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Farming together

Steve and Jan Boender have been in the custom-farming business since they were married in 1975. As their children grew up and became involved, the family decided to form a family corporation — Boender Custom Farming.

Farming together

Steve and Jan Boender have been in the custom-farming business since they were married in 1975. As their children grew up and became involved, the family decided to form a family corporation — Boender Custom Farming.

The family includes Steve and Jan, and children Mike, Mark, BJ, Becky, Karl and Kurt, along with their spouses.

The corporation farms some land together, owns the majority of the machinery and operates the custom-farming enterprise. Besides growing corn and soybeans, the business includes custom planting of corn and soybeans, custom third-party spraying for local co-ops, and some trucking.

Mike owns and operates a dozing business. He and Suzanne have a son, Cody.

Mark owns track hoes and has an excavating business. He and Stacy have five children — Ethan, Amelia, Elijah, Anton and Allison.

With a trencher and tile plow, BJ does farm tiling. He and Cassia have five children — Gideon, Rachel, John, Adali and Natali.

Becky and husband Brian Ochsner also farm land nearby. Brian is a pastor in Sully. Becky is a full-time mom and has a farm photography business. They have four sons — Ezra, Elliott, Zach and Harris.

Kurt custom-spreads most of the side-dress nitrogen, and owns and operates his own anhydrous ammonia bar for Cargill. He and twin brother Karl also own a semi together. Kurt and Emily have a son, Jackson.

Karl owns and operates a 2,400-head wean-to-finish operation and custom-feeds pigs for Cargill. He also helps Steve with the seed business. Karl and Kristin are expecting their first child in April.

Steve has an Iowa Select Farms building on his land. The manure is injected on their crop ground. Manure from other sites is also applied on owned and rented land.

Full-time employees Brad Boender (no relation) and Alex West rent land, along with the family, and have cows. “We make sure they feel they’re part of the operation,” says Steve.

“It’s all a work in progress,” says Karl. “We don’t get paid by the hour or take a salary. We don’t get monthly income out of the partnership. The advantage we get out of the partnership is the use of the equipment on our individual land.”

“We have a system that is fair and works really well,” says Steve. “We really know our cost per acre for equipment, fuel, repairs, hired labor, etc. The family corporation’s expenses are totaled at the end of the year and divided by the number of acres farmed. Our machinery cost per acre is about half of Iowa State University estimates, for which we are thankful, so then we as individual families pay back the family corporation for expenses on our individual acres.”

“It’s a huge thing that we can go and do our own thing in our operation and with our families,” says BJ. “Making our own decisions may not necessarily be relaxing, but being able to do your own thing is encouraging. If everything we ever did was the corporation, people would lose interest in working for each other."

Providing for numerous families requires a fair-sized acreage base. So how has this family built that base of owned, rented and custom ground?

Steve says they have built many relationships because of the custom-farming business. “There is always plenty of custom work for others available, so that’s our focus.” Renting and buying opportunities are only accepted if the family believes there can be a good working relationship and friendship with the landlord. Their land leases are a combination of crop share, flexible, 50-50 crop share and cash rent.

“We leave it up to the landlord,” says Karl. “We don’t argue too much. We try it, and if it doesn’t work, we will talk. We take care of our landlords, the people we custom-farm for. We include them in many family events."

Communication key

With the varied enterprises, communication is critical. “I make a Monday morning job list so the guys have a direction to go,” says Steve. “Yet, I want them to know they can handle it.”

The same is true when it comes to equipment buying decisions. Steve is not the lead person; it falls to Mark and BJ.

Their primary role is to negotiate and report back, says Mark. “It’s one big collaborative effort. Everybody is involved in the decision, but the person who drives the equipment does the homework.”

Disagreements? “Yeah, all the time. BJ wanted a green sprayer pretty bad, but Karl runs the sprayer, and he likes Cat,” says Mark.

“I won’t forget what Mark said,” remarks BJ. “Silence is consensus. You can’t just be silent the whole time and then complain. Everybody in the circle needs to know, not necessarily everybody’s opinion, but there has to be good communication.”

As for the workday, there are no eight-hour shifts on this farm. “There are too many jobs to go around for the work we have. Sometimes we plant corn 24 hours a day, and we frequently work 14 to 20 hours per day,” says Karl. “But we don’t work Sundays. Sundays are 100% family. Our families know that at least they have a day coming when we can be together.”

No one is penalized for taking time for school board or church meetings. It’s expected that they all be involved in the community. Everyone has church and school roles. Mark is a deacon at First Christian Reformed Church in Oskaloosa; Kurt’s a deacon at Second CRC in Pella; Mike is a defensive coordinator for the football team at Pella Christian High School; and BJ is on the Oskaloosa Christian school board. Karl and his wife are youth leaders at the CRC in Oskaloosa.

“Faith is really important to our families,” says BJ.

Family time

The families get together outside of farming as well. But not always the whole family. Sometimes it’s just one of the families, and Steve and Jan with the grandkids.

Steve and Jan also try to host an all-family vacation once a year. It’s not mandatory, but the seven couples like to go to the Tennessee Mountains and go trail riding. This year Steve and Jan celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary by taking all the married kids to Jamaica.

As for the farm, Steve and Jan have communicated their transition plan. “The best estate planning a couple can do is to give their kids the business growth opportunities while the kids are young enough to benefit from it, and the parents are alive to watch their children grow in their businesses, as well as becoming assets in society,” says Steve. “It’s a privilege as a parent to watch your children become better at something than you were.”

“You don’t want to have to do that after the funeral,” notes Karl.

Family’s mission statement

‘The goal for all of us in our family partnership is to be respected in our community and trusted by the people we work for and with. Our mission is to give 110% effort, be cutting-edge and not be scared of responsibility, care about others and the work we do for them. If we Care more than others think is wise, Risk more than others think is safe, Dream more than others think is practical, Expect more than others think is possible, and give God the glory for our accomplishments, we will attain excellence in our endeavors.”


FAMILY MEETING: Steve Boender (second from left) leads a meeting every Monday morning to go over a job list with sons Mike (left), BJ, Kurt, Mark and Karl.

He said it


“Life is way too short to not get along with your family.”

Mike Boender


“You definitely have to trust that everyone is working toward the same goal.”

BJ Boender


“There are so many entities around here; sometimes it gets confusing.”

Karl Boender


“Everyone gives 110% effort. There are no slough-offs.”

Steve Boender

This article published in the March, 2015 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.


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