Nebraska Family Relishes Challenges of Farming

Published online: Feb 25, 2020 News Kevin Fink
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Source: Scottsbluff Star-Herald

South of Melbeta, Neb., tucked between several large cottonwood trees, with Castle Rock stretching toward the sky in the distance, sits the Fitts Farm. This farm is owned and operated by Dan and Becky Fitts. Andy, Dan’s younger brother, helps on the farm as well.

Dan Fitts was raised on a farm just west of where he presently farms. Dan wanted to farm after high school, but the family farm sold. Upon graduation, he then went to work for an area farmer for eight years.

In 2000, Dan’s dream to farm on his own came about. The farmer Dan worked for helped him become an independent farmer himself.

Dan and Becky have worked to build their operation since. “We have to keep growing to make farming work.”

Becky has always helped on the farm. Dan and her work side-by-side in all farming operations. From taxes to tillage, Dan and Becky approach farming with a family mindset.

Becky wasn’t always a farmer. She managed Corral Western Wear before trading a saddle for a tractor.

“Her business smarts are a great help in farming,” Dan said.

Farmers have to know many things; it’s like 15 professions rolled into one, Dan said. Farmers must have skills in a variety of things to be successful. Mechanics, business, electricity, marketing, soils, agronomy, chemistry, water management, crop management, livestock management, weather, construction, welding and entomology are among the many areas that farmers must apply.

Dan and Becky love all aspects of farming, especially the “challenge,” Dan said.

This challenge is good and bad. It’s a love-hate relationship, Becky said.

“We love the challenge of farming, but sometimes the challenge is hard.”

They love the challenge of working to produce greater crop yields, but not the challenges associated with things out of their control, like poor markets, poor yields and poor weather.

“Rising land and water tax is also a challenge,” Dan said.

Dan and Becky know there is nothing they can do about things out of their control, so they seek to make the best of what happens.

Dan’s favorite part of farming is agronomy. He loves the science of soil management and crop production. Dan believes the soil holds many answers to effective farming.

“There is so much we don’t know about soil, and how soil and crops interact,” he said.

Dan and Becky attend numerous agronomy workshops in the winter months to learn more about effective soil and crop management.

“The challenge is that we compete with eastern Nebraska growers who have better soil pH and long-season corn.”

Row-crop production is the Fitts’ specialty. They raise corn, dry beans, sugarbeets, and peppermint. Dan has been growing sugarbeets since he started farming on his own.

“They (sugarbeets)have been good to us; overall, being a beet grower is good and rewarding,” he said.

Dan plants only Roundup Ready sugar beets – genetically modified beet seed that tolerates the weed control herbicide, Roundup.

“Roundup Ready beet seed lowers the cost of raising beets significantly,” Dan said.

The Fitts practice a five-year sugarbeet rotation plan to further aid beet production.

“This rotation plan helps keep soil clean from nematodes and other bugs and diseases harmful to sugarbeets, like Rhizoc and Cercospora,” Dan said.

Rotation also helps in other ways, like allowing for greater crop diversification, Dan added.

In addition to their diverse crops and other farming enterprises, Dan and Becky are representatives for Pioneer Seed and Conklin Fertilizers. They store and sell products for both companies.

Dan also serves on the Dry Bean Growers Association and two ditch boards, the Gering Irrigation District and Castle Rock Irrigation District.

Next to Dan’s love of agriculture, he enjoys storm chasing, the practice of pursuing severe weather. When most people are headed away from a severe storm, Dan is headed into it.

He’s been involved in chasing storms since his youth. Dan soon learned that seldom would storms come to him, so he started going to the storms.

“I really enjoy severe weather,” Dan said.

Dan live-streams weather footage to places like KNEB radio, the National Severe Weather Studio, the Weather Channel, and other media, locally and nationally.

The largest hailstone encountered by Dan was north of Mullen, 5 3/8 inches, he said.

The greatest joy on the farm is not agriculture or selling commercial products or storm chasing or anything else associated with farming life for the Fitts. Dan and Becky’s greatest joy are their children, Erin, Ashlynn and Colby. All the children are farm-tough. Ashlynn is a cancer survivor.

Ashlynn Fitts was diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 5. She is now off chemo and “doing perfect,” Dan said. Ashlynn is back in school, active and enjoying being a kid. Like her dad, Ashlynn is growing up on a farm with all its many activities to behold and enjoy.