When her husband died from cancer nine years ago, keeping the farm in the family and bringing on the next generation was Nancy Kirkholm’s primary goal.
Her perseverance and tenacity have earned the Homer, Nebraska resident honors in Monsanto’s Farm Mom of the Year competition as a Northwest Region winner. According to Monsanto, regional winners are nominated by those close to them who see their commitment to their families, communities and farms each and every day.
Her daughter, Tess, nominated Kirkholm and while she knew Tess was preparing the nomination, “I thought it was a real shot in the dark knowing this was a regional award,” she said.
However, Tess’ bid to honor her mom paid off and Kirkholm — along with Becca Ferry, Brigham City, Utah, of the Southwest region; Shari Sell-Bakker, Dike, Iowa, of the Midwest region; Susan Brocksmith, Vincennes, Ind., of the Northeast region; and Cala Tabb, Eupora, Miss., of the Southeast region — were all vying to be voted on as the Monsanto Farm Mom of the Year.
Voting closed May 10, and while Kirkholm admitted being a regional winner was an honor, her main focus is back on the farm where, after almost a decade of transition, they have found a new normal.
“My husband and I had farmed with my brother-in-law for 30 years," Kirkholm said. "He decided to leave farming and we were in the process of taking over his portion of the operation when Dennis was diagnosed with cancer.”
Despite the diagnosis, they felt he would beat it and proceeded with the transition plans.
“In the back of my mind, I had some plans in place in a worst case scenario, but I never discussed them with Dennis,” she said.
When the unthinkable happened, they were faced with all types of challenges, Kirkholm noted.
“We had to close down the old companies and start new companies with my son and myself," she explained. "We also had to have a sizeable machinery sale to close out the estate and then restart.”
As difficult as all the paperwork was, Kirkholm admitted, “Watching Tyler maneuver all the decisions he had to make without a father was a tough course.”
Tyler had just graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) with his ag business degree when his father died, she explained.
However, her background helped her out. A fourth generation farmer, Kirkholm grew up on a grain and livestock farm near Anthon, Iowa, just east of Sioux City. Armed with a degree in ag business from Iowa State, she was mainstay in the Kirkholm family operation serving as the bookkeeper and also helping operate semis.
Before Dennis died, Kirkholm described herself as his main sounding board. Afterwards her role changed, as she became the lead adult.
“I was Tyler’s sounding board then and my management role really increased,” she said.
Today, the Kirkholms have 4,500 acres of corn and soybeans. She continues her role as bookkeeper, assists with the fieldwork and drives one of the semis hauling grain. Three-full-time employees help spread out the workload with each having responsibilities in their area of expertise, Kirkholm said.
One area where she really stepped up was in marketing the farm crops.
“My husband did most of the marketing, but I had been learning all along because I was interested,” she said.
That interest paid off as she and Tyler now work with a marketing group doing everything from forward contracting to basis contracts to using options.
One of the things Kirkholm misses is being able to be involved in commodity and community activities.
“It’s really tough to find time to be on boards when you are the farm manager,” she said.
She served on the original board at the Siouxland Ethanol Plant in Jackson, Nebraska, was on the Dakota County Economic Development Board, the Educational Service Unit #1 for five years, the Homer Community School Board for eight years. She does maintain strong ties with St. Cornelius Parish in Homer. In addition, she was on the ag advisory board for Northeast Community College (NCC) at Norfolk, Nebraska In 2012, Kirkholm was recognized as the Nebraska AG-ceptional Woman of the Year during ceremonies at NCC.
Tess, who graduated from UNL with a degree in ag journalism and now teaches English at South Sioux City, noted in her nomination that her mother is “well-respected among her male colleagues as they observe her desire to compete in a male-dominated industry.”
When people meet adversity, they either rise or fall, and Kirkholm has definitely risen to the occasion, noted the Monsanto press release.
“We in ag are working our tails off to make it,” she said. “You just have to help these young boys step up. We’re part of an aging industry.
“Somehow in farming that’s what you always hope, it’s going to get better the next year.”
To honor these efforts, Monsanto will present each of the five regional winners with $2,000 to direct to an eligible nonprofit organization of her choice in her community, as well as $3,000 for her personal use. Kirkholm noted she hopes to direct her $2,000 to the Homer Community Schools, but if not, she knows the Homer Community Education Fund qualifies as a nonprofit.
As for the $3,000 for personal use, “We have two weddings coming up. I think I can find a use for the money,” she said.
"Every year, I look forward to reading through the entries, and am astounded by the incredible women that are nominated," said Tracy Mueller, Monsanto's Marketing Communications Manager. "This year was no exception. The five regional winners' strength and determination is seen throughout all aspects of their lives, and we are honored to recognize them for their contributions."