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Nebraska family weathers changes on the farm

FREMONT, Neb. (AP)--Jack Engel can tell you about the time he worked the land with a one-row cultivator and horses.

He can't quite remember how old he was--somewhere between 12 and 14--but he still recalls the results.

"I cultivated all day, and I didn't accomplish very much,'' he said.

These days, Engel and his son, Jeff, use a 12-row planter on the family farm south of Fremont. They note such equipment isn't that big any more--not with the 48-row planters available now--and much has changed since the first of six generations of Engels began living on the farm.

The Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce is recognizing the Jack and Jeff families for exceptional leadership in farm management, crop production, farmstead appearance and community involvement. The Engels will receive the Farm Family Excellence Award during the chamber's annual award luncheon at the Fremont Golf Club.

"I think it's quite an honor,'' said Jack Engel, now 79.

It also is part of a lengthy history for the Engel family.

Jack Engel's great-grandfather, Frederick, came from Germany and bought this farm in 1887.

"My grandfather (Herman) came over later and he was about 6 years old,'' Jack said.

Frederick, who had three sons and a daughter, purchased 400 acres of land. In 1913, Herman bought 142 acres of land from his father. Herman also built the house where Jack and his wife, JoAnn, live.

"This was a sunflower patch when my grandfather built (the house)--just great big, old, tall sunflowers,'' Jack said.

In 1927, Herman bought an additional 160 acres of land across from Platteville School. He also had more than one job during his lifetime. He was a schoolteacher and later a State Farm insurance agent for 50 years. He ran the Woodcliff Elevator.

Oh, and he did farm, but he had a hired man.

Jack's father, Alfred, farmed the land from 1925 to 1981.

When Jack was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1953, he began farming. Then, years later, when Alfred decided to retire, he moved into Fremont and Jack and JoAnn and their family moved out to the farm.

During his years of farming, Jack purchased 700 acres of land and he also farms 400 acres of rental ground.

His son, Jeff, graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and started farming; he also rents an additional 200 acres.

Jack and JoAnn continue to live on the family farmstead, while Jeff, his wife, Sue, and their children, Ryan and Megan, live just across the property line to the north.

The Engels have formed a corporation, JAE Farms Inc. They raise corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and grass hay.

"I have fed cattle and hogs, but not anymore,'' Jack said.

Jack--and even Jeff--have seen many changes in farming during their lives.

"It's gotten a lot more expensive and a lot more complicated,'' Jeff said. "There's a lot more economics and chemical knowledge involved.''

Years ago, farmers cultivated their land more to control weeds that chemicals take care of now. Farmers don't waste fuel or risk the loss of soil moisture from such cultivation. Farmers practice conservation tillage.

The economy in the ag sector is based on a global market, whereas it didn't have as much affect many years ago.

Like other farmers, the Engels have seen a host of technological advancements. And they've encountered something else: "We have to coexist with housing developments. You have to be careful where you're spraying (chemicals) so you don't damage their properties,'' Jeff said.

One thing has remained consistent in farming, however: dependence on the weather.

In 2008, the Engels had a great crop. Then came the June 27 storm that wiped out 95 percent of it.

"With farming, you're putting your paycheck out in the field to weather all the elements and hopefully it will still be there at harvest time,'' Sue Engel said.

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