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Serving: MI

Master Farmer provides new direction for family farm

Bill Hunt’s cash crop farm includes 11,500 acres and a grain-drying system.

William “Bill” Hunt’s father, Harold, bought the original 110-acre farm when Bill was 5 — with a focus on sheep and cattle, not cash crops.

But as a teenager, Bill got tired of cleaning barns and wanted to focus on crops. “My dad worked at General Motors and was considered a hobby farmer,” Bill explains. “When I said I wanted to raise corn, he said I’ll help you, but I really don’t know what to do.”

Bill took the reins, and at 16 years old, he rented 250 acres and planted corn. At 17, he expanded it to 500 acres, and by the time he graduated high school, he was farming 750 acres. Today, Hunt Farms consists of about 11,500 acres in Davison, Mich., raising 5,000 to 5,200 acres of soybeans, 6,000 to 6,300 acres of corn and about 500 acres of wheat.

In the expansion process, Bill’s proven to be a strong advocate for agriculture. Throughout his 25-plus years on the Genesee County Farm Bureau board, Bill’s been on multiple lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., where he’s also represented Farmers for Change. He was on the Farm Service Agency board for many years, and now his wife, Glenda, serves on it.

“Bill has served on the Michigan Wheat Program board of directors for 10 years and was a strong leader as the program was being developed,” says Jody Pollok-Newsom, executive director of MWP, who nominated him to become a 2022 Michigan Master Farmer award winner. “Bill sets the bar for future Master Farmer applications — just the kind of individual you want to showcase when you think of a ‘master.’ ”

Bill is well respected by his peers, Pollok-Newsom adds, and when he makes comments about production issues or research projects, other growers listen.

“His comments are well thought out and proven through his innovative farming practices,” she says. “He also studies the markets, listens to experts and identifies opportunities.”

It starts with education

Bill went to many Extension classes, learning as much as he could on crop production and marketing. He leaned on Ray Withey, who was in the fertilizer, chemical and seed business. “He really helped me understand soil tests and how to read them,” Bill says.

In 1979, Bill, with his brother Mike and parents Harold and Doreen, incorporated into Hunt Farms.

As the farm took on more acres, Bill took note of a nearby farm, which had a lot of activity happening simultaneously — plowing, disking, planting and spreading manure. “I thought that was pretty cool,” he says. “I knew I wanted to be working like that someday.”

Today, Hunt Farms, is drying, processing and delivering grain for that farm.

Mike eventually branched off, developing his own farm in the Lake Odessa area, while Harold retired from GM, putting his full focus on the farm with Bill, while Doreen kept the ever-more-complex booking system. His parents have since both passed away.

Grain-drying complex

Bill knew he wanted to invest in a grain-drying and storage system. He’d go to auctions, not so much to buy items, but to see how things were set up. “I needed a perspective of what I needed to do,” he says.

He admits the first system built in 1982 was already too small when it was completed. High prices, good yields and a demand from surrounding growers for a place to dry and process grain prompted Hunt Farms in 2007-08 to invest $2 million into revamping and expanding three-quarters of the previous system.

Bill took the long-ago advice of Jerry Jorgensen to never put a grain-receiving area near where grain is leaving, providing for increased efficiency.

The receiving leg can take in 12,000 bushels per hour, and the dryer can handle about 5,000 bushels per hour.

“We can store about a million bushels here, which gives us some working room,” Bill explains. He’s able to take loads from smaller farmers not wanting to haul to North Branch or other farther locations.

“I don’t buy their grain, just process it,” he says. “And I don’t market their crop, but I do try to help them by offering a monthly marketing class that was started years ago and continues today.”

Daily, the system can dry and process about 60,000 bushels of corn. “We can dry those bushels and start the next day completely out of grain and not dead tired, which was the intent all along,” Bill says.

Farm activity

Bill’s job these days is to purchase all the inputs, including seed chemistry, and do all the spreading, marketing and most of the spraying. He’s a licensed pesticide applicator. And while he oversees the entire operation, he gives credit to many of his 30-plus-year members of the Hunt Farms team for making him look good.

“I could not do what I do without the help of a great team of people,” he says. “From my wife who works in the office to the high school student that sweeps the floor and takes out the trash, we all work together to get the job done. I am grateful for their dedication to my operation and agriculture, because it has not always been easy.”

Best practices

Hunt Farms uses Helena’s Agri-Intelligence program and has been variable-rate applying potash since 2007. “Up until this past year, I was using chicken litter for fertilizer before it became popular with other farmers and now consumers, pricing it out of profitability,” Bill says.

He now variable-rate applies monoammonium phosphate and is in his second year using Pivot Bio.

Soil tests are rotationally sampled every three years and overlayed with yield data maps to calculate variable rates.

In the fall, ground is worked with a straight spike on a chisel plow. “While we don’t do a lot of cover crops — that’s one area that’s been tough for us to incorporate following beans — we do not worry about having clean fields,” Bill says. “We want the residue on the surface to hold it there until spring when we come in with a vertical tillage tool.”

He says the lesson that took him longest to learn is patience. And for beginning farmers, he says, “Don’t expect it to be easy, but don’t give up. Surround yourself with smart people that make you look good.”

Bill Hunt at a glance 

Farm: Hunt Farms Inc. consists of 11,500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat.

Nominator: Michigan Wheat Board, Jody Pollok-Newsom

Ag and community leadership: Past chairman of FSA County Committee, Genesee Co.; past vice president of Genesee Co. Farm Bureau board of directors; past president of Michigan Wheat Board; past adviser, MDA Fertilizer Containment Facilities; past adviser to Greenstone Farm Credit Stockholder Committee, present  member of the Thumb Area Research Education Committee, adviser to Greenstone Farm Credit Stockholder Committee; board member, Richfield Township Planning Commission; Genesee County Agricultural Society board member; chairman, Genesee County Agricultural Society Finance Committee

Awards: 1989 and 2007 Agricultural Conservationist awarded by Genesee Co. Conservation District, 1991 Farmer of the Year by the Genesee Co. Farm Bureau, 2013 Distinguished Service to Agriculture by the Genesee Co. Farm Bureau

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