This story is the third of five profiles of the people selected as the DTN/Progressive Farmer's 2024 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers program. Today, we introduce Bryant and Rachel Kagay, Kagay Farms, of Maysville, Missouri.
There are those small moments in life that change everything. Standing inside a UPS Store was one for Bryant and Rachel Kagay. "I put all the Deere stuff into a box, swiped my corporate card one last time, threw it in the box and taped it up," Bryant said.
The decision was final. "One chapter of my life was coming to a close," he explained. From Grand Island, Nebraska, to Maysville, Missouri, the Kagays were leaving a career with John Deere for an opportunity provided by family to farm.
Bryant loved working for Deere. After internships with the farm-equipment company while earning his master's of business management at the University of Missouri, he went full time in Deere's marketing development program. Six months in Ottumwa, Iowa. Six months in Cary, North Carolina. A position in Deere's Intelligent Solutions Group, in Ankeny, Iowa. Then, to Grand Island, Nebraska, as a territory customer support manager in 2016.
Four moves. Six years. During that span, Bryant married Rachel, and their two children, Parker and Kinsley, were born.
Their priorities changed. "I felt the best way for our family to learn values that were important to us, we had to return to the farm," he said. "We knew it'd be a big change. But there was no turning back."
"I wanted our kids to grow up free and outside, to raise cows and run through the fields, to grow up with small-town values and live near their grandparents and great-grandparents. It was an easy decision," Rachel said. "With two babies under 2, it was time. We're very thankful that the family was ready to have us back, to give us this gift."
Kagay Farms is 3,600 acres, mostly row crops with the remainder in pasture and hay, and a 1,000-head feedlot. It also runs 200 cow-calf pairs, the majority spring calving but a few fall calvers. The principal operators are Bryant, his father, Barry Kagay, and grandfather, Joe Kagay.
Maysville is the county seat of DeKalb County, in northwestern Missouri. Heavy soils. Shallow topsoil. Not well-drained. One summer week away from drought. Corn averages 160 to 170 bushels per acre (bpa), 200 bpa on the high end. A normal soybean harvest is 50 to 60 bpa. Kagay Farms produces a bit of wheat (low 80s to 100 bpa), leaving opportunity for double-crop soybeans.
The farm is integrating 500 acres of cover crops this year. With incentives from the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Bryant is planting a mix of rye, wheat and a radish or broadleaf-type crop ahead of soybeans. "This is good for the land and reduces chemical use. I think greater society appreciates the benefits, too," he said.
Cattle explain the sparse amount of grain storage on the farm. Half to all of the farm's corn feeds the cattle.
High-moisture corn harvested early, dry corn, wheat, corn silage, a mix of ground hay and straw (a benefit from the wheat crop), and modified distillers grains make up the rations.
Rachel grew up on a small farm at Archie, Missouri, an hour south of Kansas City. Her mother, Tammy, was an ag teacher and her dad, Steve, worked most of his career with regional farm service cooperative MFA Inc. She was active in 4-H and FFA and, after high school, moved on to the University of Missouri. Her family managed a small farm raising registered Angus cattle and sheep for local show-lamb projects.
Rachel and Bryant met at the University of Missouri while they were working on their degrees, ag education and mechanical engineering, respectively. They married in 2011 while both were in graduate school.
Kagay Farms is wide open to testing -- thorough, methodical testing. Bryant is a bit of a nerd (his description) about it. "I'm a numbers guy. I don't like to guess. I joke with my dad and grandpa that I am in search of the truth. I want to know the facts. I try to keep good records -- field by field, within our feedlot -- and use information to make better decisions."
Bryant has been trying new practices to produce a few more bushels of soybeans by applying a foliar fungicide just as the pods appear. From the first year's strip trials three years ago to this year, he has seen a consistent 4- to 5-bushel improvement. Thanks to years spent examining and building evidence of a positive result from applying fungicide, Bryant Farms was ready to treat all of its soybeans this year. "The fungicide leads to a healthier plant that's able to produce more beans," he explained. Bryant is using two products. One is Miravis Top from Syngenta; the other is a two-mode-of-action generic (azoxystrobin plus propiconazole).
