Kevin Ruyle is, by his own description, the “grinder” on the Kansas farm he runs with his brother-in-law, Thane Buss. “I have to stay busy. If you need someone to work 18 hours, that’s me. Is that ADD?”
Maybe, but he is an admitted competitor, too. “I love to win. I love to compete,” he explains. “I was one of those little turkeys, growing up who never wanted to lose.”
Buss Farms is not a place of inaction. The no-till Kansas farm, near Oxford, 45 minutes south of Wichita, demands constant attention in the service of six crops: soybeans, wheat, corn, grain sorghum, alfalfa and cotton. Seven crops, if you include a newer venture with cover crops.
Wheat is good behind cotton, and cotton is good behind milo. “So, we stay with the rotation,” Ruyle says. “We’re busy nine months of the year.” Twelve months of the year for Ruyle. He runs 60 Red Angus cow/calf pairs. Registered heifers and bulls generate income, of course, but tending the calm, smaller-framed animals is an enjoyable release of stress.
Cotton was cool on Buss Farms before cotton was cool in Kansas. Chuck Buss, Kevin’s father-in-law, was growing it in the 1990s, and it has been the money-leading crop on the farm for four years running. It competes well with soybeans and uses about one-third of the water corn consumes, an important attribute given the blinding heat of a Kansas summer and the dwindling water supplies.
The farm grew 600 acres of cotton in 2018 and is headed toward 1,000 acres in 2019. In the days just before Christmas, Ruyle felt comfortable saying that some of the farm’s cotton fields yielded three bales to the acre. “For dryland Kansas, that’s tremendous,” he says.
Cotton was the crop that brought Ruyle into Buss Farms. That, and the fact he married the farmer’s daughter, Dawn.
“My father-in-law found an avenue for me to get back onto the farm in 2003, and it was stripping cotton,” Ruyle says. “It had a significant impact on our farm. We needed additional income to support [his and Thane’s] families. So, we picked cotton and did custom-stripping for other farmers.” They custom-stripped 300 acres this past year.
Buss Farms seems comfortable playing long ball, focusing on the long view — looking not just one step down the road, but two steps and more. It’s an outlook that considers not just the next farming opportunity but how that opportunity might create the next business venture beyond that. It’s really a generational outlook. Ruyle and Thane Buss talk about it. They have four boys, two each, between them and would love to give them all a farming opportunity if they want it. However, that just doesn’t happen without putting all the pieces together to understand what the pieces might be, Ruyle says.
He asks, “How does a kid get into farming, start making money? There are no guarantees out here in south-central Kansas. We’ve seen crops burn up. It’s kind of hard to go to the banker and tell him you’re a good farmer when everything has fallen apart.”
Cover crops may be the fuel of Buss Farms’ next generational opportunity. Ruyle and Thane Buss have been working with cover crops for only a short time.
“We’re still learning,” Ruyle says. “But, there is a yield increase [when a cover crop is planted] before soybeans.” The crop builds organic matter, holds the moisture in the ground and keeps the soil cool.
A cover crop before soybeans controls weeds so well that Ruyle and Thane Buss are left wondering why they continue to plant test strips. “We don’t do a lot of test strips, because we leave weeds behind [in the tests],” Ruyle says. That cover crops might benefit corn, too, in south-central Kansas is an open question. Will corn have enough water after the cover crop consumes some of it?
Then, Ruyle throws out a longer-term prospect about cover crops. Could cover crops create a grazing opportunity for an expansion into cattle?
“When I was a kid, I got to plow fields all day long. Which was boring,” he says, but he was learning, too. “Now, we run expensive tractors. It’s hard to turn a kid loose.” Might cattle become the way Buss Farms provides opportunity for another generation much as cotton provided opportunity for Ruyle?
“When the kids get older, I’ll be looking for more revenue streams, whether that’s cows or more land,” Ruyle says. “Maybe there’s an opportunity for cattle or something else we don’t even know about yet. I’m not sure, but I think the future will be exciting for them.”