The Brinkema’s operation began with Harry’s father, Ross’s grandfather in the 1940s. He was a cattleman and farmer his entire life. Harry was born in 1945. He returned to the family operation after college, running it solely until Ross came home from school in 2002. The farm has steadily grown and diversified over the years – the addition of irrigation happened when Harry was farming the operation by himself. They produce cattle, corn, wheat and beans in Phillips County and northern Yuma County.
Since Ross has returned, the family operation has gradually transitioned from primarily cattle ranching to focusing on the farm. He helped with the cattle as a young boy, just as he helped with the farm, but to him it always seemed he enjoyed the farming side more.
“Horses and I never really clicked,” he said. “I enjoyed 4-wheelers and motorcycles and those kinds of things.”
Once in college Ross enjoyed the business side of things but didn’t really enjoy the animal science classes, the things that go into the animal husbandry side of operations. So he decided the crop production side fit a little better than the animal production side.
Harry, however, was heavily influenced in the cattle industry by his father. As he grew up, the cattle business changed, growing larger and operations becoming more efficient and predominant in the business world. When they transitioned from more of the ranching side to focus on crop production, the business took off and they were presented with more opportunities to expand the operation locally. Even with his attachment to the cattle production, Harry didn’t have a problem with Ross’s decision. He had worked very hard, to a point that it took a physical toll on his body, and he understood that Ross didn’t want to go down that route as much as he did when he was younger.
Making tough decisions is something that comes along with any business, especially farming. Now, information spreads so quickly and easily – from markets to weather to politics – the news is published and printed before farmers can even think about reacting to it. It’s a problem that seems to be the opposite from when Ross’s grandfather was farming. Older generations had the problem of not knowing, and not being able to react before it was too late, or the next storm was already happening.
“When my grandfather and even my dad were doing it, you know, we didn’t know about hurricanes or huge damages because of storms in Iowa,” Ross said. “So with news and media sources today, global disasters in Europe or South America, we know about that and that affects our markets.”
“Everything is so global these days, like global disasters in Europe or South America, and trade in China – markets react so quickly,” Ross said. “If you’re a day late, you’re left behind. It’s a huge challenge.”
“Growing the crop anymore, is the easy part,” he continued. “It takes a lot of time and effort, and there’s the weather, and we can even prepare for the weather, but the marketing is so important.”
He stressed that a farmer could do so well or so poorly, just based on the market – something that is entirely out of the farmer’s control. The market can change an operation from being wildly successful to terribly in trouble, financially.
“You would hope that this part right here, of growing and harvesting it, would be the scary and frustrating and hard part, and as hard as it is, it’s still marketing and the analysis that’s even more stressful,” he said.
Ross feels fortunate to have been able to work with his father. Harry is a very passionate man, about the business and the trade and all aspects of the farm. I’ve always known Harry to be smiling, laughing and telling a story, but as with any family business, there’s going to be some frustration and differences of opinion along the way.
“The really nice thing is that we can both share our opinion and not always agree with each other but we’re able to move on and adapt or meet in the middle in some way,” Ross said.
Harry also serves on the Board of Directors for Points West Community Bank in Julesburg. I can tell he enjoys always learning, because his favorite thing about board meetings is listening to the bankers talk about banking. He says he’s just on the board to learn. There’s a lot of things that are different now than when he was farming, and good about respecting newer technology and new principles and practices.
Harry grew up on the operation in Holyoke. His wife, Sally grew up in south Florida, attending Florida State University and moving to Denver to teach school after graduation with her sorority sisters. Harry was living in Denver at the time and the two met at a party. They dated and were married for a while before returning to Holyoke to work together for many years on the farm and ranch.
Ross and his sister, Brooke, were raised in Holyoke. Brooke was the opposite of Ross growing up, in that she loved cows and horses and was fair queen in high school. She married her husband, Jeremy Dirks, and they live together in Des Moines, Iowa with their three children, Max, Marren and Mylie.
“We’re very close,” Ross said of his sister. “Besides being my sister, she’s a good friend. We talk almost daily still.”
Ross and his wife of 14 years, Aly, grew up together but didn’t start dating until she was visiting home from college on Christmas break. They now have two boys and a daughter, Ridley, Alexander and Lily, and live part-time in Ogallala where the kids attend school. Ross and Aly have raised their kids around the farm – they love to help and ride around on the 4-wheeler. But they also love robots, animals, football, baseball, swimming, dirtbikes – and their parents are just happy to expose them to everything.
“As they grow older, they can truly find what they’re passionate about and what they’re good at,” Ross said. “I have every intention and hope [that they join the family business] if it’s in their best interest and wishes. But I’ll support whatever else they might decide they enjoy doing.”
While Ross and Aly live in Holyoke, he’s thankful to still be farming in the Holyoke community.
As is true with most farming communities, everyone is close and respectful – they all look out for everyone else.
“We all know each other, we all know each other’s families and stories and are very respectful and fond of our neighbors,” Ross said. “We always wish and hope for their success.”
The financial side can vary from year-to-year, but that’s also what’s great about ag production – farmers can always try again, learn from their mistakes and capitalize on those decisions.
“2020 has given us a lot of adversities, in the weather world, in the marketing world, in the crop production side as a whole, so to be in October and harvesting a nice crop,” Ross said. “The mental reward is very fulfilling.”
Despite all the challenges, nothing compares to seeing all the hard work pay off during harvest. I was lucky to ride along with Ross during corn harvest in 2020, perhaps one of the hardest years of late, and see some of their work come to a close. It’s a marathon not a sprint is very accurate when it comes to farming. When they’re done, they get ready to do it all over again.
Harry, Sally and Ross have been a pleasure to work with as bankers. Harry continues to be a great edition to our Board of Directors. They were my very first farm visit when I started working at the bank as a summer job in high school and I always look forward to learning more when I get to visit them for a day.
We as a bank are thankful for the Brinkema’s business and look forward to supporting them for many years to come.