“I’m changing gears. I’m hopping on this machine to get some more work done, but I have time to visit now.”
When one of the farm partners has to be gone on other agricultural business, it puts more work on the ones staying at home.
“It sure cuts into the days when Dad’s gone, but my wife is always anxious to help, yet she has a part-time job. And, Grandpa is ready to help, too, if I need it, even though he’s retired, and I try not to bother him that much.
“But, I’m really glad to be able to be part of this family farming operation,” Mark Wray stated emphatically.
“Grandpa grew up farming. Dad grew up farming. I grew up farming. Grandpa told me I am the seventh generation of the Wray family in farming. I’m lucky number seven,” added the Ottawa farmer proudly.
“We don’t have any kids, yet, but hopefully we’ll have the eighth generation, too. Every farmer’s dream is to have a family member follow in his profession, and I’m fortunate to have this great opportunity,” Wray said.
Wray Cattle & Grain LLC is officially the Franklin County family operation of grandpa Jack, dad John and son Mark and his wife Lacey Wray.
“We all individually own land, and then rent from the LLC, which limits our personal risk,” Mark Wray explained.
To make the family farm all come together as it is today, and looks to continue into generations, has taken some adjustments, diversifications and expansions from what it was when Mark Wray came back to Ottawa from college.
“I graduated from K-State in 2010, with a degree in agronomy, and minor in animal science, moved in with my parents, and started my own seed dealership, to be able to be part of the family farm,” related Wray, who turned 27 on the day his tight schedule loosened enough to reflect on farm life.
“I always wanted to be a part of the family operation, but there just wasn’t enough to support us all without having an additional source of income,” he explained.
When a neighboring farm came on the market, Wray felt fortunate, and acquired it personally to help expand and diversify operations.
“We’ve expanded the cattle operations, and since Lacey, a farm girl, and I got married two years ago this spring, we’ve pretty much been in charge of the cattle, even though everybody helps out,” said Wray.
A former state FFA officer, and KSU grad, Lacey (George) grew up in family cattle operations near Uniontown in Bourbon County and is now an instrumental part of that phase of the Wray program, her husband credited.
“Lacey is a very patient person, and helps a lot,” he added. “But, when Dad’s gone, it still keeps us busy, with cattle coming in to process, and then keeping a closer eye on them for the first few days, too.
“Grandpa owns about half of the land, but he’s gotten out of the day-to-day operations. Still, he always helps with moving machinery, driving trucks during harvest, whenever we need help, Grandpa does a good job, and we appreciate him,” Wray said.
While Jack Wray grew up on a farm, land holdings have been acquired since the 1960s. “Grandpa was in the military, too, so he was fortunate to have outside income to buy land, when it might have been tougher on some others to acquire property,” Wray evaluated.
“Dad has purchased land, too, but we do rent a lot. Our farmland acreage has varied, especially since there’s been a flex of land investors into the county, and they sometimes change tenants,” Wray said.
Concerning his personal diversification, Wray admitted, “I never really thought about being a seed dealer, but it gave me the chance to come home to the farm, and still offers important income for the farm operation.”
Syngenta, Ag Venture and Stine products are offered.
“With corn prices down, my seed orders are off a bit this year, but I’m looking for sales to pick up as planting time nears,” he predicted.
“Still, I’ve always focused more on quality, rather than quantity, and try to do what’s right for the farmer. Seed really has been great for me,” Wray added.
With more than 2,000 acres of crops, about one-half cash crop is in soybeans, with the remainder typically divided equally between corn and soybeans.
“We also grow forage sorghum, have hay ground and rent a lot of pasture, too. It takes that for our cattle,” Wray informed.
Assessing crop acres, the young farmer tallied, “We have about 30 percent prime bottomland, but there’s mostly upland. It’s all dryland, and we are conscientious in our management to maximize yields from everything we farm.”
Auto-steering and land mapping are utilized for more precise seed, herbicide and fertilizer placement. “We use a lot of technology, but there’s plenty of room to improve,” he figured.
The Wrays take advantage of 53,000 bushels of on-farm grain storage to help market their crops.
“Crop insurance is essential with all of the expenses to put a crop in the ground, and we contract some grain on the board, and then hedge with the futures market. It’s not a set thing, but we try to follow the fundamentals,” Wray explained.
Marketing decisions are a family matter. “Dad is closer to the grain side of it, but we all talk it over before anything is decided,” Wray commented.
“We have a growing and backgrounding program, and feed about a 1,000 cattle a year, so we usually have around 400 to 500 head on hand. They get a high roughage ration, so we don’t feed that much of our own grain. We send the cattle to a commercial feedlot,” he said.
Most of the cattle are purchased by Wray personally at area sale barns. Quality is sometimes not as important as price, but there has to be profit potential. “I prefer the good ones. It’s hard to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” he commented.
“These record cattle markets have been appreciated when we’ve sold, but it sure makes our investment and risk a lot more, too. Impossible to have it good on both ends, it seems,” the young farmer noted. “Prices are always going to go up and down. That doesn’t always seem the way with inputs, but it’s part of being a farmer.”
Different people have different ideas. “Even with a family farm, there are varied opinions, but we always work it out because the ultimate goal of everybody involved is to be good to the land and do what’s best for the farm,” said Wray.
All members of the family have been active in community, agriculture and church organizations, serving in leadership roles. John is active in the Kansas Soybean Commission.
John and Brenda Wray have two other children. Erik is a college graduate who works for a senior living arrangement in Kansas City but returns to help out on the farm. Amanda is a high school freshman active in farm life and 4-H.
The future of agriculture is positive, according to Mark. “The world population is continuing to grow and everybody has to eat. Farmers produce the food all of these people must have, which is good for my family and our future,” Wray observed.
“Likewise, our intentions are to continue to grow the farm to help meet this food demand. Yet, there are possible limitations in crop acreage for us, because of the outside ownership of land, making availability quite uncertain, at least at the present. However, cattle have treated us very well, and I would expect that part of the program to expand.”
Humble in his remarks, Wray said, “I’m not much of a philosopher, and I can’t predict the future, or we’d be rich. But, we can’t be greedy, that’s sure our philosophy. A farmer has to be patient. It’s impossible to hit the top every time.
“Commodities on the average will be lower, at some point, even though I’m not sure about land values; that’s harder to know. We’re out to make a profit, but it all depends on what grows. We want to continue to grow, too, and diversification seems to be the way to do it,” he continued.
“I’m really fortunate to do what I do, and I’m happy to do it,” Mark Wray, the optimistic seventh generation farmer concluded. £