From farming to filming: Mann family documents farm life on YouTube

Whether it’s a tractor tour, a harvest ride-along or a demonstration of an instrument panel, the Mann Family Farms YouTube channel gives viewers a glimpse into the inner workings of a family farm in central Iowa.

The channel, which features brothers Decker (’21 agricultural business), Devan (’20 agronomy), Derek and their father, Duane, began in March 2021 and has garnered over 14,000 subscribers and 1.4 million views.

The channel started when Decker, who was still a student in agricultural business at Iowa State, ran into fellow student, Grant Hilbert (’20 economics, agricultural business), at Ames Fitness. Hilbert had his own YouTube channel, The Squad, where he played farm simulator games in college.

“I just kept seeing him, every day, over and over,” Decker says. “We talked more and exchanged phone numbers. Then one day at the gym, Grant told me, ‘You should start a YouTube channel.’”

Decker told Hilbert he would think about it, and by the weekend, decided it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot. Now, viewers from all over the world watch the Mann family have fun and document the work that goes into the legacy of their farm near Marshalltown, Iowa.

“I just started recording whatever anyone was working on,” Decker says. “It was really crude. But at some point, you just have to start doing it. I think it got like six views.”

The low viewership of the first video did not discourage the Mann family. Decker continued to consult with Hilbert, discussing strategy and critiquing each others’ videos. Hilbert decided to make the jump from playing farm simulator games to leasing a real farm.

The Mann family knew a landlord that had just retired and had a combine that would be perfect for Hilbert. Decker brought it out to show him, and they filmed together for their respective channels.

“He gave us a shoutout from his channel, and overnight we were at about 3,000 subscribers,” Decker says. “That was huge. That really got us going. Once you get past that initial hump, it’s just slowly getting bigger and bigger.”

Of course, growing a channel isn’t as easy as a shoutout. It’s a team effort among the brothers and Duane, as well as cameos from other family members, pitching in to help film content. Whenever any of them feels something is interesting enough to film, they pull out their phones and record it, adding to the content captured on a camera and tripod for Decker to edit.

Videos come out about once a week and more often during harvest when there is more activity to film.

“We have a driver in the fall, and he watches every video, writes it down and crosses it off to remember that he’s watched that one,” Devan says. “He’ll go to the YouTube page every few days to ensure he hasn’t missed one. We don’t see him as much after harvest, but he’ll stop by every once in a while with a list of questions about stuff that happened in the videos. That’s always fun.”

Whether it’s a driver, a co-op employee or a commenter on a YouTube video, Decker says it’s always nice to see people enjoy what they are making.

To the Mann family, these videos serve as a time capsule, a way to remember how things were done when they want to look back and reflect.

“Now their kids can look back 20 years from now and say ‘So that’s their walking uphill both ways in snow to school,’” Duane says.

Check out the latest farm activities on the Mann Family Farms YouTube channel.