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Fifth generation in place to take over Konecky farm

Fifth generation in place to take over Konecky farm

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WAHOO – Tom Sr. and Marie Konecky had 10 children, but there were no issues when it came to who would inherit the family dairy farm, called Beauty View Farm.

When the oldest son, Tom Jr., was in high school, he knew he wanted to farm with his father.

“I wanted to play in the dirt and it’s pretty hard to start on your own,” Tom Jr. said.

Marie said it was natural that he took over.

“None of (the other children) wanted to stay in milking,” she said.

Beauty View Farm lies on a hill along Highway 92 west of Wahoo. The original piece of land, one mile long and a quarter of a mile deep, was purchased from the railroad by Tom Sr.’s grandparents, Frank and Frantiska (“Franny”) Konecky, who were both born in the Czech Republic.

When Frank Konecky retired from farming, he handed the farm over to two of his sons, Vince and Emil. The land was divided between the two, but Emil didn’t want to farm, so he sold his portion to Vincent, who was younger.

Vincent married Helen Zimola and they had one child – Tom Sr. – who worked alongside his father on the farm from a very early age.

Vincent died when Tom Sr. was in his early 20s. It had always been assumed that the son would take over the farm one day, Marie said, but there was no legal plan put in place for the succession. Tom Sr.’s parents also never wrote a will to guide him after their deaths.

And despite the fact that Tom Sr. had helped his father for many years, the elder Konecky had given his son very little instruction on how to actually run the farm, Marie recalled.

Tom Sr. turned to his mother’s brother, Dick Zimola, who lived just down the road, for advice.

“That’s how he learned how to farm,” Marie said.

Marie said after the experience with his parents, Tom Sr. knew he wanted to have a succession plan set up for the family farm. They also heard experts discuss the subject, including Dr. Ron Hanson, a former agribusiness professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Hanson has spoken all over the country about farm succession, a focus of his long career. He emphasizes communication between generations.

“It’s important for parents to communicate their wishes to their children,” he said.

Tom Sr. and Marie took that advice to heart and consulted an attorney to develop their plan of succession. They set up a trust and made a plan that stipulated after Tom Sr. died in 2008, the farm property remained in Marie’s name, but ownership of the equipment and machinery passed to Tom Jr.

Today Tom Jr.’s children are learning how to run the farm, so he is looking to put a plan of succession in motion soon.

Dairy has been the focus of Beauty View Farm since Tom Sr. won a dairy judging contest at the Saunders County Fair in 1950. The teenager’s prize was a selection of four calves. He chose a tan and white Guernsey.

Tom Sr. then began buying purebred Guernseys. He and his father converted a chicken house into a milk house.

Guernsey cattle are known for quality milk, which has a golden hue from the high content of solids containing beta carotene.

“Guernseys are very high in butter fat and protein,” said Marie.

When Tom Sr. took over after his father died in 1956, the farm had been named “Kolache Hill” as a nod to the family’s Czech heritage. Tom Sr. and Marie married in 1959 and changed the name to Beauty View Hill in part because of Marie’s lack of kolache-making skills.

“He married me and I couldn’t make a kolache to save my soul,” she said with a laugh.

Tom Sr. and Marie raised 10 children on the farm. Along with Tom Jr., their children include Theresa, Cathy, Karen, Jim, Judy, Barb, Lolly (Elizabeth), Chrissy and Carol.

Guernseys are also known as a docile breed, which makes them perfect for the show ring. All the Konecky children showed Guernseys as members of the Westside Hustlers Dairy 4-H Club, and according to dozens of articles Marie placed in numerous scrapbooks, they dominated at the county and state fairs and Ak-Sar-Ben shows.

“All 10 kids showed for 10 years each,” Marie said.

Tom Sr. became a 4-H leader as soon as he aged out of 4-H. He aspired to see his children accomplish more in the show ring than he had as a youth. He succeeded in mentoring his children to honors including top showman and breed champion at all levels.

He also worked with many other children, helping them show cattle from the Konecky herd.

“He believed in dairy, he believed in 4-H, he believed in helping people and so he became real good at that,” said Marie.

State and national accolades also went to Tom Sr. for his work as a dairy operator. He was recognized by the Nebraska State Dairyman’s Association for outstanding herds and best of breed multiple times and was named the Nebraska Distinguished Dairyman by the organization in 1985.

Their 10 children worked alongside Tom Sr. and Marie on the farm every day. Chores included helping with the twice-daily milking routine, which was labor intensive. The milk had to be carried in buckets to the main tank, which was a difficult job, Marie said.

Tom Jr. was about 12 years old when he convinced his father to build a new milking parlor with hoses to transport the milk.

