By Sabrina Matteson
When Dustin Ladenburger climbs up into his tractor seat these days he finds he cannot reach the pedals. That is because Dustin’s new hired man is 6-feet, 8 inches tall and Dustin is, well, not quite that tall. Other than that, Kevin Comer is a perfect fit for the job at Ladenburger Farms, caring for cattle, fixing equipment and caring for crops and pastures.
Kevin is a military veteran who did not come from a farming background but he knew it was a life he wanted. After completing eight years of service in the Army Reserves, he was working a construction job in the Denver area. He recognized right away that city life and being away from his family all day was not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Kevin’s wife, Jessica, was from the country and both of them had dreams of farming, if they could only make it happen. In order to network with farmers, Kevin and Jessica joined their county Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers group.
Kevin was working at the Farm Bureau booth at the Denver Stock Show when Dustin happened to visit. The two got to talking and Dustin shared his contact information. A week later, Kevin got in touch with Dustin to say that he and Jessica were interested in making a commitment to farm – moving from Colorado to Nebraska, learning how to handle cattle, adapting his equipment maintenance skills from military vehicles to farm equipment, and beginning to make a life in farming that fit their dreams.
“There are so many skills that transition from military service to farming,” said Kevin about his new career. “Paying attention to detail, building physical strength, being in good shape, having a great work ethic, and rising early and working long days are just a few. I think it is critical to have the personal drive to work a full day without a boss around to motivate you. Also, everybody in the military has emergency medical training which is great experience to have on the farm.”
Jessica struggled to find work in Stratton, Neb., a town of only 300 people. But now she is working part-time and expecting their first child in April.
Dustin is happy to share the workload with one more person on the farm. In 2012, he finished serving on the national AFBF YF&R Committee, which took him out of town a lot.
Dustin and his brother, Nick, are fourth-generation farmers with their dad, Dan. They have 400 head of Angus cattle, lots of pastures and fences, dryland wheat (grown without irrigation water) and corn. And in Dustin’s spare time he teaches, which he can do more frequently now that there is another trusted hand on the farm with them.
“Kevin is learning a lot about agriculture and about the way we do things on our farm,” said Dustin. “There is never a shortage of jobs to do, from handling cattle to digging fence posts to welding. Kevin fits right into our farm because he is not afraid to do the hard work. He listens well, follows directions and is willing to learn.”
Dustin is very happy to be able to help Kevin and Jessica fulfill their dream of becoming farmers. It is a life Dustin loves and can understand how others would want to have the same dream. It just fits, even though Dustin sometimes cannot reach the pedals.
The Farm Bureau Resource Guide to Assist Veterans in Agriculture is a free resource for county and state Farm Bureaus with information about training beginning farmers, making equipment available to veteran farmers and how to help find farm ownership or employment opportunities for members of the military transitioning into the civilian workforce.
Sabrina Matteson is director of rural affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation.