Phil Hamburger, 64
4th Generation Farmer (at least!)

Hometown: Seneca, SD pop. 36
Family: Wife Barb, 4 adult children, 8 grandchildren
Acres: 5000
Crops Grown: Corn and Soybeans

Phil Hamburger with his family.

Phil Hamburger has been farming his entire life. And the number one lesson he’s learned in his 64 years working the land? Be able to evolve.

“It’s very important to be adaptable when you’re a farmer,” Hamburger said. “You have to do research and keep your eyes open, go to seminars and keep learning. You have to be able to look around and make changes when you see what is or isn’t working.”

When Phil first started farming he was growing wheat, oats and barley. The crops he grows now weren’t even on his radar due to the climate in central South Dakota.

“When I was younger if you got a real good corn crop it was 40 bushel; otherwise the standard was 20 bushel, maybe 30; and soybeans just did not grow out here,” Hamburger said.

So, what prompted the switch? A lot has to do with what the market pays and what the farmer can make work by trying new tactics.

“Back in 1976 we had a really bad drought, and that’s when I started thinking about no-till,” Hamburger said. “Nobody was really doing it at that time, but you could look out at the fence rows and these weeds would be 6 feet tall and doing great. It made you say, ‘Hey, there has got to be a way we can get enough cover on the ground to actually make things grow IN the field.’”

By talking to other farmers and learning from the research station in Pierre, Phil says he stopped tilling the land in the 1980s when not a lot of people were using that method. He says that ability to learn from his surroundings really paid off.

“When no-till got going and we could keep the ground covered to lock in moisture we could get 100 to 120 bushel corn,” Hamburger said. “Saving that moisture by not turning over the soil made a huge difference to our farm.”

Another major difference is how much better fertility and crop protection are now compared to what he was using when he first started farming.

“It’s a lot more environmentally friendly now,” said Hamburger. “The environment is a hot button issue for non-farmers but what people don’t seem to understand is that doing right by the environment is also the best thing for the farmer. If we can sustain the land and keep bugs and the whole system in check then it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Phil says the publicity farmers will get with the float in the Rose Bowl parade can go a long way.

“We want to help people understand that there are a lot of really good things happening with genetics and even with chemicals and GMOs; things that are actually good for health and the environment!” said Hamburger. “It doesn’t seem like people are willing to hear that because of so much negative publicity. There are a lot of things said about farmers that are not true. Farmers are here for you, not against you. We are people who need your support. We are out here to keep things going, to keep people going by feeding them, to keep our farms going. We are not out here trying to destroy the ground.

Phil says faith is also an instrumental part of his life that keeps him going.

“I have a relationship with God who is the Creator of everything!” Hamburger said. “He knows what is going on out here. I relate to Him though my process of growing, creating and nurturing the ground. He made us to do this sort of thing… and farming – it helps me feel close to Him.”