“It took a couple of years to nag his dad,” Marie remembered.

By the time the new milking parlor was built in 1982, Tom Jr. had become an official partner in the farm. But he’d already been farming on his own. Right after graduating from Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo in 1978, Tom Jr. rented a 240-acre farm next door to his parents’ land.

Working alongside his father, Tom Jr. said he learned a lot. His father was a progressive farmer, working often with experts from UNL, according to Marie. They helped him come up with plans to ground the milking parlor, which proved useful when a lightning storm caused only minor damage. He was also practicing no-till and using cover crops before most farmers.

“He looked ahead,” said Marie. “If there was something new, he got on it.”

Even after Tom Sr. retired, he was still out on the tractor or checking on the cows every day. He also became more active in the State Dairyman’s Association, serving as president and secretary, and he was a director of the American Guernsey Association.

Today, the dairy operation at Beauty View Farms has shrunk as milk prices and profit margins declined. Dairy farms in general have all but disappeared in Saunders County. Beauty View Farm is the only dairy remaining in the county, said Melisa Konecky, Tom Jr.’s daughter.

Melisa and her brother Vince have become a part of the family farm operation in recent years, along with their significant others – Vince’s wife Abby and Melisa’s fiancé, Tyler Kingston.

Although it was never expected that Melisa and Vince would take over the family farm, it was a natural fit because they have been working on the farm since they were toddlers.

“It’s all I ever really wanted to do,” Vince said.

Melisa’s plans weren’t as cut and dried as her brother’s.

“I never even knew I wanted to come back,” she said with a smile.

While “everybody does everything” on the farm, Melisa and Vince have their areas of expertise.

Vince studied agronomy at UNL and is in control of the corn, soybeans and alfalfa operation. They have also been transitioning to beef cattle production in recent years with the help of Abby, who has a masters degree in ruminant nutrition.

Melisa is in charge of the dairy. Although the herd has gotten smaller over the years, there is fresh excitement about the dairy’s future. Dutch Girl Creamery in Lancaster County reached out to the Koneckys about buying their high-butterfat milk. They are making cheese, yogurt, curds and other products the Melisa hopes to get in area stores soon.

Dutch Girl Creamery buys 150 gallons of milk a week from the Koneckys.

By the early 2000s the Konecky’s herd had grown to 90. Tom Jr. said there were plans to expand further but they held off, and in the end it was the right the decision because it kept them from accumulating more debt.

“There was a lot of serious consideration,” he said. “Thank God we didn’t.”

Dairy farms also succeed by owning registered animals to produce breeding stock to sell. Tom Jr. said that is difficult to do with Guernseys because their breeding stock doesn’t fetch high prices like other breeds.

The Koneckys now have just 18 milkers – mostly Guernseys with a couple of Jerseys and Holsteins thrown in. Even with a new milk buyer, Melisa said their herd will remain small.

“We’ll probably never get back up to big numbers,” said Melisa. “Just from a management aspect, this is much better.”

Like many farmers, Tom Jr., Melisa and Vince work full-time jobs off the farm to supplement their income. Tom Jr. is in charge of the maintenance department at Darling International near Mead. Melisa has been an extension assistant in 4-H youth development at the Saunders County Extension office for the past three years. Vince works at Novus Ag in Colon.

Melisa and Vince have two other siblings who aren’t directly a part of the farm operation. Their sister Andrea is married and lives in David City where they have a “couple of cows,” Melisa said. And younger brother Nathan is a student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney where he is studying physical science. He has no plans to become a farmer.

But everyone helps out when needed.

As for the future of Beauty View Farm, although Tom Jr. does not have grandchildren yet, he is hopeful that the land will stay in the family, even if no one farms it themselves.

“They can do whatever they want,” he said. “But I think it means enough to them that they’re not going to cash out.”

The Koneckys have already beaten the odds when it comes to family farm succession. According Hanson, if there were 10,000 Nebraska family farms today, there would only be 12 left four generations later.

“When you look at family farms, only 30% make it past the second generation, and of that number, only 12% make it past the third generation and 3% past the fourth generation,” the professor said.

Hanson served as a teacher and academic advisor for several of Tom Sr. and Marie’s children during the 1980s and 1990s. The senior Koneckys sought his advice, and as a result, he got to know the entire family.

“The thing I admired about the Konecky family was that everyone in that family, particularly the children, had a work ethic. On that dairy farm, everyone had duties and responsibilities. Everyone had chores. That’s why they were very successful,” said Hanson.

Perhaps most importantly, the Konecky children inherited a positive outlook from their father, the former professor said.

“Tom (Sr.) always saw the bright side and how to do better to improve operations,” said Hanson.

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