This story is the first of five profiles of the people selected as the DTN/Progressive Farmer's 2024 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers program. Today, we introduce Kasey Bamberger and Heath Bryant, Bryant Agricultural Enterprise, of Washington Court House, Ohio.
Fayette County is in southwest Ohio. As a portion of the early-American Northwest Territory, this is old farming country and named after the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general who fought alongside American colonists during the Revolutionary War. It was settlers from Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania arriving here in the early 1800s who cleared land deeded to them as payment for service in the war.
There are few acres in Fayette County not considered prime farmland. The deep silt loams and light clays that once supported prairie grasslands and elm-ash swamp forests now produce bountiful grain harvests.
This is home to third-generation Bryant Agricultural Enterprise, a business built on well-drained land purchased in the 1930s and today operating by that centuries-tested instinct for efficiency and sustainability.
Heath Bryant is one of four partners in Bryant Ag, which also includes his cousin, Kasey Bamberger. "We spend time collecting and analyzing not only the performance of fields, but also products, application timing, rates of products. We're pushing ourselves to learn from the information we generate, the annual records from every field to push each acre to produce a high-yielding crop while being mindful of the amount of inputs we are using and maintaining a strong soil structure."
Technology gives Bryant Ag the ability to conserve and to scale.
"There's a lot of talk around autonomous tractors, drone applications," Heath said. "But I would say we are more heavily investing our time and energy in better understanding how we continue to push sustainability."
Production efficiency and sustainability are made possible by a team of 36 employees. "We have invested in them to have an understanding of why it is important to have a strong attention to detail so that the information coming in is accurate," Kasey said.
The center of operations is a modern office and shop complex built just off state Route 41, a straight track of blacktop running south from the county seat, Washington Court House.
Bryant Ag was formed as a family partnership in 1988; Kasey and Heath came aboard as partners in 2019, joining their dads, Mark and Mike, respectively. The farm's business is corn, soybeans (full-season and double-cropped) and wheat. A few fields are planted to non-GMO beans and corn to take advantage of demand in local markets.
The large, graveled yard and lanes around the home site display the farm's capacity -- a 1.2-million-bushel granary along with large, bulk liquid fertilizer storage -- to service 21,000 acres over six counties. "We really would rather have everything in-house," Heath said, explaining the farm's storage space. "The infrastructure grows as we're growing the farm."
As the cousins were becoming partners in the operation, they invested in a substantial upgrade to the farm's grain-storage capacity. "I was 25, and Heath was 35," Kasey said. "We knew that we had 30 or 40 more years (of farming), and storage was a weak point. Harvest equipment was sitting in the field, because our trucks were taking a long time to unload. We knew in order for us to continue to be efficient into a longer future, this was something that we needed to invest in."
It was John Bryant, Kasey and Heath's grandfather, who began farming 258 acres here in 1958 with the help of his mother and father, and their Depression-era land purchase. John added to the land base to make room for his two sons, Mike and Mark.
Kasey is Mark's daughter, and she is married to Brad. She has a business management degree and oversees the business side of the operation: partner relations, long-term asset plans, insurance, financials and budgets. Heath is Mike's son and is married to Abbie. Heath earned an agricultural science degree and manages operations: planning and enacting and tracking the progress of the farm's production blueprints.
Their fathers ensured Heath and Kasey had a healthy dose of farming before they brought them into the partnership. Then, they were put under the tutelage of the farm's skilled employees -- some they remembered from their childhood.
"I think one thing that our fathers did really well is they didn't bring us back in just because we were family. They brought us back and placed us under people that had been here much longer than what we had. That allowed us to be mentored and to learn from them," Kasey said.
Heath remembers the lessons. "Don't go out there and act like you know what you're doing just because you're a family member. We listened and used knowledge from those that have been here longer than us. We're not afraid to look at one of the guys and say, 'You know, I've never done this, you've done this for 15 years, what do I do?'"
Even though the modern partnership that is Bryant Ag spans different generations, each of them -- Heath, Kasey, Mark and Mike -- has common goals. "Sometimes, you'll get the question 'How many acres do you want to farm?' And, we don't really have that goal," Kasey said. "Our goal is being very meticulous at what we do. Set a high standard of stewardship. Take care of the property as if it were our own. Don't give up any of these only for growth."
A good deal of that is going to come from data and a thorough understanding of the data. "We're really trying to have a better understanding of what every single acre needs and giving it no more and no less," Heath explained. "We can't manage 140 or 150 fields off of memory."
Data collection and analysis has been a growth sector in the business. Bryant Ag first did beta testing work with data-management company Granular Business in 2014. (Granular was purchased in late 2022 by Traction Ag Inc., a cloud-based accounting software business.)
IMPORTANCE OF DATA AND DETAILS
"We were able to use some of our ideas, some of our ways of doing things around our farm to put the platform together," Heath said. "(We did) the same thing on the inventory side. We were able to track our inventory. We didn't realize how important it would be. But it really drives this farm."
Data is a big enough piece of Bryant Ag today that it employs a full-time data manager, Jeremy Baker. "We had invested so much money into technologies, and we needed to analyze those results quickly but felt like we weren't utilizing them to the full capacity."
Baker had already worked for Bryant Ag for more than a decade helping with planting, harvest, spraying and fertilizer application. He was detail-oriented. "He can challenge us to think," Kasey said.
Baker supports Bryant Ag's operations team. He sets up technology in the equipment and develops naming conventions for inputs. He scrubs the data for garbage, audits field records and tracks inventory. "He gives us confidence to run different scenarios on purchasing decisions or on asset planning," he continued.
Investments in people -- hiring Baker, for example -- perhaps more than technology or equipment is what Heath and Kasey believe brings success to Bryant Ag.
"We want to do this for the rest of our lives," Kasey said. "We couldn't do it without the people that show up to work every day, who work alongside us, not for us. Our employees are our greatest assets."
Editor's Note: This is the first of five profiles of our 14th class of America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers sponsored by DTN/ Progressive Farmer. They are among the best of their generation who have chosen agriculture as a profession and lifestyle. The annual award recognizes five farmers and ranchers who best represent the pioneering promises of American agriculture: Farmers and ranchers who are innovative, imaginative and who work to improve their communities.
See Kasey Bamberger and Heath Bryant's video profile and all of the 2024 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers Winners at https://spotlights.dtnpf.com/….
See Editor's Notebook blog by DTN Editor-in-Chief Greg D. Horstmeier about the winners at https://www.dtnpf.com/….
See Reporter's Notebook video with Miller on https://www.dtnpf.com/… where he talks more about the 2024 winners, as well as how people can apply to be next year's class of winners.
Dan Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter, formerly known as Twitter, @DMillerPF
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