By Nancy D. Borst
Jon and Emily Kerschen of Garden Plain definitely put the “family” in their Sedgwick County Farm Bureau Farm Family of the Year award, presented Aug. 13 at the organization’s annual meeting.
The couple, who have four young children – Abigail, Jenevieve, William and Otis – work a dryland grain operation with Jon’s father and some of his uncles, continuing a long farming history in the county. They also have a small cow-calf herd.
They also will represent Kansas Farm Bureau’s 4th District as its Farm Family of the Year at the statewide annual meeting in December in Manhattan.
“We’ve been Farm Bureau members all our lives,” Jon said. “Dad (State Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain) is a past county president.”
Jon, who is the current Sedgwick County Farm Bureau president, grew up with the family’s dairy operation along with his brother and three sisters. He is the only sibling to continue the family legacy in farming.
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“I think I knew pretty early,” he said of his chosen avocation. “I was always at the farm. I just enjoyed it. I was in tractors all the time. I was milking cows (as soon as) I could reach them.”
His commitment was so strong that he passed up a chance to play college basketball to get his degree in agronomy from Kansas State University. The 6-7 multi-sport athlete was part of the 1999 2A State Champion Garden Plain Owls basketball team and had offers from small colleges to continue his basketball career.
“I could have played college basketball and decided not to,” he said. “I wanted to farm, to get my ag degree.”
And attending KSU had other rewards: that’s where he met Emily, who earned her degree in education and taught in the Maize school district prior to the couple starting their family. The couple have been married for 12 years.
Emily was familiar with farming from having watched her brothers work on their cousins’ farm. “She’s definitely involved,” Jon said. “She likes being part of it.”
Jon said his family got out of the dairy business in 2008 when Dan was first elected to the Kansas Legislature. At its peak, the operation included about 200 head of dairy cows. The dairy market “really went south” after the family divested from it, Jon said.
“It was going to take more investment,” he recalled. “It was taking time away from farming. (Getting out) frees up time to do that.”
He realizes he is blessed to operate the farm with family, when other operations sometimes struggle to find good help. Technology has made farming a bit easier, with autosteer tractors that make planting and steerage easier by navigating straight lines through fields.
“That’s not going away,” he said of technology’s role in farming. “You have to stay up to date with what’s going on. We just have to be able to utilize it. It makes us more efficient in what we do.”
That’s good because in today’s world, producers need to be able to produce more with less and be more efficient, he said.
His involvement with Farm Bureau began when he received a college scholarship.
“That definitely got me involved,” he said. “I felt like they invested in me, I had to give back as well. I served on the scholarship committee first before the board. Dad got me started and showed the importance of the organization.”
He has been a board member for three years, during which he also has served as vice president. He is eligible to serve another two-year term and will continue as president in his fourth year. As such he looks forward to possibly making the biannual trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers.
He also knows the importance of educating state lawmakers. Sedgwick County is unusual in that a large percentage of representatives (25 percent of the Senate and 20 percent of the House) have a footprint in the county.
“We try to stay in contact with them, encourage them to come out and visit operations. Sedgwick County is unique with an urban center but still a lot of agriculture,” he said.
The key is helping lawmakers understand how policy touches farmers where they live, how policy “trickles down, then to be able to put that individual in touch with them” is good, he said.
“The fact of the matter is there’s a lot of misinformation about agriculture out there. They aren’t hearing it from us. That’s what Farm Bureau, the ‘voice of agriculture,’ – we want to be telling our story and not somebody else telling it for us,” he said.
Then there are the challenges beyond a farmer’s control, such as the exceptionally wet weather in 2019 that has affected both summer and fall crops. Kerschen said he and his family did not finish harvesting wheat until July 7 this year.
“Wheat’s our main crop, it’s the majority of our acres. It’s a ton of work,” he said. “I love planting wheat in the fall. You enjoy it. It’s just a sense of accomplishment. You plant in late September and nine months later finally get that crop off the field. You cover all four seasons with it – a true culmination.
“There’s nothing like a Kansas wheat harvest.”
And there are signs that the future of this family farm may be in secure hands.
“My son William can’t get enough of farming,” he said. “He knows what it (autosteer) does, even at 4 years old. He says we need to get an autosteer combine.
“It’s a great joy to have kids interested in it. We live right across the street from the farm – to see kids come down the driveway to play, makes it worthwhile.”