South Dakota Farmers Union celebrates January Farm Family

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Farm Forum

Celebrating a century of service to South Dakota’s farm and ranch families, throughout 2015, South Dakota Farmers Union will highlight a South Dakota farm or ranch family each month. In January, South Dakota Farmers Union features the Kippley family who farms near Aberdeen.

Like all business owners, farmers are always crunching numbers, so the fact that John Kippley, 69, and his son, Jeff, 35, both have accounting degrees works well for the Aberdeen farmers. “The two go hand-in-hand because you’re always trying to figure out what crop to plant based on cash flow,” John explains.

The oldest of eight boys, John grew up on a diversified farm in Iowa. Because his family’s farm could not support more than one family, his parents encouraged him and his younger brothers to find careers off the farm right after high school.

However, this didn’t detour John from dreaming of someday owning a farm of his own. He attended a two-year business school in Sioux Falls and graduated with a degree in tax preparation.

In 1975, only five years after H&R Block sent John and his wife, Geraldine, to open an office in Aberdeen, he purchased his first 40 acres of land.

A few years later Jeff was born. “I never knew life without the farm,” explains the second generation farmer, who followed a very similar career path to his father.

Today, Jeff and his wife, Rachel, own the H&R Block and farm with John, who operates Kippley Tax Service. To learn more about the Kippley family farm, visit www.sdfu.org, or read on.

Bottom line: Farming is a good way of life

With his eighth-grade graduation just a few weeks away, John Kippley told his dad that he was not going on to high school. Like many of his friends, he was resigned to stay home and farm full-time.

“My dad said, ‘That’s great! Now I don’t have to clean out the chicken house and hog barns anymore.’ That gave me pause. I thought about how much better it would be to sit in class than to clean out the barns. You know in those days it was all done by hand,” explains John, now 69, of the decision that led him to the high school bookkeeping class where he decided to pursue a post secondary degree in tax preparation and eventually a degree in accounting. “Following an income tax form assignment, our high school teacher asked us to raise our hands if we planned on doing our own taxes in the future. Only my hand and one other went up. I thought, ‘hmm, there would be demand for accounting if I decided to make that my occupation.'”

He and his wife, Geraldine, worked for H&R Block as tax preparers. In 1970, the company transferred the couple to Aberdeen. Five years later, John began pursuing his farming aspirations and purchased 40 acres of land. He knew it wouldn’t be easy to start up on his own, but because he was only tied to his desk less than four months a year, John figured he could farm the rest of the year.

At first acquiring farmland was difficult. John didn’t qualify for an FHA loan because he owned a business in town. When he transferred the business into Geraldine’s name, he still didn’t qualify because then, it didn’t cash flow.

John credits a semi-retired farmer and neighbor, Sam Feidler for giving him his start in farming. “I wouldn’t be farming today if it wouldn’t have been for Sam Feidler. He had enough faith in me that he sold me land on a contract for deed.” I also had another neighbor sell land on contract to me.

The family farm grew steadily. When his son, Jeff, returned home from college, he farmed with John and worked at H&R Block with his mom. When Rachel and Jeff got married, she became actively involved in day-to-day farm work while working as the Northern State University Foundation Alumni Director.

Today, the men farm 2,000 acres raising corn and soybeans. They also operate a cow/calf herd on another 2,000 acres of pastureland.

“I feel farming is the most honest way to make a living,” Jeff says. “If you go out and do your work, you have a chance to make a living.”

Like his dad, Jeff has a degree in accounting. And like his parents, he and his wife, Rachel, work off the farm. The couple took over the H&R Block business when Geraldine passed away in 2012 from lung disease.

The couple met in college when they both served on their respective student associations; Jeff as a senator at Black Hills State University and Rachel as president at Northern State University. They reconnected a few years later. Today they have four children: Noah, 7; Titus, 6; Aaron, 2; and Moriah, 9 months.

“I don’t know a better way to grow up than on the farm. You have a work ethic instilled in you. You learn that things are out of your control – even when you do things right,” Jeff says. “I also believe that if you can’t have faith growing up as a farmer, you won’t have faith.”

Juggling two full-time businesses can be a challenge at times, but Jeff credits their H&R Block employee team and the fact that neither he nor Rachel know of any other way. “I don’t know any other way of life than to be busy,” Jeff says.

Rachel adds, “It’s about keeping your head above water. Like everyone, there are days we do better than others. But we try to keep our focus on what matters and make sure we make it to church every Sunday. It may sound cheesy, but if you put faith and family first, everything else falls into place.”

When they are working on the farm, the kids tag along with their parents and Grandpa John. This last harvest John recalls a day when he had his two-year-old grandson in the combine with him. “I was driving the combine my son usually drives and Titus said, ‘Daddy pushes this button now.’ We drove a little further, and he piped up again, ‘Daddy pushes this button now.’ I feel that if they ride along with you, they learn and farming either gets in their blood or it doesn’t,” John says.

Along with Jeff, John has three daughters: Michelle Olson, who works with him at Kippley Tax Service; Jan (Mike) Kluis and Paula (Jason) Boike, who farm with their husbands in Minnesota.

Ag advocacy

Jeff and Rachel carve out time to give back to South Dakota’s agriculture industry. Currently Rachel serves as a Brown County Commissioner. “I work to be a voice for the farmers in this county to ensure that the farm-to-market roads are what they need to be,” Rachel says.

The couple is also actively involved in Farmers Union. “As farmers, we are becoming more the minority voice as farms get bigger and the people who operate them are fewer – so our voice needs to get louder. Farmers Union helps get our voice heard in local, state and national government,” Jeff says.

In 2013 the couple flew to Washington D.C. to participate in the organization’s national Fly-In, where producers, like the Kippleys, visit with Congressional representatives about topics that impact family farmers in South Dakota and across the U.S. “The experience really piqued my interest in the organization and showed us a good way to give back to the agriculture industry was to become more involved,” Rachel says.

To view a photo gallery of the Kippley family, visit www.sdfu.org.