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'A way to stay in the family business'

Staff writer

Steve Bartel of rural Lehigh classifies himself as a farmer, but he is also a businessman.

Bartel started custom farming — harvesting and planting crops for other farmers — in 1994 when he came back to his family farm. He wanted something to supplement his income to pay for bigger and better machinery.

Now, Bartel works for a client list of nearly 50 farmers in a 60-mile radius around Marion County, including farms near Salina, Newton, and McPherson.

The business exists because of the cost of farm equipment.

Bartel has a 16-row planter, a tractor, and two combines.

A new combine can cost $300,000. A used combine can still cost more than $150,000.

“Some people don’t want to invest money in it,” Bartel said. “We do work for guys who are semiretired also.”

Bartel and his regular crew — a full-time employee and his son, who is still in high school — farm about 5,000 acres a year and during their busy seasons farm 300 acres a day.

They work long hours in the spring and the summer. This past week, they have worked from 6:30 a.m. through 8 p.m. In the spring, Bartel has worked from 6:30 a.m. one day to 2:30 a.m. the next.

“And then you get up and do it all over again,” he said.

Bartel said the custom farming business isn’t a get-rich scheme because it’s competitive.

Although there are several custom farmers out there, Bartel said there is enough work to go around.

“Nobody tries to drive people out of business. I’ve got to go to church and school meetings with these people,” Bartel said.

He enjoys custom farming, working for a slew of interesting characters who, most often, are honest and don’t try to cheat him.

It is also a job that can be flexible.

Even though he works long hours, Bartel keeps to a 60-mile radius to make sure he can go home and see his family every night.

Family is one of the reasons Bartel keeps his business strong, custom farming with his father and now he does the same work with his son.

“It’s kind of a way to stay in the family business,” he said.

Last modified Aug. 11, 2010

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