John Niehoff owns and operates Niehoff Farms and Trucking with his family in Milroy. Niehoff has been a farmer his entire life.
“It just came natural to me,” Niehoff said. “I didn’t mind the work or long hours. I felt like I belonged to it.”
Niehoff’s siblings grew up and moved to the city, but he remained home and worked on his father’s farm.
Niehoff’s father, Ralph Niehoff, started the family farm in 1968. Ralph worked at General Electric for 15 years prior to becoming a farmer.
Niehoff said it takes a family to thoroughly manage a farm.
His son, Austin Niehoff, works on the farm and manages the family’s trucking company. Niehoff’s daughter helps on the farm when she comes home from IUPUI.
His wife, who works as a nurse, helps out around the farm as well.
Niehoff employs Kolbe Herbert as hired help. The farm’s Secretary Jamie Humpert helps manage the farm and its expenses.
The Niehoff family farms approximately 9,000 acres of crops including hay, wheat, corn and beans.
Niehoff started farming his senior year of high school when he bought his first tractor. He bought some ground, did odd jobs and custom baled hay for years.
Custom baling paid for a lot of the equipment which helped Niehoff establish himself as a farmer.
Advancements in farming technology have allowed Niehoff to up his farm management practices to maximize his yield and efficiency. Improved fertilizers and pesticides are in part responsible for this.
“I’ve got to do a better job farming on a day to day basis, because I have to depend on less acres and I have to make sure I get the full value of that acreage,” Niehoff said. “I try to put the maximum fertilizer on and do the best that I can. Instead of making 180 bushel an acre, I shoot for 230 or 240. I’ve tried to up my management to get that.”
The Niehoffs also utilize double cropping, which allows them to get the most out of their land. Double cropping involves planting two different crops in the same filed during a single year.
Niehoff has enhanced conservation efforts on his farm. He doesn’t use no-till practices, but instead runs a turbo till to leave residue on top of the soil and improve its quality.
Niehoff is proud of being a source of nutrition for people and livestock.
“A lot of people say well farmers do it, but they don’t know any more about it than that,” Niehoff said. “We provide more than that. It’s a food source for the public, livestock also, that is mainly what we do.”
Niehoff said farming expenses are far greater than when he began, making it a tougher business to get into. He put the situation into perspective saying combine harvesters now cost $400,000 to $500,000 when they used to cost between $50,000 and $60,000.
Farmers have to have sources of revenue outside of farming if they want to build a successful farm, according to Niehoff. He started semi-trucking in 1992, because of this.
Niehoff used to drive his semi-truck from sun up to sun down. His wife’s income as a nurse helped the family as well.
Now, the Niehoffs utilize a fleet of 13 semi-trucks to haul fertilizer to various locations for local fertilizer dealers. Austin manages the trucking company and Niehoff oversees truck maintenance.
Weather is the toughest challenge Niehoff has faced as a farmer. Like many other local farmers, Niehoff said this planting season was unlike any other he’s experienced.
“I’ve seen it rain before and instead of starting in April we started in May, but never like this,” Niehoff said. “When we started running beans we didn’t even shut the planter off. We ran non-stop until we were done.”
The Niehoffs finished planting crops on June 16 and double crops on July 8, despite heavy rains. Niehoff said farmers typically can plant in 10 days with modern equipment when the weather is fair.
“Sometimes you got to go and pray to the good Lord and say I got it in the ground, now it’s up to you to give us what we need,” Niehoff said.
The challenges of farming haven’t detoured Austin, as he has always looked up to his father for being a farmer. Austin returned to work on the farm alongside his father after graduating from Hanover College.
“Growing up he (Austin’s father) was always around. There was always something to do on the farm, but he made time to spend with us,” Austin said. “To be able to do that, you have to get up and start at 2 or 3 a.m. to get off early. I enjoy being around all the crops. He kind of followed in his dad’s footsteps and I looked forward to that.”
Niehoff’s advice to young farmers is to start gradually and save to buy into farming a little at a time. It’s something he has tried to teach his son.
“To the young farmers, just stick with it, work hard and it’ll come, but you’ve got to show patience. Most young kids want to start where we are now,” Niehoff said. “They want the big equipment and all. I hope the best for them, but I started gradually and worked my way up. Show some restrain and it will come.”