When Kyle Brooks was a little boy, he used to fall asleep on the floor of the tractor while his dad worked. His dad would even keep cushions in the cab for him. Some people are just meant to be farmers.
“Farming is what I go to bed thinking about, and it’s what I wake up thinking about,” said Kyle. “I love raising a good crop.”
With a master’s degree from Purdue University in agricultural and biological engineering and a full-time job as an agronomist at a local co-op, Kyle Brooks is the epitome of today’s young farmer. He got his start in middle school when he opened a hay baling business. As a true entrepreneur even from such a young age, Kyle spent his weekends and summers throughout high school phoning vendors to help expand his business. He hasn’t stopped since.
“I have always been a huge Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan. I remember seeing an interview where he was asked ‘If you could be doing anything, what would you do?’ and he responded ‘Drive a race car.’ The reporter then asked, ‘If you couldn’t drive a race car, what would you do?’ and he responded ‘Drive a race car,’” Kyle said. “I have that same desire and hunger for farming.”
He currently farms slightly more than 1,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in central Indiana alongside his dad, Larry. He may call himself a man of few words, but he’ll easily fill an entire conversation discussing the wave of innovation taking place in agriculture. Kyle believes that best practices, like nutrient management and land stewardship, will become mandatory for his generation, and he sees himself helping to lead the charge. He lights up when he talks about modern advancements in farming, from precision tools to lighter equipment that reduces soil compaction.
“I’m excited to look at the autonomous options that are starting to come out,” said Kyle. “As we look at efficiency and emissions, there are a lot of things we can do with autonomy. That’s one thing I’m keeping a close eye on as the future of farming changes.”
Family as a resource
He is the first to admit his dad has been instrumental to his farming philosophy. Kyle’s admiration for his father’s approach and legacy is clear every time he speaks of him. He’s quick to describe his dad as forward-thinking and strategic. They spend hours at the dinner table talking about the farm and unearthing new ways to improve the operation.
“The dinner table is our strategic planning time. Two or three nights a week, we’ll plot things out: Here’s what we’ll do Tuesday; here’s what we’ll do Thursday,” Kyle said. “We spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off each other. We’ve always been an open and sharing family.”
For many farming families, meeting the demands of farming presents more than a few challenges. From delegating responsibilities fairly to determining who gets final decision-making power, managing the relationships in a farm family is fraught with eggshells to walk over. But Kyle has always had a unique relationship with his parents that seems as if they were tailor-made to be a farming family. He even calls his parents by their first names: Larry and Vicki, a habit that developed after growing up calling his parents on the tractor’s radio. With so many “Moms” and “Dads” in the area on the same channel, Larry and Vicki were just easier for everyone. The first names stuck.
Taking over the family business
Even when it comes to planning for the farm transition—a notoriously difficult topic for every family that owns a farm—the Brooks family leans on each other for answers and support. At 29 years old, Kyle dreams of raising his own family on the farm. But securing his future by taking over the operation can put his parents’ retirement in jeopardy if it’s not done right. For instance, Vicki would love to step down sooner rather than later to spend more time at the family’s lake house. But if they rush to leave the farm, Kyle could be left in a difficult position.
“There’s no easy answer,” Kyle said. “It’s hard for Larry to know when to slow down and how much to slow down. The timeline is the hardest part.”
For now, the family has decided on a long-term buyout solution for their transition plan. As Kyle is able to afford to buy pieces of the farm from his parents—ranging from land to equipment to buildings—he will do so. Even with all this falling into place, Kyle thinks of the strong relationship he has with his parents first and foremost.
“It’s been a long process over the past five to six years. I don’t want to push anyone,” said Kyle. “The key to my success and development has always been our partnership.”
The future, and more
Kyle, as always, has a close eye on making his dreams a reality. He recently purchased and financed a major piece of equipment, a sprayer, and he works closely with Farm Credit Mid-America’s young, beginning and small farmers program for educational opportunities. So, when his dad is ready to retire, he’ll be ready to take over. His immediate plans for the farm include expanding the current cover crops and no-till, and looking at additional cash crops.
Kyle sums it up best himself: “I’m excited for the future.”