From a military career to sustainable agriculture: Hoops can handle it all

Veteran. Farmer. Business owner. Father.

These are just a few of the titles Brent Hoops holds. He’s also a conservationist who utilizes environmental preservation and protection practices on Good Earth Farms, his commercial soybean and corn operation, near Hastings, Nebraska.

Hoops shared his conservation experience at the Center for Rural Affairs’ Veteran Farmer Conference in March.

“I thought the conference was a great opportunity to meet other veterans who want to farm,” said Hoops. “It was nice to see what other people are doing, and I learned a lot about smaller scale, more localized market production. I really appreciate the effort that the Center has put forth in trying to bring veteran farmers together, and make it an accessible career path for people getting out of the military.”

Jordan Rasmussen, senior policy associate for the Center, works with veteran farmers, and says Hoops, along with other conference attendees, are prime examples of how military and agriculture can work well together.

“Oftentimes, traits needed to excel in military service, like initiative, organization, dedication, and creative problem solving, are also necessary when starting and growing a farm,” said Rasmussen. “Participants [of the conference] got to see firsthand how their fellow veterans have translated the duty and drive of military life into rewarding second careers in farming.”

Hoops had a distinguished military career, including graduating from West Point, leading a platoon in Iraq, becoming captain, and serving as a company commander for an Army Reserve basic training command.

After leaving the Army in 2011, getting into agriculture seemed like the best next step.

“I look back on my time in the military with some very exciting and rewarding experiences,” Hoops said. “But, Nebraska has always felt like home, and it was especially appealing as a great place to raise a family.”

The veteran has been able to carry work ethic and discipline into his farming operation. He’s also a big believer in the use of conservation practices, and has enrolled his farm in the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Hoops says the biggest benefit of incorporating conservation and sustainable agriculture practices into his farm has been being able to reduce water usage by 50 percent. He achieved this by converting a gravity-irrigated farm to pivot irrigation through funding from EQIP. And, CSP has helped him get started in strip-till farming, which allows for reduced tillage, emissions, dust, and more.

“The only burden [to enrolling] is a little extra paperwork, so I think it’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “I think many famers shy away because they are concerned about the NRCS ‘telling them what to do,’ but that has not been my experience. NRCS programs have helped improve my bottom line, while hopefully making the farm more environmentally friendly, so it’s a win from multiple angles.”

Since last fall, Hoops has managed his farm while running his grain marketing business, Cutting Edge Commodities. Hoops says this kind of business can be complex, but he thinks he can help his customers make wise decisions as well as a profit.

“I think seasonal trends are a great friend of farm marketers, and it’s important to look at the marketing strategy from a risk management perspective rather than just profit maximization,” he said. “Healthy utilization of futures contracts and options on futures for early price protection will boost an operation’s bottom line in the majority of market environments.”

He also stresses the importance of recognizing that there is no perfect marketing plan, and farmers should lock in profitable prices when they’re available, while being aware those prices may go up at a later date.

Though running a successful business and managing his farm are of great significance, Hoops says his most important role of all is husband and father.

Hoops’ wife, Sarah, and their five children are his top priority.

“We cherish family road trips during the slow farming times (mostly winter). We enjoy traveling all over the country to visit friends, relatives, national parks, and big cities,” he said. “At home, we like be outside and spend most of our time trying to keep up with the kids, probably like most families.”

Feature photo: Brent Hoops, center, talks with Jordan Rasmussen, Center for Rural Affairs policy associate, at the Veteran Farmer Conference on March 24, 2018, in Hastings, Nebraska. Earlier in the day, he shared his conservation experience with attendees. | Photo by Rhea Landholm