Growing their farm operation from just two steers to over 1,000, Brandon Cummings and Christian (C.J.) Monville of Vassar, Mich., aren’t afraid of getting their boots muddy or working hard to accomplish their farming dreams. Since establishing Cummings-Monville Farms, LLC in 2013, the two 23 year olds have proven skeptics wrong time after time with their continued success as young farmers.
While they may be young in the agriculture industry, their experience with farming stretches back nearly a decade. At a mere 15 years old, Brandon purchased his first two Holstein steers, enlisting help from his mother to haul the cattle because he wasn’t yet old enough to drive. Both Brandon and C.J.’s strong passion for farming came from their families. C.J. worked briefly on his family’s farm in Akron, Michigan, but unfortunately, there wasn’t enough work for him. Although Brandon’s family had not farmed since the 1980s, farming was something he dreamed of doing fulltime.
“C.J. and I have been buddies since before high school,” Brandon says. “I always wanted to farm and C.J. always wanted to farm, so we partnered up and got started.”
Despite the many obstacles young farmers face, once Brandon and C.J. teamed up together, nothing could stop them from doing what they love. Much like any business, getting a farm started is a challenge and for the first few years, farming was their second job. They both worked jobs off the farm during the day, and in the evenings they would return to the farm to complete chores. In 2015, Brandon and C.J. left their off farm jobs and began farming full time.
As challenging as being a young farmer is, having a positive support system and people in your corner helps ease the pressure. As Brandon and C.J. grew the farm business, they knew it was important to have a financial lender who would work with them. However, being just 17 years old without a credit score, they were not sure how to get started.
“We knew what we wanted to do and we knew how to get there, but financially, we didn’t know how it would work. When we first walked into the GreenStone branch with hopes of getting a loan, we thought we would get laughed out of there,” Brandon explains. “But we didn’t; Shaun took us under his wing and really helped us out.”
Shaun Gainforth, GreenStone senior financial services officer in the Caro branch, met with Brandon and C.J. for the first time in January 2015. Shaun walked the boys through a balance sheet, explained how to put together income and expense projections, and went over the loan process. Within two weeks of stepping foot in GreenStone, Cummings-Monville Farms had its first small operating loan.
“Our first loan was a smaller operating loan and we had one year to pay it back. It was like a test to prove ourselves,” Brandon says. “And we did. We now have a larger operating loan and a real estate loan with GreenStone.”
“They have done everything we have asked of them and have been a dream to work with,” Shaun says. “GreenStone fully supports helping get that next generation started by taking a little more risk with our relaxed underwriting standards. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) offers programs that provide opportunities that otherwise would not be there and GreenStone has worked in conjunction with FSA to leverage these programs.”
Starting with just 20 rented acres, the two young men have grown their farming operation tremendously since their first loan with GreenStone. Nearly doubling the amount of acres they farm in the past two years alone, Brandon and C.J. went from 800 acres in 2017 to over 1,500 acres stretching across the county. Typically rotating between soybean, corn and wheat, 2019 will be the first year Brandon and C.J. plant sugar beets.
“This past winter, they approached me about getting into the sugar beet industry. They had an opportunity to buy some shares at a good price and I strongly encouraged it. I always say diversity is a good thing,” Shaun explains. “Their hard work, diversity of their business and ability to take calculated risks has helped them succeed.”
They have continuously increased the amount of beef cattle they raise each year, and are up to 1,000 Holstein steers. After purchasing the 200-300 pound cattle from local dairy farms, Brandon and C.J. raise them until they reach 600-700 pounds and then sell them to a feedlot for finishing. Finding contacts and forming relationships with other farms and feedlots has taken time, but has paid off for Brandon and C.J. In addition to raising cattle and farming their fields, the young farmers stay busy selling Dairyland seed.
“C.J. takes care of the crops quite a bit and I usually take care of the cattle. Everyone has a job to do and we make it work,” Brandon explains. “We work hard with lots of 20-hour days.”
After having accomplished so much at such a young age, Brandon and C.J. eagerly look toward the future. While they are content with the acres they currently farm, they are interested in increasing the amount of cattle. Their dedication to hard work and passion for agriculture has helped them tremendously in overcoming obstacles many new farmers face.
“It’s a lot of hard work and it’s about getting the right people in your corner. When we were first getting started, many people wouldn’t work with us because we were young,” Brandon says. “Our whole life people told us we couldn’t start farming, and we are proof you can.”
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