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Calling it a day after 33 years

Staff writer

After spending 33 years building a cattle business that in its heyday included 6,000 head, Lincolnville feedlot owner Mike Beneke is calling it a day.

The price of feed, the cost of getting equipment serviced, rising interest rates, skyrocketing prices of farmland, and a lack of help motivated his decision.

He also fights diabetes and uses a walker because he injured a leg in a fall two years ago.

Beneke started in 1990 with four acres he bought from his grandfather for $400. Over the years, his operation grew to 800 acres.

He’d expected to continue until he was 70. Now he’s shutting it down at 64.

“When I look back, can I say I had a bad life? Can’t say I have,” he said.

Driving around his property and looking at the grounds, equipment, and buildings made Beneke sad.

“It took a lot of time and effort to put all this together and took a lot to maintain it,” he said. “Every dollar I have is at risk with this cattle business.”

All the pieces of equipment require costly repairs, he said.

“It’s nothing to spend $50,000 a year just on the maintenance,” he said.

He sold $40,000 worth of corn stalks to raise money, but replacing the engine in an ATV cost $25,000.

Grain expenses last year were twice what they were a year before, he said.

Kansas farmland prices jumped 25.2% from 2021 to 2022, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study indicates. Kansas saw the highest bump in the nation, with the average price of an acre reaching $2,630.

Beneke compares what’s happening to farms now to the farm crisis of the early 1980s.

Four weeks ago, Beneke shipped off the last 60 head of cattle. He has no plans to restock.

“The last three years, there’s been a lot of expense,” he said.

After the last cattle were shipped off, his helper quit to do other things.

“I don’t know where I’d get another employee or if I want to even go there,” Beneke said.

He has a son, but the son is doing well in Texas and is in a relationship that is good for him.

“It sure was a lot of fret the last few months before I did this,” Beneke said. “Have I been stressed, depressed, in the last few months? Yes, I have.”

There are limits on how much a farmer can borrow, and interest rates are climbing.

Amy Fowler, farm loan officer trainee with Farm Service Agency in Emporia, said interest rates for the agency’s farm ownership program and farm operating loan program were 4.75%. Two years ago, farm ownership loans were 2.625% and operating loans were 1.375%.

Farmers are limited to borrowing $600,000 for the ownership program and $400,000 for operating loans, Fowler said.

“If you’ve got four sections of land and it’s paid for, that’s one thing, but if you’ve got interest on it, that’s a different thing,” Beneke said.

He still has a mortgage on his land.

“I just can’t survive this with what things actually cost,” he said.

Two years ago, Beneke had 4,200 head of cattle. Last year, dealing with rising costs, he had 2,661.

New cattle would cost him at least $150 a head more than they cost last year.

Beneke is discussing the sale of his farm to a potential buyer, but no deal has been made.

Last modified March 2, 2023

 

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