks good and consistent.”
The top things that keep Noah up worrying at night are weather, volatile markets, and farm policy, especially relating to crop insurance. He said, “It’s hard to fathom the amount borrowed under loans, and without crop insurance one bad year could easily put a farmer out of business.” Water hemp is their main weed problem to worry about, with most of those weeds having to be pulled by hand in sugar beet and soybean fields.
Noah said that although he liked farming as a kid, he initially didn’t think he was going to farm for a living. After graduating from Maccray High School, Noah went to St. Cloud Technical College where he earned a degree in Sales and Marketing. But, it wasn’t until he met Paula that he realized how much he loved farming and how great an environment it is to raise a family in. He hopes that one day one or all of his daughters will be involved in Hultgren Farms.We look forward to checking back in with Noah and his family in the coming months to see how the crops are doing and what all he and his family are keeping busy with.