There was never any question in Don Kinnan’s mind about where his life’s calling lay. “I started farming with my Dad while I was a senior in high school and except for two years in the Army during the Korean War I’ve lived and farmed around Cozad,” he noted.
This year’s Cozad Farm Family of the Year has seen their operation grow from a joint operation with Kinnan’s parents southwest of Cozad to establishing their own operation north of town that includes corn, soybeans, alfalfa and a cow-calf herd.
Not only are a son and grandsons now working the land, but the next generation is learning about farming as they travel with their Dads, Granddad and Great-Grandpa.
The Kinnan family traces their Dawson County roots to around 1900 when John and Flo Kinnan moved from Pennsylvania to settle southwest of Cozad. “Back in those days everyone struggled to make a living, which is why they came here. They thought they had an opportunity,” said Don.
Corn, wheat and cattle were the staples at the early Kinnan farm. Don’s father, Paul, was born in 1904 and attended school through the eighth grade, then went straight to work on the farm.
Don’s mother, Evadna Tharp was the oldest of seven children and her parents came to Dawson County from Illinois. She went on to attend Cozad High School, graduating around 1925.
Paul and Evadna Kinnan were married March 1, 1928 in Cozad. They raised corn alfalfa and had a cow-calf operation on their 320 acres. In addition, Don recalls his father, grandfather and uncle also ran a custom thrashing machine and crew.
Don Kinnan was born July 19, 1932 and attended District 32 rural school. He recalls he and the neighbor kid would either ride a horse or a bicycle to school, which wasn’t far from his home.
Kinnan went on to graduate from Cozad High School in 1950. He was active in 4-H where he showed Hereford cattle and was involved in the Cozad FFA while in high school. “I did shop work, carpentry, welding and participated in the parliamentary procedure contests, which were pretty big at that time. I also got to go to State FFA convention,” he said.
It was during high school that he met Jane Good. Good, born on June 12, 1931, lived in town where her father was an insurance agent. Their first date was spent at the Youth Center after she got off work as an usher at the Rialto Theater. While Don finished high school, she went to Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. The rest, shall we say, is history and on Aug. 19, 1951, Jane and Don Kinnan were married at the Presbyterian Church in Cozad.
Don worked right through the 1952 harvest before Uncle Sam and the Korean Conflict called. After basics he was assigned to Ft. Riley, Kan., where Jane joined him and got a job working in the ordnance department. In January 1954 he left for Korea . Their first son, Greg, was born that September and Don was discharged a month later and promptly returned home to farm that spring.
“Like always land was hard to come by and Jane’s family had some land north of town. We started farming it and in 1964 built our current home on this quarter,” he said.
In all they lived 11 years southwest of Cozad. For a time they farmed west of Gothenburg, before moving north of Cozad. With land spread across that many miles Don recalls during irrigating season they would drive all day. “With all the tubes and dams you didn’t dare leave it. You had to be there every morning and night,” said Kinnan. “We finally decided there wasn’t a hell of a lot of money in driving a pickup all day.”
As the farm grew, so did the Kinnan family. Greg was soon joined by two brothers, Wade and Lane. The boys were also active in 4-H and even had a small sheep herd for several years in addition to showing cattle.
One family venture was joining with six other farmers in a farrowing house enterprise to supply their farms with young pigs. The group started in 1974 and included the Kinnans, Ron Stear, Stan Wichelt, Bill Karr, Wayne Hosick, Elvin Buss and Roland Lauer. However, the farrowing house burned to the ground and the group dissolved in 1986. As Don notes, “That was the end of that.”
One thing is for sure, noted the Kinnans, they couldn’t have gotten all their work done without the help of a steadfast hired man. Arlis Netherton worked for the family for 17 years and he and his wife, Stella, remained lifelong friends.
In addition, a steady succession of high school boys worked alongside the Kinnan boys during the summers and Jane notes she cooked for them all, which sometimes was a challenge if they weren’t used to the steady regimen of vegetables from the garden.
The Kinnans have always been active in the Cozad community. The Presbyterian Church has benefited from their service as elders and Jane is an organist at the church. She started at age 15 by playing the piano. Jane has also been active in Presbyterian Women.
Don served on the District 27 (Lucerne School) school board and on the board of Drainage Ditch #4.
