When Brandon and Ashley Bonk see an opportunity to grow their business, they take it. From 2007 to now, they’ve grown their farm in Magnolia, Del., from nothing to 5,500 acres. And while their focus is mostly on corn, soybeans and wheat, potatoes are becoming a bigger part of the business, reports Chris Torres for American Agriculturist.
“Sometimes you gotta stick your neck out and try something nobody else is doing. It’s a measure of risk I guess,” says Brandon, who started the farm with Ashley after graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in ag systems technology.
And potatoes are an example of that. The Bonks grow around 265 acres of spuds — 40 acres for potato chips and 225 acres of table-stock varieties, including yellows, reds, whites and russets.
“We started out very small,” he says. “There’s other potato producers in the area, it appeared that they were having success with it.”
“I was good friends with a guy my age that had come from a potato farm and his family had a potato operation for 40, 50 years. I was able to work with him the first few years. I had the land; the other guy had the experience,” he says.
The two have since gone their separate ways, but Brandon and Ashley have kept growing. Delmarva, with its abundance of flat, sandy, well-drained soils, is a good area for potatoes, he says. The fields have center-pivot irrigation that keeps the potatoes hydrated over summer, but they control the water, which is key because potatoes prefer it dry.
About their story: After several farmers decided to sell out in the area, Brandon and Ashley started growing their acres, eventually getting to 1,000. Then, an opportunity came that they couldn’t say no to.
“So about the time we were really getting into it, the housing went bust in ’08, ’09, so land in our area became owned by banks,” he says. “Since developers couldn’t do anything with it and banks took it over, that gave use some great opportunity to buy some land.”
Land that was once sold for $40,000 to $50,000 an acre now sold for $5,000 to $6,000 an acre. Along with that, grain prices at the time were very high. “We were blessed with that opportunity,” he says. “We don’t plan very far ahead. It was an opportunity that presented itself and we thought it would work to capitalize on it.”
Irrigation is their biggest key to success. The couple run 45 center-pivot irrigation systems. Working with other farmers and learning from his neighbors has also been key. It’s something Brandon says other young farmers should look for if they’re unsure of how to grow the business or what they want to do.
“One of the best ways I found to do it is to look at the ways other people are doing it. They find success doing the same thing, that seems to work well, and maybe we can do it,” he says. “Just looking at other successful people and learning from them.”
Visit the American Agriculturist website to learn more about the Bonk couple’s farming success, and to listen to the podcast.