ARLINGTON – A childhood dream to be a farmer might seem unreachable for a kid who didn’t grow up on a farm, but Davis Behle just kept dreaming.
“I was always interested in anything to do with agriculture. Instead of playing with LEGOs, I had little plastic farm animals and built fences,” Behle said. “When I was in second grade, I’d wake up early to prove to my parents that I was responsible enough to have a bucket calf.”
His family lived in a rural subdivision near Kearney with limited space for bucket calves. His parents, who grew up on farms in other states, made connections with nearby friends who offered bigger sites or pasture land for rent so their farmer wannabe son could raise 4-H beef and dairy cattle to show at the Buffalo County Fair.
Behle and his dad, Dave, started a small Black Angus cattle herd when Davis Behle was still in elementary school.
Today, 16 years later, they continue to maintain an Angus herd.
“It’s always been a fun thing to do together,” Behle said. “Also, having a quarter of beef when we need it has been nice.”
Behle and his wife, Lori, made his childhood dream a reality on Nov. 1, when they bought a 10-acre farmstead in Washington County, between Arlington and Blair, previously owned by Lori’s 94-year-old grandpa, who now lives in Fremont.
They moved into the big white farmhouse on the property. They have an agreement with the extended family for the right to purchase the remaining 150 acres of the quarter section in the future.
They are attempting to pull off an unlikely feat: Two city kids, neither of whom had parents in agriculture, becoming bona fide Nebraska farmers.
“It’s a personal accomplishment to get to own some ground and be able to do it in our 20s,” Behle said. “For a while now, Lori and I were thinking it would be wonderful to carry on some farm family’s legacy.”
Not a direct path
Behle took an important step in his Nebraska farming journey when he met and married Lori. They started dating while both were students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Although she grew up in Lincoln, when we were dating and after we were married, it was clear that she was meant to be a country girl,” Behle said.
After graduating from Kearney High School in 2013 and getting a UNL agribusiness degree in 2017, Behle’s next step toward owning a small Nebraska farm was to work two years on a huge northeast California ranch.
Behle said grad student Andrew Uden of Lexington was a UNL mentor who “would challenge my thinking and recommended doing something out of the ordinary.”
“It just felt like God was leading us,” Behle said about his and Lori’s decision to go to California. “The closest family would be 22 hours away.”
Alturus Ranches owns approximately 25,000 acres of cropland and leases much more public grazing land. Behle worked for a family member who manages the farm. He split his time between farm tasks – baling hay, harvesting wild rice, moving cattle – and office work like reviewing farm performance software and creating presentations.
“It was great to see agriculture that’s so different. They are one of the largest growers of wild rice. It also was when I really started gathering information about regenerative agriculture and soil health,” Behle said, including cover crops and grazing systems.
Those interests led the Behles back to Nebraska. They settled in Hastings after he accepted a sales and test plot management job in November 2019 with Keith Berns at Green Cover seed near Bladen.
“I had never really heard of the company until I was doing research in California,” Behle said. Green Cover has more than 120 species of cover crops and forages sourced from many growers, including some in Oregon, India and Australia, to make diverse custom seed mixes.
Home on the farm
Behle now does Green Cover work remotely from home. Lori is a remote worker for a Nevada-based interior design company.
Ryan Kirchhoff of Farm Credit Services of America in Kearney has coached them through the process to buy their first 10 farm acres and prepare to buy the other 150 acres in the future. That includes looking at loan programs earmarked for young and beginning farm owners.
They used a Rural 1st home loan through FCSA to purchase the farmstead. “We have been saving very aggressively for years to put us to this point,” Behle said.
They’re just starting to consider what’s ahead as farm owners. They love the farmhouse, but may make a few changes to make it their own.
And they are planning as well for a bigger farm footprint. Behle envisions a diversified operation with “crops, livestock feed crops and maybe some other things.”
Cattle were his first love as a boy, but work experiences sparked a growing interest in crops for this brand new farm owner. “So I use ‘agriculture’ more broadly now,” Behle said.
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