His grandchildren are still too young to know if farming is in their future, but Mike O’Hara of Fort Benton can detect a certain twinkle in their eyes.
After all, his two sons, Heath and Hardy, took to farm life at an early age, and they are now full-fledged partners in O’Hara Land and Cattle, which raises cattle and grows crops.
Heath and his wife, Kari, have two young children, while Hardy and his wife, Cali, have three. Mike believes the grandchildren surely inherited the family’s ag gene.
“You always hope the next generation will be involved in the family business, and that’s what it is – a family business,” says Mike, who inherited land from both his father and mother’s family, and operated a small grain farm for years.
“We’ve grown the farm to the point where it works pretty well for Heath and Hardy to take over and become partners,” Mike says. “I think the model is working quite well. And it’s very rewarding to have somebody come back to the farm.
“We’ll see what happens with the next generation, but I think there’s a high chance some of my grandchildren will want to come back and make a life in agriculture,” he adds.
Back to the Farm
Heath, who is in his early 40s, and six years older than Hardy, was the first to come back home to help their dad. Hardy considered another career option when he went to college, but an opportunity led him back to Fort Benton.
“Farming is what I wanted to do from a young age, but whether it was going to become a reality was another story,” Hardy says. “I went to college to become a math teacher. I chose that profession because I knew in the summer I might be able to come back to the farm and help out.”
In 2001, some property became available that let Mike extend the farm, and that presented an opportunity for Hardy to return.
“So I changed my major to a business major, finished college and came back home to the farm,” Hardy adds.
The brothers have steadily taken over day-to-day operations of O’Hara Land and Cattle as their father moves closer to retirement and gets involved in other matters off the farm. One of Mike’s responsibilities is serving as Fourth District director on the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, a duty that requires international travel to help promote Montana trade with several different countries.
Diversification Is Key
O’Hara Land and Cattle has been breeding Maine-Anjou cattle since 1971, and while it’s still involved in cattle, most revenue comes from its farming operation. To that end, the O’Haras have taken what Hardy describes as “dramatic” steps in recent years.
“We’ve become extremely diversified,” Hardy says. “In 2016, we harvested 13 different crops. Five years ago, we were 100 percent winter wheat, so we’ve dramatically changed our operation in the last few years.”
However, they wanted to focus more on wheat. “We saw the wheat wasn’t as good as it should have been,” Hardy adds. “We started getting some disease pressure on a small scale, and our yields also weren’t as good as they should have been.”
He says because they were growing the same crop year after year, the ground wasn’t as healthy back then.
“So we tried different things to help alleviate that problem, and the rotation of the crops seems to be helping dramatically,” Hardy adds.