Vandendriessche making agriculture dreams come true

Photo by Mke Lamb Ryan Vandendriessche checks on the hogs inside a 4,800-head hog barn in Marshall. He is preparing the hogs to be shipped to market.

MARSHALL — As soon as Ryan Vandendriessche walked into the room, the nearly 2,400 300-pound hogs squealed with excitement and scrambled aimlessly in their pens.

Vandendriessche, wearing dark-blue coveralls and black rubber boots, was doing an unscheduled walk through in his 4,800-head hog barn in rural Marshall. This walk through is pretty time consuming, considering most hog barns are half the size or smaller.

“This one, and this one will all be ready,” Vandendriessche said, pointing to different hogs. Just days ago, Vandendriessche and his partners picked out 640 hogs to ship out to market. More will soon follow.

“He’s about two weeks out. This one is two weeks out yet,” he said, pointing to two hogs in the nearby pen. He said deciding which hogs are ready is pretty much an eyeball test.

“It’s like picking out the biggest person,” he said. “I go into the pen here and mark the biggest pig that I can find and take eight out of this pen. You mark the biggest pig and work yourself all the way down until you get it (truck) full.

“I enjoy it a lot,” Vandendriessche said of working with the hogs. It was just 10 years ago that he graduated from Marshall High School and he’s already accomplished a major dream of his — with the help of two other partners, his brother Eric and Jordan Vandeputte. They built the 2,400-head barn just a year ago.

“We decided we were going to do it around the summer of 2015. I was going to do it for a long time, but then I just didn’t want to make the commitment myself. I told Jordan, who I raise pigs with, I always talked about how I wanted to do this. We were going to build a one 2,000-head farm. That was what we were talking about doing.

“Then my brother heard us talking about it. ‘Well I wouldn’t mind doing that with you guys.’ Well, I wanted to make more income than just off a 2,000-head barn, so maybe we should build two barns. So like, OK, all three of us will build two 2,400-head barns.”

So the partners started the permit process. But when they started getting bids on barns and adding up the numbers, they came up with the conclusion that a 4,800-head barn would be more cost-effective than building two barns.

He said some in the industry told him that a barn that large wouldn’t work. Ventilation was a concern. But then he found a company, PALS in Willmar, that assured him a 4,800- head barn could be built and work.

“It was more cost effective to do it this way. You have one office versus two offices. If you had two separate barns, you would have one,” Vandendriessche said. “There is one generator. When the power goes out, the generator kicks on and the lights don’t even dim. The generator kicks on so fast. The driveway, the well, all stuff like that you have to buy once verses if you do two separate ones. You have two times the cost (with two barns). It’s bigger, but it will pay for itself sooner is our hopes.”

Vandendriessche expects the barn to produce about 15,000 pigs a year.

The hog barn, however, is just half of the operation for Vandendriessche. He also grows soybeans, corn and hay in operation that also has two other partners that includes his father, Gary, and his father’s cousin, Steve. He is following in the footsteps of Vandendriessches before him that started with his great grandfather who came over from Belgium in the early 1900s. The original family farm is located in Tracy.

“I purchased two farms so far. One in 2012 and one in 2014,” he said. “I rent land from a family trust and rent land from my dad. I farm a lot of land from my father-in-law.”

Vandendriessche was still farming while attending South Dakota State University where he eventually earned his general ag business degree.

“I love farming so much I wanted to be around it,” he said. “It’s not a job for me. I don’t feel like its a job. It’s a lot of hard work. I never looked at it as going to work, I guess.”

“When I look back at it, I don’t ever remember not going to be a farmer. I just always liked livestock and John Deere tractors.”

Vandendriessche said he is excited about the upcoming planting season. “I feel our commodity cycle is coming to an end. At the same time, we came from three record crops in a row. We got a lot of hail last year, and at the same time, we had a lot of good crops to harvest too. That scares me because that tells me, man we had three good crops in a row. Can you really get four good crops in a row? That’s what scares me about that. … But the worst is behind us.”

Vandendriessche said most of his soybeans go to seed production. The corn either goes to ethanol plants or feed mills.

