“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Ryan Kuster has a lot of things going on in his life. He, along with his brother, Travis, are the next generation working the family farm in rural Potosi, along with their father, Dwight, handling between 1,000 and 1,200 acres of ground, along with handling bottled calves and breeding cows, as well as other things like chickens.
But Kuster is doing more than working the land and handling the animals, he is documenting daily life on the farm and posting regular videos to How Farms Work, his YouTube channel that he has been actively posting to since 2012. Now the channel has surpassed 85,000 subscribers, and along with the correlating website, howfarmswork.com, has spotlighted him, his family, and agriculture.
It all started just over a decade ago, when Ryan signed up for a YouTube account because he wanted to see and follow different things on the video platform. But as he looked on different channels, he noticed something. “I saw that there wasn’t a lot of farming stuff on YouTube, and at the time there really wasn’t,” he recalled.
Early on, Ryan had thrown a few 30-second clips of his family doing things like chopping silage, or cutting hay, and those videos had a modest amount of views - he recalls like 10-15 views for each in the first week he posted them.
But something happened. When Ryan went back to his channel and began thinking earnestly about posting more regularly, he saw that the videos had gotten 14,000 views.
“To me, that was a lot,” Ryan said of the number.
For him, there was no desire to get that perfect viral video, he was hoping to gain some accumulated views early on. “Nothing has to be viral, it just has to have the right conditions to get a lot of views,” Ryan said.
So he began filming while working on the farm, and making videos for the channel. While his family was receptive, they were not entirely sure about this venture. “When I first started, I think it was a little bit awkward for all of us to have the camera around, but over time, we got used to it because the camera was always around.”
He also said he looks back at the videos and sees how he has changed in front of the camera. “I couldn’t talk in front of anyone else because I would screw up, make mistakes, and I would have to start over, and you feel weird doing that, over and over again in front of people.”
Ryan said you never know which video may be well-received. He pointed back to a video made in the first year, where because of a hay shortage they chopped silage for feed. Not thinking anything of it, it was the most viewed video on his channel for several years, only recently getting overtaken by more recent work.
In the beginning, Ryan wanted to show the different things that take place on a farm. It was about tasks - how to change the oil in tractors, how dairy cattle are fed, how they are milked. “Over time, it evolved into showing this is how farms work. We show everything that we do, you can see how it is.
“The biggest thing that I am getting out of it is knowing that I am showing others about farming, people that may not have access to a farm can watch our videos and get a pretty big scoop on what’s going on daily around here. I try to show as much as I can, just knowing I am helping someone as much as I can.”
Now after so many years of posting regularly, Ryan at first worried he may run out of material, but he now realizes that would not be the case. “With farming, I have found out that even though you are doing the same thing every year, it’s always different - it’s never truly the same,” he noted.
For example, one of the videos he was planning was to show them marking the fields with GPS, outlining every strip. It’s something he hasn’t shown yet, and allows him to also show the continuing evolution of technology in farming.
Ryan is estimating that he will hit 100,000 subscribers sometime this summer, if growth continues at the same pace. When reaching such a threshold, YouTube will send him a plaque for the accomplishment. “That would be huge to me,” Ryan said. He said of the plaque “it will have a special place on the wall.”
With so many subscribers and views, Ryan and his family are getting recognized when out. He has been noticed when out for dinner in Platteville with his girlfriend, Jamie, who takes part in the videos as well, both as a principle participant in front of the camera, as well as the one who helps handling the editing for the productions.
Now Ryan doesn’t know if he comes off as a bit awry, or if people are nervous, but some will not come up to him, instead sending him something on SnapChat after seeing him out. “It’s pretty cool,” Ryan said, adding he also had strangers coming up to him when he was at the most recent National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville.
Whether it’s people coming up to him, or approaching his family talking about seeing a video, Ryan looks to stay grounded and be himself. “I try to not let anything go to my head, because, after all, it’s just a YouTube channel,” he stated.
