Big Dreams and Growing Pains on the Farm

One young farmer learns to manage his ambition and the growing pains that come with it.

By Des Keller | Photos By Charles Riedel

Dustin Edwards

Dustin Edwards

Six years ago, Dustin Edwards had a full-time, off-farm job as an environmental scientist. He owned 17 acres of farmland not far from where he grew up, and lives still, in Lebo, Kan.

There was never any question, though, that farming full-time—and then some—was his ultimate goal.

“When my friends were going to the pool in high school, I was working in the field,” says Edwards, who, at a lean 6 feet, 6 inches tall, starred for his high school basketball team and played in college as well. “And I wasn’t working on the farm that much because my dad was making me; I wanted to be there. I’d gladly work till midnight.”

So perhaps this next bit of news shouldn’t be surprising.

This summer, Edwards, 32, will be farming more than 4,700 acres in 12 counties in a north-to-south band that stretches nearly 200 miles. Since last year, his operation more than doubled in size, due mainly to the addition of hundreds of acres of rich Missouri River bottomland 1½ hours from home.

Not that Edwards owns this farmland. He doesn’t. He has, however, helped directly engineer the sales to investors by pitching his abilities as a research-minded, long-term, tenant partner who can produce profits while caring for and improving the land.

That’s exactly what he did last year when he met with Carol Dengel, a Kansas City-area investor who wanted to purchase farmland as something more reliable, if less sexy, than the stock market. “He’s really, really passionate,” Dengel says of Edwards. “He’s aggressive and flexible, and makes a great impression. The most important thing for me—someone who doesn’t know very much about farming—is working with a farmer who absolutely knows what [he is] doing.”

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