Meet Fourth-Generation Farmer Mark Klepper
The Dirt on the Farm
Farm Location: Near Baileyton in Greene County
Land Area: 1,900 acres
Livestock and Crops: Corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle and broilers (chickens raised for meat)
Farm Legacy: Mark and Cindy’s son Evan (and another son on the way) will be the fifth generation.
What on your farm makes you most proud?
When I started farming full-time, we had 100 acres and about 40 cows. Now we have 1,900 acres and a diversified mix of crops and livestock. I’m pretty proud of the growth of the farm and being able to farm on that large of a scale in East Tennessee.
What is your biggest challenge?
Finding the time to do everything I want to do, and still having quality family time with very little help on the farm.
What made you decide to continue the tradition of farming?
My dad worked a public job and farmed on the side. He worked all the time – he worked the public job to keep the farm going. I didn’t want to work to keep the farm up; I wanted to farm for a living. I love working with animals, just love being outside, so I always knew I wanted to figure out how to make a living doing what I loved – and that meant expanding our operation. I like the challenge of being my own boss, the challenge of making the farm profitable without another income. You have to love it because it takes lots of time to do it right, but I would not be farming the way I farm if not for the Farm Bureau and the people I met through them.
You and Cindy have been involved in leadership organizations for a while. How do those groups help young farmers?
I think it is important because it not only helps you by being involved in something you believe in, but getting away from the farm and meeting people helps you share ideas, network, gain a broader appreciation for all of agriculture and gain necessary leadership skills. Young Farmers & Ranchers gives you an opportunity to be a leader, be involved, learn how an organization like Farm Bureau operates, and your voice gets to be heard. If you stay at home all the time, your voice isn’t heard, and the message doesn’t get told – and then where would we be in the future? You also get to have a lot of fun by being involved and being a leader too. Farm Bureau has become like my crop advisors – I listen to other farmers and speakers talk about what they do when I go to conferences, and I ask about what has worked or not worked. Then I try it, and now I have people who ask me because they see I have done things that work.
What advice do you have for other young farmers?
Find a mentor, start small and work your way up. Have good credit or get credit – you can’t farm without money. Don’t be afraid to try new things – look outside the box.
Do you want your children to carry on the family farm when they grow up?
I hope so. My son Evan farms as much as I do every day; his “farm” is just (using his imagination) on the floor of our house. He has his tractors, he drives the trucks, he does it all – I guess it’s in his blood. Times can change, but I hope both he and my son that’s on the way will choose farming! It will be here if they choose to farm, but they can be whatever they want to be. I want them to be able to live out their dreams like I live mine every day on the farm.
As a poultry farmer, how do you tackle the topic of animal welfare with consumers?
I try to inform them of what I do, and I don’t try to hide anything from them. I encourage people to come out on the farm to look and actually see what I do, and explain that not everything you see on the Internet and TV is true. I compare it with something they can relate to. On a cold winter day that is 30 degrees with the wind blowing (like we get so often in East Tennessee) or raining or snowing – would you want to be inside in a controlled environment or outside? I just try to explain that chickens are really no different than we are for the most part. They want to be comfortable, and on my farm we strive to keep our animals comfortable. That’s the No. 1 priority: Keep them comfortable, fed, watered and well taken care of.