Bowers has seen farming change over 38 years

Greg Bowers takes a break from working on the antique Ford tractor he recently acquired and plans to restore following his retirement from Central National Bank after 38 years. He and wife Mary Beth will continue to operate their farm northeast of Marion. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press
Greg Bowers takes a break from working on the antique Ford tractor he recently acquired and plans to restore following his retirement from Central National Bank after 38 years. He and wife Mary Beth will continue to operate their farm northeast of Marion. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press
Greg Bowers came home to Marion County after serving as a first lieutenant in Army ordinance at Fort Riley in 1976 to begin work as a commercial loan officer, ?mostly in agricultural stuff,? at Farmers & Drovers National Bank in Marion.

Bowers had a front-row seat to watch changes in local agriculture over the next 38 years, including a top line of credit at $250,000 that had to be done away with as farms got bigger over the years.

Central National Bank out of Junction City bought Farmer & Drovers in 1986, but Bowers stayed at the same bank for his entire career. He will retire in two weeks to the farm he operates northeast of Marion with wife Mary Beth in the neighborhood where they grew up.

The Bowers had four children, Ben, who also has four children, and lives in Alaska; Rhonny, who works at Wal-Mart and lives in McPher?son; Luke, who graduated from the University of Kansas at Lawrence in biomedical engineering and recently moved to the Veterans Administration in Kansas City; and Stephen, who is deceased.

Bowers said he had the pleasure to work under many well-known and well-thought-of officers of the bank over the years, such as Ed Colburn, president of Farmers & Drovers, Bob Brooks, vice-president of Farmers & Drovers, and Larry Reiswig, president of Central National at Marion.

?Small-guy? farms

Bowers said when he began with the bank ?there were a lot of small guys in farming. They might feed a few hogs out.

?There were quite a few dairies and bigger hog producers. Now, almost all of the dairies are gone, and so are most of the hog producers.?

Bowers still makes cattle loans. The demands for grass-pasture grazing and hay production are much the same. Big round balers have become more reliable and dominant in local production, but small square bales are mostly produced to be trucked out as ?horse hay,? he said.

Along with that change, the young men who once provided the ?grunt labor? to haul hay and do other tasks have moved on to better-paying jobs, Bowers said.

?When something happens to Dad or Uncle George, there?s nobody there to turn it over to,? he said.

Crop farming has especially become larger, from an era when pickup trucks did much farm hauling to an era when semi-trucks frequently are used to transport grain and cattle.

The smaller tractors up to 1,500 horsepower that once did all kinds of tillage work, from plowing to disking, have been replaced by big duel-wheeled cousins that spend half of their lives shedded because herbicides and no-till replaced tillage, he said.

And yet, Bowers said, if a young person wants to begin farming it usually takes a ?Dad or an Uncle George? to get them into it.

Financial philosophies

The $250,000 limit the bank once had has become irrelevant because it takes much larger amounts of money to be in farming, Bowers said.

But, he noted, farmers express an interesting variety of attitudes. Bowers said one farmer may have the conservative approach of getting out of debt as soon as possible, while another farmer seizes every opportunity that emerges to borrow more money.

The interesting factor, Bowers said, is when it becomes apparent that neither type of farmer is either wrong or right, just different.

?What works for one guy may not be best for the next guy,? he said.

When farmers gather at the elevator to talk about their operations, it?s always tough to decide if you are hearing embellishments or limited truth, Bowers said.

He said the true story frequently changes when the farmer has to come to the bank to talk about finances.

Even when Bowers talks about having an Angus-based cow herd and raises pretty standard crops of wheat, beans, milo and corn, he prefers not to talk about ?how much.?

Bowers said no-till programs and chemical strategies on cropland continue to grow. Cattle facilities are upgraded to steel corrals and squeeze chutes. It only takes the older guys one more time of being beat up by the cattle before they upgrade.

With crop and cattle prices both up for several years, he foresees more upgrades in the future.

He doesn?t know that he would want it any other way.