Not that they don’t try to have fun from time-to-time. Letting his dad and brother play the straight men, Ryan got to be goofy on one video ‘Today is the Day,’ as well as the video recognizing that they reached 50,000 subscribers.
One thing he won’t let get him down are the few internet trolls who may post negative thoughts on his pages. “You tend to look past that,” Ryan said, not letting those bother him, compared to the many positive comments he also receives.
With the added notoriety, Ryan sees now that his channel and website are a brand, and something he wants to curate, and make sure can be trusted. He has been approached with things from different implement dealers or product makers.
He noted that he plans to be honest with anything he covers or utilizes. I want people to know my opinions are my own,” Ryan said, noting he is not just going to take an endorsement deal, promoting anything just because money is behind it.
His channel has opened up opportunities for him to test different equipment, which feeds into his want to see new technology. Last fall, for example, he got 100 hours to demo a New Holland tractor, which was new for him, given that the Kusters have a strong affiliation with John Deere products.
Turns out he liked that tractor, but the bigger thing was to show others how it worked compared to other ones they may be familiar with.
“I want to give the public information,” Ryan stated. “I do like to try out as much stuff as we possibly can because then we can show people who are farmers what other products may be out there.”
Currently, Ryan has been contacted by Earthmaster, which offered an example of its tiller, rotary cutter, and rake for a lease.
He has also worked with WD-40, something they used quite a bit on the farm before any contact with the company.
He has a playlist devoted to product demonstrations.
“What I am doing right now I absolutely love - I am working with cameras and I get to be my own videographer, but I get to be a farmer too, which is pretty cool,” Ryan said, talking about the different cameras, drones, stabilizers, all the equipment he uses to make those videos.
He notes, however, that sometimes, staying up and editing makes him also like the idea of just being a farmer.
“It has been a challenge for me to make sure it does not swallow my life,” he said. For an example, during a busier time, he could be working on the farm until 9 p.m., then work on editing videos until 3 a.m., only to get back up at 8 a.m. to start his next day.
That time spent editing and then posting is worth it, however, when the video goes live.
Ryan noted that his family and girlfriend have been very supportive through it all as well.
As for the future, Ryan has a lot of thoughts of what to do next. For one, they are hosting a farm visit for subscribers on the farm Aug. 19. Without promoting the event, he notes he has already sold almost 200 of the 250 tickets he hopes to, without much promotion, and has people coming from places like Arizona, Maine, Texas and Arkansas.
He is also debating about venturing off the farm, and spotlighting things that others are doing that they don’t have. A brother’s friend has different heads for their combine, and Ryan has also looked at maybe spotlighting specialty crops being raised by other farmers in the region.
Seeing that different equipment, learning different techniques, those are things that Ryan has always been interested in, knowing from an early age he wanted to be in agriculture. He, his brother, and dad had worked the farm that his grandparents had operated, but he was never sure he would get a chance to be the next generation to farm that land.
So he went and got an ag business degree at UW-Platteville. When talking to people, many told him that the ag business degree would really allow him to get a job anywhere in agriculture, and outside the field as well.
“A lot of people said if you have an ag-business degree, you can go into a lot of different fields.”
Things turned out that he, his brother and father were able to take over the family farm, and also rent ground.
Having that family mentality, Ryan said that they are really happy with the size of their operation, and don’t want to grow to some big outfit with lots of hired hands. “We don’t want to be a farm that is bigger than what we can run, or what we can do,” Ryan said.
Ryan knows that there are many others who want to make farming their life, and the buy-in is high - finding land is even tougher. “If there are more acres than we can run, I would rather someone else can run their own operation.”
Ryan sees that the family farm like theirs are making it in the market today, even with corporate farms changing the economies of scale. It’s not like 50 years ago, as his dad recounts to him, where anyone could make it with 50 acres, but even those smaller operations can make it if they find a niche, or have some outside income, like some working off the farm.
Ryan’s web site is howfarmswork.com, and has links to his YouTube channel.