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Karst Family 1903-2011

Submitted by Herb Karst

A Journey to a New World, A testament to my Grandfather’s courage

The story of the Karst family farm really begins in the spring of 1903 in the small town of Bruckenthal, Austria .  It was then that Adam Karst bid his parents and siblings goodbye and started out his voyage to a land far away from the wars and poverty of Eastern Europe.

Arriving in Canada a few weeks later with his wife Anna,  one-year old baby Joe, my father, and two step sons, John and Adam Gottfried, they headed by train to Winnipeg and the promise of a homestead waiting there.  The homestead sixty miles north of Winnipeg turned out to be swampland that was mosquito infested by summer and frigid beyond all imagination by winter.  Moves followed, first to Winnipeg, then to a couple of small towns in North Dakota.  Finally after twenty five years spent struggling to survive in a new world, opportunity presented itself when my father came to visit his brother Adam who was now living in Montana.  He loved Toole county and the small farm that was for sale fifteen miles east of Sweetgrass .  With its purchase, the first chapter of my farm’s history was completed.

An age of Mechanization, my Father’s Path to Profitability

In 1928 and newly arrived in the Sweetgrass Hills area, my father was just at the age to begin farming on his own.  The first crop was a total failure as wild oats completely smothered out the grain.  Horses were just not adequate to plant and harvest enough wheat to survive in the semi arid climate of North Toole County.  My father soon convinced Grandpa to purchase a used John Deere tractor.  That gave him the ability to expand enough to support his new wife, the local school teacher at the Willshaw School, in 1936.  Combines, trucks, and grain augers took some of the back breaking work out of farming as mechanization vastly changed farming during the period that my father farmed until he retired in 1968 and leased the farm to me.

The Age of Specialization and Electronics, My Personal Journey

Newly arrived home from college and training with the National Guard, I began my farming carrier forty two years ago, in March of 1969.  My Dad’s advice was, “Work hard and don’t spend too much money and you will be successful.”  Good advice it was as it had led his family from the almost unimaginable depths of poverty in Eastern Europe to a comfortable life on a typical family farm only sixty five years later.  But farming was changing and new skills and abilities were required.  The farm raised grain, of course, but also cattle, hogs, chickens and a garden the size of a city block.  Early in my reign as the third generation on this farm, I could see that malting barley was the one crop that our area seemed to produce more consistently that all others.  The livestock were sold and the pasture land was leased to others as I concentrated on the production of barley under contract for the Adolph Coors Company.   It is a crop that requires plenty of rain in June, not too much heat in July, and then hot dry weather in August for harvest.   Some years it did very well while other years the rains were short, the harvests were wet, and margins were slim.

Following in my father’s footsteps, I too married a local school teacher, Carol Lynch, a few years into my farming career.  Our thirty six years of marriage have blessed us with three wonderful children, Kristin, Kimberly, and Jeff.  They all worked hard on the farm at whatever tasks were in front of us, including driving the large farm equipment that was becoming more complex each year.  Computers now adjusted the crop spray calibrations and harvest performance of the combines.  For the last five years our tractors and sprayers are driven by global positioning satellites.  Farm spreadsheets and accounting records are computer generated and shared with the computers of bankers and accountants digitally.   As I have specialized and computerized, I think back on my father’s advice and can only add to his wisdom.  While I believe that a passion for what we do is what makes us work hard and ultimately succeed, farming is a new career category today.  It is how we use all of the information available to us, on production, on marketing, on finances and world events that will shape a farmer’s future success.  It takes advanced education along with that hard work and careful financial management.

Generation 4, Managing From Afar

As our farm is preparing for the transition to the fourth generation, we plan to follow another new structure, one that has gained a lot of acceptance in the Midwest as well.  Kristin, Kim and Jeff are all well established in careers of their own, but retain a belief in the future of agriculture.  In the past year we have brought a cousin, Lyle Benjamin, into the family operation to learn and ultimately take over management of the Karst farm.  As he sharpens his skills as operator of the farm, his success will be assisted by my children.  The will help supply the capital requirements inherent with the larger size of today’s farms.  They hope to retain ownership of at least some of the farm land and through rental arrangements supply Lyle and his family with a land base on which they can mutually prosper.

 And so the story continues, with each generation farming the land in new ways and with new tools.  My forty two years here were filled with much more than agriculture as well.  Involvement in the local Conservation District, the Grain Growers Association and my local church were as important to developing my perspective on the world as they were in making the community a better place to live.  I cannot wait to see the changes that lie ahead for those of us who farm the land. 

Additonal Pictures from the Karst Farm

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