Custom cutting is clearing the way for Seth Braker to buy his own farmland.

This Randolph, WI, 19-year-old owns and operates Braker Acres Custom Forage Services and is a full-time student at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

He's also a partner with his parents in a 220-head custom dairy heifer operation, slated for an 80-head expansion this summer. He does all of the family's crop work. They own 40 acres and rent 150.

He secured a tractor loan as a high school freshman with the help of his parents, Randy and Barbara.

“The chance came up to rent some hay ground,” he says. “We had a huge need for feed with our custom heifer-raising business, and I started making hay for the animals at home.”

A year later, he bought a mower-conditioner.

“It was a pretty big step up for me and I wanted to help make the payments on it,” Braker says. “So I got some extra work in the neighborhood cutting hay.”

His long-term goal is to use the profits from his custom forage operation to make a down payment on land when he's earned his agronomy degree.

His dedication to his business netted him the National Agri-Entrepreneur Award at the National FFA Convention last year. Keith Gundlach, his FFA adviser, says Braker has all the qualities necessary to make his plan succeed.

“Seth loves the farm. He's not afraid to work. He's ambitious,” says Gundlach. “If you've got the ambition, the drive and you're knowledgeable, you don't make mistakes. And I think he has those qualities.”

Braker plans to rent until he can buy, hopefully in the next 5-10 years. Until then, he's dedicated to building equity by expanding his custom forage operation and the family owned heifer operation.

Braker currently custom cuts 400 acres and is working on contracts to double that number. He's convinced there are opportunities to build his client list. He has already expanded his machinery line, purchasing a new John Deere 946 mower-conditioner.

“A lot of farmers in the neighborhood have equipment that's wearing out,” he says. “If someone has a limited number of acres, with prices the way they are, it's hard to justify a new mower-conditioner.”

A custom baler works with him to cover clients who don't have baling capabilities. And he rounds out his services with forage testing as well as hauling and stacking hay.

“The forage testing is a service I can offer that not everyone does. It's something I can do if a dairy producer is not working with a nutritionist,” he says.