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Farmhands still play vital role in farm success

Staff writer

As advancing technology and enterprising research bring constant change to the farming industry, a basic tenet of the occupation remains unchanged: the need for help.

Tending hundreds of acres of land, and sometimes hundreds of living animals can be too much for one person to handle. Even the modern farmer needs assistance.

Bill Broce is a retired science teacher and custom hay baler, and he helps various farmers in the Lincolnville area whenever he has the time.

“You could probably classify me as a hobby farmer because I don’t do it enough to make a living with it, but it’s been a supplemental income, along with something I really like to do,” he said. “I enjoy helping kids I taught on their farms.”

When as a kid Broce was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would say he wanted to farm. When he graduated from high school, however, his path led him elsewhere.

“My parents didn’t have it set up where I could get into the farming business too easy, so I thought I’d get into education,” he said.

Broce’s experience isn’t exactly unique. Many aspiring farmers don’t have the means to get a plot of land and start farming it right away, Ronnie Carlson of rural Lincolnville said.

“Some people have grown up doing farm work their whole life, they want to find a job where they do that kind of work, but they couldn’t find enough money to own their own farm,” he said.

Carlson farms alfalfa, wheat, corn, milo, hay, soybeans, and cattle across nearly 2,000 acres of land. Most of the crop work he accomplishes with the occasional help of his son, Eric. His lone full-time farmhand, Marty Bell, pitches in with that, but handles a lot of the cattle feeding.

“That’s how we can utilize him full-time,” Carlson said. “He does almost all the feeding.”

Carlson also handles all of the business aspects of running a farm, which he says are getting more and more complicated.

Aside from that, though, a farmer and his farmhand can be like partners, or, Carlson said, even more.

“It’s a two-way street, you have to work together all the time,” he said. “It becomes almost like family.”

Carlson couldn’t remember exactly how long Bell has worked with him on his farm, he approximated it at about 10 years.

“He knows what needs to be done,” Carlson said. “Sometimes he comes and tells us what to do, which is OK.

“They’re self-employed to a certain degree. Their hours aren’t set, they know what their job is, if they enjoy what they’re doing, they’ll put the extra hours in.”

He and Bell have to be flexible to accommodate each other’s schedules.

“They want to spend time with their families as well,” he said.

Carlson said a good farmhand is a self-starter, is responsible, and gets the job done. He said it helps when they feel like a part of the operation.

“It’s good when they have a little land to farm for their personal crop, a few cattle of their own,” he said. “Gives them more incentive than just taking care of our stuff.”

Other than occasional help for certain projects, Bell is the only person helping with the daily operations of Carlson’s farm. A major key in their successful partnership is respect.

“You can’t expect them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself,” he said.

While Bell makes a living off the work, Broce simply does it out of enjoyment. Broce gets paid for his work, but he doesn’t worry about the money.

“They pay me whatever they want,” Broce said. “Sometimes I just do it to be doing it. Whatever they want to do, it’s not necessary.”

Broce is just glad to have the chance to work on the farm.

“You never know how the good Lord will grant you your heart’s desire until later in life you look back and see,” he said. “He gave me what I wanted to do.”

Last modified Dec. 4, 2014

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