Planning for the Future
For Matt and Lisa Widner of Omaha, Ark., being good stewards covers not only the land they farm, but implementing sound financial strategies that have certainly paid off.
Matt started in the cattle business very early when his grandfather gave him a heifer on his first birthday. Over the years, with help and guidance from his family, Matt increased his herd.
Upon graduating college, Matt wanted to return home to the family farm. Matt’s dad was already in the broiler business, so he built two new houses and Matt leased those along with six of his dad’s old broiler houses. Since then, the Widners have bought more land and added more broiler houses and now oversee all of the family’s cattle and broiler operations. That’s a far cry from that first heifer, and Matt’s first year of farming with 75 acres of rented ground.
The Widner’s farm operation currently includes 80 acres owned and 180 rented. They raise 100 cow/calf pairs, plus replacement heifers and produce approximately 935,000 broilers each year under contract with Tyson Foods.
Access to capital is critical for beginning farmers and for many present huge obstacles to entering the farming business.
“The toughest problem with beginning a farming operation is the amount of capital required,” Matt said. “Leasing much of the operation has helped reduce our capital outlay. “Starting out we shared some equipment and labor with family, that helped.”
For most beginning farmers (and existing farmers as well), debt can be a huge problem, especially in times of lean years. However, following a strict financial plan including leasing much of their operation and growing slowly, the Widner’s farm operation became debt free last year.
Poor soil quality in the Ozarks hills of northern Arkansas also presents some major challenges. The Widners have worked diligently to improve their soils with organic matter from broiler litter and rotational grazing. Working with NRCS guidelines they have increased soil quality and greatly decreased soil erosion.
Other sound management practices include litter stacking sheds to store litter until usage, composting of animal mortality, increasing cattle watering facilities, and converting broiler houses to LED lighting systems to lower energy usage.
“Environmental science is changing,” said Matt. “And we continue to look at alternative ideas as they become economically feasible.”
To keep the family tradition of starting the kids out early, Matt and Lisa involve their 3-year old daughter, Jenna, as much as possible. Her involvement is limited somewhat at this stage, but she and her cousins enjoy checking the cattle and chickens and “supervising” taking care of the livestock.
Mother nature has presented some problems for the Widners recently. In 2015, a tornado destroyed several barns, fences and trees. With a lot of help, the family was able to rebuild the facilities and, in most cases, rebuild better than before the storm.
In addition to the financial challenges farming presents, Matt and Lisa also recognize the challenges presented by animal welfare and environmental issues. They have a plan to deal with that which includes:
• Following all guidelines provided by NRCS and Tyson Foods
• Operating with the vision future generations of Widners will live on the farm
• Caring for the animals to the best of their abilities.
As recognition for their farming accomplishments, Matt, Lisa and Jenna were selected as the 2017 Boone County Farm Family of the Year.
Through sound financial and natural resources stewardship, the Widners are laying a sound farming foundation for future generations.