A friendship became a partnership when Nebraska farmers Lane Collins and Norm Funk started to rent land together in the mid-1990s. Farming together has made both of them far more efficient than they would be farming individually.
Each farmed roughly a section of land when they decided to rent an additional 800 acres together in 1995. Their operation reached its capacity last year when they farmed 4,000 acres.
In 2000, the two men planted those acres of corn, soybeans and dry beans with just two 160-hp, front-wheel-assist tractors, a 24-row, 20" planter and a sprayer with an 80' boom. They harvested their crop with one combine that they own and a second they rent by the hour.
“Farming together allows both of us to expand our acreage and get into a newer line of equipment,” says Funk, Madison, NE.
But it takes more than machinery to make a partnership work. Collins and Funk have a unique balance of personalities and skills.
“We're both outgoing guys who are willing to adapt to changes that will make us more profitable,” says Funk. “Lane is more of a plunger, while I'm a planner. When we decided to build a new planter, Lane already had the torch lit and I was still trying to figure out what type of planter we should build. The two personalities together make a good mix.”
The willingness to adapt to new technology is what allows Collins and Funk to farm large acreages with minimal equipment investment.
“We couldn't farm the way we do without no-till,” says Collins, Meadow Grove, NE. “If we farmed conventionally we'd have to have a big four-wheel-drive tractor to chew up the ground and another guy to run it to stay ahead of things. Then we'd have a bigger fuel bill, more compaction and everything else that goes with it.”
The farmers' spring starts with an early preplant herbicide application on soybean ground so that work's done before it's time to plant. Soybeans also receive a postemerge herbicide treatment. Corn acres get a pre-emerge application of liquid 32% N fertilizer mixed with Bicep for burndown, and a shot of 2,4-D.
“We can't get the yield out of Roundup Ready soybeans, so we've stayed with conventional beans,” says Collins. “But thanks to that technology, other chemical prices have come way down.
“With the 20" rows we get a fast canopy and weed control isn't a problem,” he says. “We don't worry about controlling every weed. If you've got a perfect field, you're spending too much on herbicides.”
With all their acres under center-pivot irrigation, the farming partners incorporate herbicides and guarantee germination with ½" of water after planting.
Collins and Funk built their own sprayer to handle the acres. “We wanted a sprayer that would go over a lot of acres and maintain good agitation,” says Funk. “We also wanted a stainless steel tank. We've dunked a few soybeans over the years with herbicide that's been absorbed by poly tanks.”
They bought a used, 1,600-gallon floater tank and mounted it on a frame supported by a semi-trailer axle with a 20,000-lb load capacity. Tractor rims from a salvage yard, redrilled to match the semi's bolt pattern, carry 18.4 × 38" tires.
It takes a big pump to keep up with an 80' free-floating boom spreading 30 gallons/acre at 7-8 mph, plus provide adequate agitation. Collins and Funk bought the biggest pto-powered pump they could find, a Hypro unit that's rated for 90 gpm at 60 psi.
“We're thinking about switching to 46" floater tires on the sprayer and 32" tires on the tractor so we can run at 10 mph and won't have to slow down for pivot tracks,” Collins says. “Every time you slow down, it takes your controller a few seconds to adjust. Then you get a misapplication of chemicals.”
Not surprisingly, the Nebraskans built a planter with big capacity as well. A 40' toolbar carries 24 row units mounted on 20" centers. Row cleaners and double-disc fertilizer openers make sure the seed finds a safe home.
Liquid fertilizer rides in a front-mounted 500-gallon push tank and on the planter in a second 500-gallon tank.
“The push cart was originally designed as a tow tank,” says Collins. “We just moved the dolly wheels to the front of the frame and welded a three-point hitch on the back.”
Wide tires (34") on the planter tractor minimize compaction. “We decided to go with single wide tires and run over one row, rather than use duals and run over two or three rows,” says Collins. “The wider tires also give us a bigger footprint.”
In most years, they put about 500 hours on each tractor. “Lane owns his; I lease mine,” says Funk. “We both trade annually. It keeps the tractors fresh and nothing breaks.”
Farming together has more advantages than just machinery efficiency, according to Funk. “We live 13 miles apart, which is a big weather advantage sometimes. And it exposes us to more people. We know more landlords than we would if we lived close together.”
And their landlords like what they see.
“They're interested in the new technology — like the no-till and 20" rows,” says Collins. “They see that the way we farm improves their soil over time. I've had one landlord now for 25 years. In fact, one of our landlords works for us part-time during harvest. My dad, Woodrow, comes out of retirement in the fall and helps, too.”
While the partnership reached its productive peak at 4,000 acres, the machinery could do more, according to Funk. “It would take another full-time man and running the planter more hours if we were going to farm any more,” he says.
That issue became a moot point when the farming operation lost some rented land this year due to a land sale.
Collins and Funk also have added a marketing advisor to their operation in hopes of capturing better prices.
“I used to have a broker's license, so I'm aware of how the market functions,” Funk says. “We're using a marketing consultant because it helps keep us on the right side of the trend.”