(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)
Member spotlight: Amber Kohlhaas, Algona
July 6, 2023 | Kriss Nelson
Amber Kohlhaas experienced a lot of changes in 2020. She transitioned from communications manager for a large agricultural machine and manufacturing company to farming full time, officially celebrating her first “Amber crop” in 2021.
Kohlhaas farms with her dad and uncle. She also works alongside her husband Jason on their grain and cattle farm. Together they have a daughter Lonna and a son Holden.
Although she was familiar with life on the farm — having grown up on her family’s farm and working in agriculture — having her own farm came with some challenges.
High commodity prices provided some profitability, but Kohlhaas says everything familiar to even the experienced farmers was uncertain.
“Fertilizer, seed, chemical, equipment, rent and land prices were increasing or changing,” she says. “On top of the high prices, there was also the perfect storm with industrywide supply issues that made parts availability and equipment trading a challenge.”
Kohlhaas says leaning on fellow farmers and resources, such as the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), is helping her make the shift after 20 years working off the farm.
Kohlhaas can use resources available through publications, including the Iowa Soybean Review, or ISA’s online tools.
These resources help her learn not only from ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation’s (RCFI) experts but help make connections and learn from other farmers.
“It’s interesting to see what other farmers are doing and how people are adapting and putting new practices together,” she says.
Whether it is raising livestock or planting a crop, there are many unknowns leading up to the end goal of profitability. The Kohlhaas family often refers to this scenario as “barn blind.”
“A farmer must make and invest in all the products for the year ahead without knowing what the weather, markets and economy will be like. This is where I feel the term barn blind applies,” explains Kohlhaas. “This is why programs, resources, magazines and connections from Iowa Soybean Association are helpful. They keep farmers engaged, having discussions and learning from each other.”
Diversifying the farm
The Kohlhaas family understands the ever-changing agricultural industry and the need to diversify.
One example is that the calves not sold for 4-H prospects or replacement heifers remain on the Kohlhaas farm for private meat sales.
“This is a niche market we have landed in that has helped us to stay diversified,” she says.
Meat sales started with just a few calves and have expanded substantially, selling 20 head for meat sales this year.
“Many consumers take pride knowing they are supporting a farmer with a farm-to-table purchase, while also knowing their food was raised humanely by farmers and ranchers who are being the best stewards of their land and livestock they can,” she says. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Kohlhaas is most engaged with ISA and the Iowa Corn Growers Association through CommonGround Iowa. The group consists of farm women who work to interact with consumers.
Reconnecting people to their generational ag roots made the decision to join easy for Kohlhaas.
“On average, the general population is at least three generations removed from the farm. It could be fair to say most people do not know a farmer who they can ask a question,” says Kohlhaas. “With CommonGround, we put a face to the female farmers who are providing food on consumers’ tables while serving as a resource for information.”
Kohlhaas has shared virtual farm tours of her family’s cattle operation — showing viewers how farmers care for the health of their animals through vaccinations and medications, the system for harvesting, storing and feeding hay, and a year in the life of the grain farmer.
“Sharing my knowledge of agriculture to consumers comes full circle for me as I am learning from other farmers too,” she says.
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