Farmers sow a partnership

Gross and Keeney farms come together for planting season to save on costs

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MARTINSVILLE – With the 2017 planting season quickly approaching, Dave and Jason Gross are feverishly working to prepare their equipment for sowing corn and soybeans.

The father and son farming team is taking a new approach to planting by eagerly joining the Keeney Farm in a new adventure to plant together because of the tremendous continued increase of farm equipment prices.

“This will be our first spring planting together,” explained Dave Gross of Gross Farms Inc. He has been farming since, “I was old enough and tall enough to reach the tractor and truck pedals, back in 1972.” He farmed for many years with his father, Edwin, who recently passed away.

Partnering on farm work is nothing new for the Gross Farms and the Keeney Farms. The two farm enterprises have harvested as a team for more than three years. The upcoming spring will bring the two farms together to plant more than 3,100 acres of farm ground.

“The equipment costs continue to skyrocket so a few years back we joined together during the fall,” said Dave Gross, who became a full-time farmer right after high school graduation in 1980.

He recalls operating a 1954 three-quarter ton pickup truck with a four-speed manual transmission at age 12 while helping his father on the farm. Now, his son, Jason, is at his side planting, tilling and working the ground.

“Stanley (Keeney) didn’t have a combine so we started working together. Now, as we continue to grow, we need a second tractor with a planter. Fortunately, Stanley has that equipment. It only makes sense to share the workload and equipment,” Dave Gross said.

Jason Gross, 32, added, “I think working together and sharing equipment will continue to grow in popularity, especially among the small farmers.” He remembers steering the combine at age six, while his father Dave Gross exited the machine to troubleshoot a noise outside of the combine cab.

“I really think we are going to see more of farmers joining together to share responsibilities and necessary equipment,” Dave Gross stated. He estimates the cost of a new combine along with the necessary bean and corn head and accessories to reach nearly $400,000.

Not only do the two farms share equipment, they also share the workload to prepare and repair the equipment. 

“At certain times of the year, we also needed additional labor. With Stanley Keeney and his brother Steve working with us, we were able to solve another issue,” said Dave Gross. In addition, two semi-retired employees assist the farms during the harvest season. 

However, the duo admits that only a small portion of their time is actually worked in the fields. 

“Maintenance is all that we do when we aren’t in the fields,” said Jason Gross who oversees the upkeep on the combine, tractors, semis, grain bins, sheds, pickup trucks and other specific farm equipment. He admitted maintenance is extremely important to sustain the good working order of the pricey equipment. In the summer, the farm does repair and vital routine maintenance on the spring equipment.

“Most of my time is spent in maintaining what equipment we own. The least of my time is spent actually in the fields,” he explained, adding a great deal of his time is also dedicated to drying their corn crop and hauling the crop to elevators for sale.

He noted hauling corn has been difficult this winter because of the lack of a hard freeze necessary to pass semi tractors and heavy equipment on soft dirt rural roads. He has hauled only 50 loads and has nearly 200 loads remaining. They have 25 different bins located on six different land parcels and often frozen ground is necessary to access the bins.

Recently, the farms purchased an additional used anhydrous bar and Jason Gross, along with the help from Steve Keeney, has been replacing the hoses, adjusting the depth of the knives and customizing the length of the applicator bar to fit their specific farming needs.

“The bar was worn out when we bought it, so we have been continually working on it,” Jason said adding, “There seems to be something new to repair everyday,” noting the hoses need replaced every three to four years.

Jason Gross admitted because of the technological advancement on certain equipment such as their Case International 8120 combine, the farm reaches out to specialist to help maintain and fix mechanical issues. 

“Our combine is so big and the parts are so large that anymore it is difficult to work on and often requires a crane to remove parts on it,” said Jason Gross. “When I was younger and we broke down, Dad would back the combine into the shop and we would fix it. That’s not the situation now.”

Jason Gross credited his wife, Nicole, and his mother, Judy, with playing a vital role in the farming operations, especially during the busy spring planting and fall harvest.

So far this season the Gross and Keeney farms have already worked 450 acres of ground with a lot more to go. The farms choose to apply anhydrous ammonia two times on their ground to be environmentally friendly and to allow their specific type of soil they farm to be “worked up.” The Gross and Keeney duo farm land in Clark, Jasper and Crawford Counties.

“Spring is a difficult time because of Mother Nature,” said Dave Gross, noting they wait for weather and field conditions to be appropriate so they can plant the fields.

“We usually work the fields for about three weeks but because of the weather and other unforeseen occurrences, that work is scattered out and spread over about a three-month period,” Dave Gross stated.

“Right now we are hurrying up for planting, and then we hurry up and wait,” Jason Gross said with his father shaking his head up and down in agreement.

As the economy continually changes, Jason Gross said the farm will also change in an effort to remain profitable. 

“As the farm industry changes we will adjust. I honestly believe in the next 10 years, you will start to see independent farmers working together,” Jason Gross said and Dave Gross added, “We farm because it is in our blood and our way of life. We want to do a good job and have a successful harvest year after year.”