FARM LIFE AND VALUES
So, there's the farm. What about the farm life and the values Rachel and Bryant sought?
The Kagay family moved to Kagay Farms in July 2018, right at the doorstep of a problematic harvest. That year was rough.
"We had a bad drought," Bryant recalls. It started early, in full swing by August. And, they were dealing with a home that needed work. "Two small kids and harvest, we were underwater for quite a while," he said.
"That first harvest was hard," Rachel agreed. "There were a lot of nagging texts, a lot of, 'When are you going to be home?' I knew I was becoming a farm wife, and it was a hard year."
Rachel had work of her own, Rachel Kagay Coaching and Consulting. A Gallup-certified strengths coach, her business works to train individuals, managers and teams to understand their natural talents and to figure out how to use those more purposely in the workplace.
FLEXIBILITY WITH OWN BUSINESS
"Starting my own business was an intentional choice because it allows me the flexibility to be a farm wife and to be a mom," Rachel said. "I've scaled slowly so that I can be at home during these years before they (children) start school." Rachel and Bryant added a third child recently, Hyatt.
After finishing that first harvest, the Kagays set out to add balance to home life. "We were able to find better routines to help us balance work and family," she said. By the next spring, Parker was old enough to tag along in the tractor with Bryant, relieving some pressure on Rachel while exposing him to the farm.
"I do still travel to speak or to do team development in person. But I've tried to create a business that allows me to be the farm wife and mom that I want to be," she said. "We have also come to the realization that busyness and changing schedules is a normal part of our life, and we both handle it better."
Important to Rachel and Bryant are their Sunday night talks. Once the day is done, they sit down and talk -- just talk.
"We sit down at the kitchen table and try to figure out the week, the kids' activities for the week," Rachel said. "I can get a feel for what Bryant needs, and we see where we need to be a little more flexible."
IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
They have not neglected tapping into the small-town values so important to them and teaching them to their children. "Our faith is something that's very important," Bryant said. "Being involved in a church family is something we both make a priority for the family, going to church with the whole family." Rachel serves on the missions committee at their Oak Christian Church, in nearby Amity. Bryant has board meetings and serves on the cemetery board. "We lead a Sunday school class and just try to help out when we can," Bryant said.
Rachel works with the local FFA chapter's Booster Club and serves as a board member for the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri, chairing its Maximize Northwest Missouri Committee initiative.
"It is focused on helping rural communities thrive in Northwest Missouri," she said. "It's a passion project for me. I want our kids to be able to come back here, and selfishly, if they choose, I want to keep them close to home and have the living and the lifestyle they desire right here."
It's more than mom's desire. It's Bryant's, too.
"I think we want to be open for our kids to have an opportunity to come back to the farm," he said. "But we want to be open to whatever opportunities come their way, to nurture those passions and make sure we can serve them always in the best way."
Editor's Note: This is the third of five profiles of our 14th class of America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers sponsored by DTN/ Progressive Farmer. They are among the best of their generation who have chosen agriculture as a profession and lifestyle. The annual award recognizes five farmers and ranchers who best represent the pioneering promises of American agriculture: Farmers and ranchers who are innovative, imaginative and who work to improve their communities.
See Bryant and Rachel Kagay's video profile and all of the 2024 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers Winners at https://spotlights.dtnpf.com/….
See Best Young Farmers/Ranchers-1 at https://www.dtnpf.com/….
See Best Young Farmers/Ranchers-2 at https://www.dtnpf.com/….
See Editor's Notebook blog by DTN Editor-in-Chief Greg D. Horstmeier about the winners at https://www.dtnpf.com/….
See Reporter's Notebook video with Miller on https://www.dtnpf.com/… where he talks more about the 2024 winners, as well as how people can apply to be next year's class of winners.
Dan Miller can be reached at email@example.com
Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @DMillerPF
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