Keeping the Farm in the Family

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Susie, her two sons, Sharon and Bob at a newly installed tile inlet.

With a farming operation that dates back a couple hundred years, Bob Winders recognizes the importance of keeping the farms in his family. “It’s a special family connection,” explained Bob. “It’s a part of our family history that dates back a long way, so one of our goals has always been to try and keep the farms in the family.”

The Evans/Winders farms have an incredible history of ownership that the family has managed to keep track of over the years. But to fully appreciate the depth and richness of this family’s farmland legacy, we have to go back to the early 1800s.

Farm and Family History

For his service in the War of 1812, John Evans, Sr., received a land grant for 160 acres in Henderson County, Illinois. His son, John Evans Jr., or “Jack”, along with his wife Sarah Young Davis, added farmland to their operation throughout their lives. When Jack passed in 1909, he owned almost 13,000 acres in Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska. Sarah’s father, Abner Davis, also fought in the War of 1812 and received 160 acres in Henderson County, Illinois. Additionally, Sarah’s Grandfather, and Great-Grandfather, both fought in the Battle of Lexington, the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.

In 1858, Jack and Sarah had a son, Marion Legrand Evans. Marion, “M.L.” worked with his father farming at an early age. In the Summer of 1877, M.L. took a wagon, two saddle ponies, and two dogs to Minnesota and purchased 700 head of cattle. The family likes to joke that M.L. chose to take dogs over farmhands because they were more likely to stay sober.

M.L. and his father Jack, were among the first importers of Aberdeen Angus cattle. They also raised Poland-China hogs. At one point, they were marketing 3,500 head of cattle, and 2,500 head of hogs annually, making them one of Winter ’22 VOL. 39 / ISSUE 2 In this issue: the largest livestock operations in the United States at the time.

In 1879, M.L. moved to Mills County, Iowa to manage the family’s largest farming operation. There he married his wife Hattie Tubbs, who was a descendant of John Howland, who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620. M.L. and Hattie had six children.

Fast forward a few generations to today, and the Evans farm family legacy lives on through Bob and Sharon Winders, their daughter, Susie and Bob’s nephews, Steven and Mike, along with Bob’s first cousin, Dave and John Evans. Some of the Illinois farmland has been in the family for more than 200 years, and the Iowa farmland for more than 150 years. 

Keeping the Farms in the Family

Like a lot of families, the children who inherit farmland have other aspirations in life that require them to live away from the farm. This was the case for Bob Winders, a retired doctor in Colorado. “My mother, Jane Evans Winders, and my brother Richard, decided to seek out professional farm management because we knew we would need the expertise. It helped that their cousin, David Evans, whose farm Scott was already managing, highly recommended Scott ” explained Bob.

Today, their farms are managed by Hertz Farm Manager, Scott Henrichsen, AFM. “I’ve been managing the Winders Farms for 7 years now, as well as their first cousins David and John Evans Farms prior to that,” said Scott. “They’ve been a real joy to work with and have such an incredible family history.”

Scott helps facilitate video calls with the family to keep them updated on the farms. “I really enjoy those video calls and the ability to communicate with my cousins more through those calls,” explained Susie. “It’s a great way for us to stay informed on the farms but also stay connected as a family. It’s very valuable.”

In addition to the family ownership legacy, the operators are also the second generation working on the family’s farms. “With a family that values legacy, it’s awesome that we get to work with operators that have similar values,” explained Scott. “Having Scott be a part of our team has been really beneficial for us,” said Steve Winders. “He helped us with lease negotiations, which up until that point had just been handshake agreements. It’s really nice to have all of that information formalized. He also helped us with a large tile project which has been fascinating to learn about and see implemented on our properties.”

360-Acre Tile Project

Recently, the family invested in a large tile project on one of their farms in Mills County, IA. The tile project covered over 360 acres, and was a massive undertaking. “This is the largest single project I have ever taken on,” explained farm manager, Scott Henrichsen “Ultimately, it has been a financially wise investment and we’re already seeing a lot of benefits to having the tile installed.” Most notably, adding almost 80 acres of farmland previously viewed as unproductive. 

Underground drainage tile is one of the most efficient ways to remove excess water off farmland. Tile drainage is a management system, which removes excess water from above and below the surface. This system helps bring soil moisture levels down for optimal crop growth.

Some of the benefits of an effective tile drainage system include:

  1. Helps manage soil moisture capacity thereby reducing soil erosion
  2. Improves yield consistency
  3. Helps maintain waterways
  4. Helps improve operational timeliness
  5. Reduces wear and tear on equipment
  6. Allows for more consistent no-till production

In addition to these benefits, having an effective drainage tile system in place can help increase farm income and is a great long-term investment for farms with poor drainage retaining excess water prohibiting plant growth.

Scott and the family knew the payoff to the project would be almost immediate. However, the greatest challenge confronting the property was how to get the water off the farm, as there was no route to drain the water. Scott was able to identify a contractor with an extensive history of working on complex drainage projects. The solution became the talk of multi-county area. At no cost to the family and invoking a littleknown state law, the State of Iowa hired a contractor to tunnel bore a 30” pipe under the state highway, which provided an outlet for the water on the farm to drain to a creek.

The benefits were two fold; most notably the value of the farm likely doubled by adding almost 80 acres of farmland, as well as sharply increasing the consistent productivity of the farm. Secondly, the tile project is a major risk mitigation initiative by reducing the likelihood of a field being drowned out or simply not being able to plant a field because it never dried out. The expected increase in corn yields is 40 to 50 bushels per acre and soybeans 10 to 15 bushels per acre. This has allowed the family to move to a more favorable modified cropshare lease arrangement.

Family Reunions on the Farms

Everyone in the Winders/Evans family agree that having the farms has been a great way to keep the family connected and, in some cases, helped reconnect family members. “Another good thing about these farms is it’s reconnected us with Dave Evans and his family,” Susie explained. “Now, we have family reunions with them frequently. It’s pretty special.”

For Sharon, that’s what matters the most. “Having this connection and tangible asset that bonds our family together, that’s what makes it all so special. It’s a great way for our family to stay in touch and I’m thankful for the legacy that our families have left us with and hope we can continue it into the future.”

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