When not doing chores in the hog barn or working the fields, Vandendriessche sits inside a barn which works as his office near his home. A large flat screen TV towers above him displaying the recent commodity prices. His laptop is in front of him shows not only field data, but conditions inside his hog barn. It also shows feed levels in the feed bins inside the barn. He said technology plays a major role in his operation.

“I did these soil tests back in 2014,” he said while looking at his computer screen displaying different shades of color. “It showed me that this soil right here is acidic and then I turn to the next page and I see that where that soil is acidic its high in fertilizer. So I’m not getting the fertilizer out of the acidic areas. So I went out there and put lime down in these areas only and I neutralized the soil and it not acidic anymore. Now I can take that fertilizer out of the ground.

“So after having a few years of field data, I went back and looked at it today, and you can see right there I put that lime down. See where that was green?And this was green. Now my yield went up. In 31 percent of my field, my yield went up 7 percent. So I spent about eight bucks an acre, and that lasted about five years and I’m making almost 50 back.”

He then showed how he can monitor his tractors wirelessly.

“So all our fields have a computerized border around them and so that way we know how many acres are out there,” he said.

Vandendriessche also said the tractors drive by themselves. However, someone needs to be inside the tractor to watch the monitors and change settings.

“But it’s going to drive right in the same spot that it has driven in this field since 2009 when we got this program,” he said.

Vandendriessche remembers when the John Deere dealership came out with the technology.

“I said ‘we need that, we need that,’ “ he said. ” ‘Oh, we don’t need that. We can drive straight,’ “ he recalls his partners saying. “Then we got it for couple of the tractors. And then it was ‘yea, we need that.’ “

“I can pay attention to so much more of what is going on if I don’t have to worry about driving straight,”

Vandendriessche said.

Besides the planter, the self-driving feature is used on the sprayer as well.

“My sprayer uses a camera system. It’s called Vision Track. Going through the field, the planter will move a little, the tractor will move straight.

“It looks at the crop rows and it centers itself between the rows as it is going down. So in that case we won’t run down any crops. You can’t really drive anymore with out it,” he said. It’s definitely advancing. I don’t know how we would go back. For example, when we come to the end with the planter, the computer shuts it off right where it needs to so you don’t overspray. How it makes us money, our seed costs went down drastically too, because on sandier spots we are seeing a lot less seeds per acre and on good soil we are going to up more. We calibrate all of our corn acres.

Vandendriessche doesn’t consider himself a “computer freak.” But he said “I just became real good at it.”

Using technology to run his agriculture operation starts early in the morning.

“When I wake up, at 4 a.m., my feed report is sent to me on my phone and I see how much each pig eats the day before. I see if they are going to need more feed. This is what my wife (Bobbi Jo) doesn’t like too much. I’m on it all the time.”

Besides feed, he can see what fans in the hog barn are operating and which ones are not.

“It’s 58 degrees in there” he said, glancing at his smartphone. “We want it at 58 degrees. It got up to 62 at one time and it went back down to 58.9.”

He also gets text alerts about the hog barn.

“If it gets too hot in the barn, for example, it will send me a text message. If it gets too cold in the barn, it will send me a text message. If the pigs run out of feed, it will send me a text message. If the water pressure is low, it will send me a text message.”

Vandendriessche also monitors cameras inside the hog barn and security cameras outside. He can be at home or on vacation, and he can check on the pigs and the barn.

If a bad storm hits, he doesn’t need to risk his well-being and drive to the barn. He can just check on the pigs from his phone or computer.

Meanwhile, Vandendriessche and his partners will be shipping more pigs until the barn is completely empty.

“We will probably take 10 loads next week. The rest a week or two after that. For bio-security purposes, we will wash down the whole barn. Wash everything down. It should look like its brand new again. It will actually smell really clean in here again,” he said.

For now, Vandendriessche is pleased how his farming career has progressed. And he’s not in hurry to add anything more to his agriculture operation.

“I like spending time with my family,” Vandenriessche. He and his wife have a daughter, Rae Lynn and son, Levi. “During the winter time I try to make the most of family time.”

But he said he won’t stop dreaming.

“I think when you love what you do, you just keep moving forward with it, I guess,” he said.