They are members of Elks Lodge #2250 in Cozad and for 25 years were active in the Kings on the Road camping club. They also enjoy driving Don’s collection of antique cars, trucks and tractors and are members of the Goldenrod Antique Car Club. Don notes the vehicles became his hobby after he retired in 1990 and the collection includes a 1949 Studebaker just like the one he had in high school, as well as an Oliver 88, a rare Minneapolis-Moline and a 1947 Ford Truck that was the perfect backdrop for a family photo.
As the boys grew, they went a number of directions. Greg and his wife, Lynne, now live in Texas. Wade and his wife, Judy, live in Cozad, where he is a trucker for Nebraska Plastics.
Lane graduated from Cozad High School in 1977 and from Kearney State College in 1981. He taught school for one year in Shelton before returning home to start farming.
Like his father, farming was in his blood and the farm soon transitioned to the next generation. “I worked for my dad through junior high, high school and college. I worked for him part time and rented ground from my grandparents. After dad’s retirement in the 90s we started farming the family ground.”
“We’ve always raised alfalfa, beans, corn and eventually popcorn. After Frito-Lay came to Gothenburg, we went to raising all food grade corn instead of commercial corn,” noted Lane.
It wasn’t too long before Don’s grandsons also started to show an interest in the family farm. The twins, Jordan and Justin, graduated from Cozad High School in 2003. Justin went to college right away in Milford, Neb., for auto mechanics. Jordan went to Central Community College, graduating in 2005.
“I came back to the farm right after college in the summer of 2005 and worked with dad for a summer or two before Jordan and I rented some farms together,” notes Justin.
“Dad then helped Justin and I get some of our own ground to farm,” said Jordan. “It was around 2011 when Justin and I started our own individual business farming.”
“Now Jordan and I have our own farms and run our own businesses, but we still help each other out,” said Justin. “We all harvest together because it takes all of the help everyone has to make harvest run smooth,” notes the third-generation farmer.”
In addition to traditional crops, Jordan and Justin have also tried some organic ones in recent years, further diversifying their options.
For Don there have been some significant changes in farming practices and equipment since he started in 1950. One of the biggest has been in irrigation, he said. “Dad did the old wooden box culverts, then we moved to ditches and dams and siphon tubes and then miles and miles of gated pipe. Finally, before I retired, we got the pivots and now Lane and the grandsons can even control them from a telephone.”
Lane agreed and added they are now 98 percent pivot irrigated.
As for machinery, Don recalls his father got one of the first corn-pickers around Cozad, an old M&M pull-type. Now the family uses a multi-row John Deere equipped with GPS, a technological marvel, notes Don.
“The technology, which would include seed advancement and variable-rate planting is also significant,” said Lane.
That is also a challenge, noted Justin. “The technology on equipment is very nice to have and makes farming easier, but it is hard to find people to fix it and it gets very expensive.”
With equipment costs getting higher, Jordan notes more acres are needed to run the equipment over and sometimes it still doesn’t pencil out.
Another challenge, said Justin, is trying to find help that can run the equipment with all the technology and understand how it works. “This will be a challenge going forward in farming for everyone, not just us,” he said.
For Lane other challenges are property taxes, something all Nebraskans are concerned about, commodity prices and water.
Justin added that input costs are another concern. “They are always rising in this business, but commodity prices are all over the board,” he concluded.
As Don observed, “The money farmers are putting out these days is unreal, I mean one-half million for a combine? It’s pretty fast track.”
But with the challenges come joys, ones that keep the family going when times get rough. “For me one of the joys was working with my dad and grandpa and then working with my boys and watching them raise their families on the farm,” said Lane.
Justin agrees there is something special about working as a family. “One of the things I really enjoy is getting to see all of your hard work pay off, because in farming we have to wait till harvest to know if we did a good job,” he said. “I really enjoy watching my kids try to help me and go along in the tractor with me. Just getting to be around my family and doing what I love to do.”
Whether that is having Sheena and Margaret bring lunch to the field or digging seed with his son Meyer, there is always something fun in the day-to-day aspects of farming, Justin concluded.
“It is not really a job, it’s a lifestyle,” added Jordan. “My wife and kids are just as much a part of our farm as I am. My family really enjoys being together and working together to make a living.”
Whether spending time at the former cabin at Johnson Lake, participating in local parades, celebrating the holidays or special milestones, the Kinnans relish their time together.
The Kinnan legacy has been firmly established, said Jordan. “All the basic farming practices I know, I have learned from my grandfather Don, and my dad Lane. I will never forget the farm lessons I learned from them and I hope to pass down to my children,” he concluded.