OSU alum chooses the road less traveled
Monday, June 14, 2021
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It’s a summer to remember for Oklahoma State University alumnus Jonathan Armbruster. The 2021 wheat harvest marks his first as a full-time partner at Armbruster Farms in Burlington, Oklahoma.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in plant and soil sciences from OSU’s Ferguson College of Agriculture this spring, Armbruster made a bold career choice: to become a fifth-generation farmer.
Armbruster joins a small but brave group of young agriculturalists to return to the family farm. The average age of today’s American farmer continues to rise, and only 8% of producers are 35 years or younger, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
During his youth as a 4-H member, the 22-year-old raised and showed lambs with his three sisters. When he joined FFA in the eighth grade, his participation in agronomy career development events introduced him to the plant and soil sciences program at OSU.
“Growing up on a farm, I’d learned some about why plants grow, how they grow and the different nutrient management techniques, but there are some things you can’t learn in a classroom and others that you can’t learn without a classroom,” Armbruster said.
As a college student, he traveled home on the weekends to work on the farm, which gave him an opportunity to apply in real life what he learned at OSU. Faculty such as Brian Arnall were instrumental in sharing soil nutrient and management practices Armbruster uses in day-to-day operations.
“It’s about more than just driving a tractor,” he said. “Professor Arnall kept his classes real and economical, and he’s already helped me after graduation with some grid sampling and fertilizer recommendations.”
Other courses, such as principles of weed science led by assistant professor Misha Manuchehri, taught Armbruster the biology of weeds, weed management practices and herbicide modes of action useful for their no-till operation.
“When I hear from students who are applying what they learned in my class or asking additional questions about a weed science topic, it’s very rewarding,” Manuchehri said. “Students like Jonathan are loyal to the farm and want to continue the family legacy.”
While many of his classmates studied to be ag teachers or prepared for careers in medicine or veterinary science, Armbruster knew his calling was farming.
“There’s not a lot of people my age who want to go back to it. You have to enjoy it. You don’t make a ton of money doing it, but I knew that from the get-go,” he said. “My dad made it clear that I didn’t have to come back, but I like it — it’s family. There’s sentimental value in farming.”
The no-till partnership Armbruster shares with his father includes alfalfa, wheat, soybeans, milo, oats and Angus cattle. The alfalfa seed they use is Oklahoma common alfalfa — the same seed planted by his great-grandfather.
“We’ve tried other hybrid varieties, but they just don’t grow like the variety my grandfather grew,” he said. “It’s acclimated to this land, cheap for us to use and lasts longer. We’re always trying to keep enough of that seed in stock.”
In the future, Armbruster hopes to increase their number of cow/calf pairs while carrying on the farming tradition for some of his neighbors.
“There’s a lot of older folks around that don’t have anyone to take over their operation like my dad does,” he said. “I want to be able to help out my neighbors with their operations as they near retirement.”
The field of farming and ranching is not for the faint of heart, and Armbruster is aware of the challenges he will face as family farms continue to fold nationwide, a trend projected by the USDA. With sound, agricultural knowledge he acquired at OSU, he aims to preserve his family’s heritage.
“It’s pretty cool that I’m farming the same ground that my great-great grandfather farmed over 100 years ago,” he said.