Kyle and Gina Cantrell of Merna are no strangers to hard work – or hard times. When the high school sweethearts graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 2002 and returned home to farm on Kyle’s family’s land, they operated at a loss their first year.
“That was an eye-opener,” Kyle says. “That year was extremely hot and dry, and the price of corn was terrible. I think that year has always been in the back of our minds and has helped keep us grounded.”
Today, Kyle and Gina have three kids – Grace, Owen and Kipp – and they continue to raise corn, soybeans and Angus cattle with Kyle’s father, Don, on 5,200 acres.
“I’m a fourth-generation farmer, and God willing, my kids will be the fifth,” Kyle says. “My great-grandpa started farming some of the same land we still farm today over 80 years ago. During the 1930s, he almost lost our farm in the Great Depression. Later in the 1980s when interest rates skyrocketed, my dad was barely able to hang on to the farm. The past couple years have been the most profitable years on our farm ever.”
Despite the hardships of farming, the Cantrells wouldn’t choose any other occupation.
“I always knew I would farm,” says Gina, who grew up on a farm 10 miles from Kyle. “I loved my childhood and helped Mom and Dad on the farm. I had six siblings, and I wanted to be like my mom and raise my kids in that setting.”
Kyle says he has always loved playing in the dirt, even as a “little guy.” He laughs, “I’m still playing in the dirt. My toys are just bigger.”
Though fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm today, the Cantrells aren’t that different from city-dwelling families. Gina wakes up the kids at 6:40 a.m. to get them ready for the school bus. Kyle’s day begins before dawn during planting and harvest, and every morning he meets with his dad and their three full-time employees to give everyone their tasks for the day. Kyle likens it to a meeting of office employees around a conference table.
“The neat thing about farming is every day is different with its own interesting challenges,” Kyle says. “Whether it be the crops, or the livestock, something new is always popping up. For the growing season, we plant the seeds in spring and then spend all summer taking care of the crops. We have 34 irrigation pivots that water our crops, and it takes a lot of time to make sure they’re running properly and efficiently. I try to be home by 7 every night so we can have a sit-down meal.”
Like in most families, some nights that doesn’t happen.
“I do a lot of cooking, but Kyle’s hours are so sporadic. Sometimes he works so much in harvest that the kids joke, ‘Dad moved out,’” Gina says. “There are days I think he’ll be home by a certain time, but things happen – like a cow gets out – so you never really know.”
Gina runs the household, gardens during the summer and chauffeurs the kids to and from activities in the school year. She also helps with the farm. “
I have our 2-year-old with me all the time, and sometimes Kyle will call me to go out and check the heifers, bale, feed cows, or take him lunch – whatever he needs,” she says.
One thing the Cantrells would like consumers to understand is that they are consumers, too.
“We eat what we grow, so it’s got to be the best,” Kyle says. “Food safety and quality are top priority on our farm.”
Every year the family processes one of their 300 cows and freezes the meat for their own consumption.
“We make sure our animals are healthy because we feed the meat to our own kids, too,” Gina says. “This is how we make our living, and the better care we take of our land and animals, the more we prosper.”
Kyle hopes at least one, if not all three, of their kids come back home and farm in the future.
“Our kids are so observant – they learn about farming every day,” he says. “I love working with my dad. His positive attitude and work ethic has made farming fun. I hope my kids enjoy working with their dad as much as I have.”