ELLSWORTH COUNTY – In 1876, Wilhelm Splitter moved his family, livestock and farming equipment by rail from Wisconsin to central Kansas. About this same time, 17 other families moved to this general region of the state to homestead the prairie.
All 18 families moved to the fertile plains of Kansas with a desire to build a community based on a Baptist tradition. The next year the small village of Lorraine was established.
European immigrants like the Splitters built their farms on the sound tradition of close-knit families and their faith – cornerstones that remain nearly 150 years later.
Today, Matt and Janna Splitter farm the same soil Wilhelm homesteaded five generations ago. Matt returned to the family farm in March 2010 when his father, Melvin, died.
Following in his father’s footsteps was no easy task. Melvin expanded the family farm, broke out pasture land, began irrigating and planted a new crop, soybeans, in this part of Kansas back in the late ‘70s.
When Matt returned to farm, he was just 24 years old and a new graduate from Kansas State University. Fortunately he could depend on the counsel of his mother, Janet, and in-laws, Jerry and Kelly Cullop. Neighbors also offered support and encouragement.
Throughout this whirlwind learning experience, ideas, instruction and his father’s example continued to guide the young farmer.
“Growing up, I didn’t always think about farming,” Matt recalled. “I didn’t figure I’d ever need what my father told me when I was 16 and counting the hours until Friday night.”
With or without thinking about it, these firsthand learning experiences from his father returned – fertilizer rates, plant populations, monitoring crop disease and pests – all vital tools he would need for success on the farm.
One of his early epiphanies occurred at about 2 a.m. when an irrigation system stopped. While trying to fix it, Matt wished for the wisdom of his father.
“I wanted to ask Dad so badly,” he said. “I couldn’t, and it was at that point I realized we’d have to figure these challenges out ourselves.”
It was during experiences like this that Matt knew he could depend on his father-in-law.
“I’m proud of Matt and the way he stepped right in when he returned to farm,” Jerry Cullop said. “I understood he would learn on his own and I tried to stay out of it. I encouraged him and when he did ask, we’d talk.”
While there is plenty of science involved with farming, Jerry likes to view this profession as an art.
“Every individual has to know when and how to farm,” he said. “Everyone must make decisions and do it themselves. Still, we must all learn from our experiences and the counsel of family, friends and neighbors.”
The Cullops believe their daughter, Janna, brings a solid family and vocational background to this new generation of Splitter farmers. They’re excited she’s part of the family.
Janna grew up with an understanding and appreciation of agriculture. Her parents are first-generation farmers near Sterling. Like her husband, Janna started in 4-H in grade school.
“We’d known each other since I was 7, but Matt didn’t ask me on a date until he knew I was in high school,” Janna said. “We were high school sweethearts.”
Blessed with a solid foundation of family, friends and community, Matt and Janna have left their mark on the Splitter legacy. Things have changed considerably during their six short years on the Ellsworth and Rice County farm.
Matt and Janna farm wheat, corn, soybeans and grain sorghum on dryland and irrigated acres. Custom work remains a large part of their operation.
They do custom everything, from tillage to planting and harvesting. They do not handle livestock, but do manage some grass they rent for grazing.
“Custom work allows us to keep our machinery running,” Matt said. “The more ground we can cover with the equipment, the more we can lower our cost per acre.”
Like so many young farmers and ranchers today, the Splitters have embraced technology and incorporated it into the family operation. As the Splitters and Cullops work together more, Matt is helping Jerry embrace the newer technology.
At the same time, Janna retired from her vocation in lending at the Lyons State Bank to become a full-time record-keeper, payroll officer and mother of daughter Laikyn, who just turned 14 months.
Janna’s contribution to the family farming business has allowed Matt to transition full time to the management side of the operation. Two employees work full time as well.
“When Matt returned, he brought new ideas into the farming mix,” Janet said. “I decided to sit back and let this new generation take over. They’re the future of our family operation.”
Ask Matt and Janna why they’re farming and what they see in the future and they’ll tell you they’re laying the foundation for this next generation.
“We want to give our children every chance to grow up right and contribute to society,” Janna said. “Growing up in rural Kansas on a farm will provide a strong foundation for this.”
The Splitters also believe this agricultural environment allows them to associate with like-minded people – individuals with the same values and goals they embrace.
“We’re surrounded by quality people including our banker, equipment dealers, Kansas Farm Management, Crop Quest, seed dealers and our attorney, “ Janna said. “We trust these people and there is a loyalty that runs both ways.”
Being a part of this living community, the Splitters understand the importance of contributing and volunteering. They serve in many organizations, including the local extension council, co-op, county Farm Bureau, church. Name an organization and they participate.
Serving on these different boards allows them the opportunity to see different perspectives. In turn, this allows them to become more diverse in their thinking and accepting of varied viewpoints.
“When all is said and done, it boils down to treating people right,” Matt said. “Like we want to be treated. Each day we get up, try to do the best we can. We’re blessed to have a strong family, friends, neighbors and community where people live and stick together.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He is editor of the Kansas Farm Bureau publication Kansas Living. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.