Mark Fincham, operating partner of Heartland Family Farms, is the fifth generation of his family to farm the same land in Pratt County. No one knows better than he does that agriculture and farming practices have undergone some immense changes since his ancestors started the Century Farm that bears his grandmother’s name in the 1880s.
“You have to stay up to date and be ready to keep up with changes in agriculture,” he says.
One thing he has done is pursue third-party verified certified farm security and environmental best practices, something he thinks will work well with an initiative to add value to hard red winter wheat by direct marketing to end users for documented baking qualities.
“We embrace this to show that we are environmentally sound in all of our farming practices,” Fincham says. “We’ve been doing this for six years. It takes a few years for certification to mean something.”
Another move that Heartland Family Farms has made in the last year or two is to begin working with Farm Strategy. Heartland Family Farms works with the marketing strategy company to identify high-value attributes in the hard red winter wheat crop, separate that wheat and then market it to end users who are looking for those attributes.
“Last year, we thought we had some wheat that was good enough to segregate and market it for higher prices," Fincham says. "Sure enough, we did have high protein. We worked with Farm Strategy to find markets and eventually, we were able to sell it for a premium. We ended up seller it up to another buyer, not the ones that Farm Strategy was working with. But we stayed in though with Andrew (Hoelscher, founder of Farm Strategy) and who knows what will happen in 2018.”
Fincham says he sampled every truckload of wheat grown on his farm in 2017 and maintained quality test records. This spring, he purchased the equipment to store wheat in bags in the field, and plans to store 100% of the wheat he grows on the farm.
“The way I look at it, if I can get end users to tell me what they want, then I can find the way to provide that to them. I can figure out how to grow for their market," Fincham says. "The bottom line is, I’m trying to get out of the commodity market. I want to be able to provide the specific things the millers want when it comes to baking qualities.”
Fincham says part of getting the quality that the end user wants can come through choosing varieties that are known to perform well in quality tests. He says there are also management practices that can enhance traits, such as protein content and mixability — a test of bread dough strength as measured by how long it can be mixed without starting to break down.
“Once we know what varieties and practices produce the best traits, we can tailor our operation to better fit the needs of the market,” he says.
One thing that surprised him, Fincham says, was learning that high protein alone does not necessarily produce high baking quality.
“We had some wheat that wasn’t exceptionally high in protein, but when they did the mixing and baking tests, it had other qualities that were in high demand,” Fincham says.
In the past, there have been no programs that paid farmers based on quality of ingredients.
“I know that is a path that I am interested in pursuing,” he says. “We will no doubt face additional scrutiny when it comes to issues such as food safety and I am willing to go there. I already have security around my bins and I’ll be studying how to make sure that all the bags are secure.”
He says he knows that the bigger mills need to make sure that the sources they buy from have adequate supplies to meet their needs, and he says he believes that will require groups of farmers to work together in a marketing program such as Farm Strategy to make sure they can be a reliable source of added value ingredients that millers can count on.
Fincham’s farming operation, Heartland Family Farms, is a general partnership. He and his brother, Craig, and his wife, Lisa, are the partners. Mark and Lisa have two children, a son who is majoring in engineering at Kansas State University and a daughter who is a junior in high school.
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Next: A look at what research and breeding may offer farmers interested in direct marketing to end users and developing agronomic qualities.