When school lets out for the summer and the kids head to the beach, teacher Mike Stefan starts making hay for more than 20 clients.
“People always ask me which profession I like best, and I have to honestly say that I take pleasure and pride in both,” says Stefan, North Collins, NY. He teaches computer-aided drafting, aerodynamics, and design and construction at a local middle school.
“I love the custom business because it keeps me involved with farming, plus I like large equipment and value its efficiency,” he adds.
Stefan grew up on his family's 75-cow dairy farm, but knew he didn't want to milk cows for a living. Yet after earning a teaching degree, he still yearned for an agricultural lifestyle. So he turned to commercial hay production and custom harvesting six years ago.
Soon after, Stefan's dad, Joe, sold his cows and joined his son in those businesses. “Without my dad, I couldn't do what I do,” says Stefan.
His equipment arsenal includes a 30' mower-conditioner, 48' rake, two 35' tedders and a 3 × 3 × 8' baler.
“I'm a full-service operator when it comes to putting up hay,” he says. “In spring, my employees mow and rake for various custom choppers.”
He and his crew cover thousands of acres per year, working from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border. He also brokers hay for some of his customers.
The first and final cuttings are made while Stefan is teaching, so he relies on his dad and five part-time employees to keep things running smoothly.
“My employees take care of everything,” he says. “I also have a good equipment dealer. If I'm not here and something goes wrong, they can always call him for help.”
Early mornings and on weekends, Stefan services his equipment. “We go to each customer's farm with our machinery serviced, washed and ready to go.”
Teaching gives Stefan an edge in his custom business, he says.
“Because I teach computers and technology, I keep up on the latest software and gadgetry. I just got some farm software that can do GPS layering, even though we don't have a lot of that going on in this part of New York yet.”
While custom work is their mainstay, the Stefans also own and rent 800 acres for hay production. They grow mostly orchardgrass, timothy and oats.
His life is busy, but Stefan is satisfied with his dual careers.
“If I was driving home from school and saw farmers working in the field and knew I couldn't do the same thing, it would just kill me,” he says.