Change is a constant in agriculture, from the shifting seasons and weather to crop rotations and input costs, new equipment and family transitions. Few of our customers better represent this principle than Dennis and Jessica Rau of Rau Farms.

Rau Farms is an award-winning operation that produces soybeans, cotton, wheat and corn in Derby, Kansas. Dennis is the fifth generation in his family to farm in Sedgwick County, with two sons and a daughter representing the next step in the family’s legacy.

“Change is necessary,” said Dennis. “Change in ideas, change in who’s in charge, change in crop rotations, in how we do things. There really isn’t any industry where zero change has been successful, and in agriculture, what we do would be the epitome of change as a necessary constant.”

When Dennis’ great-great grandfather emigrated from Germany and began farming in western Sedgwick County, the area was a vast and windswept frontier. Today, the family’s farm is situated in a growing suburb of Wichita where agriculture remains an important part of the local economy and culture, even as the number of farms has dwindled.

Dennis attributes the family’s continued success in farming to a combination of hard work, pragmatic thinking and a willingness to embrace change, even when doing so might be uncomfortable.

In 2002, Dennis and his father, Greg, formed a partnership to operate the farm. This agreement paved the way for Dennis and Jessica to carry on the family’s operation while developing the necessary management skills to run the farm. Less than a third of U.S. farms have a succession plan in place, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey.

Dennis and Jessica Rau in a soybean field“I look at our kids who are involved in the operation now and start to realize how valuable that input really is,” said Dennis. “Not only do they look at it with a different set of eyes, but they’re eventually going to be the ones that need to make all of these decisions using that different perspective.”

Even as Dennis and Jessica operate the farm, make sound financial decisions and look for new opportunities to increase profitability, they’re taking care to include their children in the farm management process.

“It’s only right that I look forward,” said Dennis. “Our oldest is in college right now. And our middle son is graduated from high school, and he’s working full time for us. Then our daughter’s in high school and you’ve got to start making room for them. That’s important, because we want it to continue.”

Dennis also keeps an eye on sustainability and soil health when making decisions about which crops to plant, which products to use on farm and how best to manage the farm assets. For him, it’s about making smart economic choices while also tending to the land that provides for his family, and will continue to sustain the next generation.

“We try to follow where the profit is, but only to the extent that we don’t forget what we’re trying to do with soil health and fertility,” said Dennis. “We’re taking care of the land that’s ultimately taking care of us.”

The family has worked closely with Gerry Mills, VP of Lending at American AgCredit, for more than a decade to secure financing and make decisions to improve the farm’s balance sheet. Gerry said one of the most important aspects of the relationship is when he’s able to share information about how other farms have approached similar challenges and transitions.

Gerry Mills talking with Dennis and Jessica Rau“Sharing what I’ve seen be successful for other families and in other transitions is valuable,” said Gerry. “It’s also an opportunity for us to utilize our network of relationships outside of the company to put them in touch with Dennis and Jessica so they can navigate and make good decisions.”

When they first met with Gerry, the family had young children and were still stepping into their own as farm operators. Over time, Jessica says they have come to think of Gerry and American AgCredit as trusted financial partners with expertise that’s valuable to their operation.

“[Gerry] is invested in us and he’s really gotten to know us,” said Jessica. “He has become one of the team members that we trust, and we share information with him freely. Our experience with Gerry and American AgCredit has shown us what you can really have in a business relationship.”

Soybean field during harvest with sunset


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