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Grant Hilbert always knew he wanted to be a farmer, but figured he’d have to work 20 or 30 years in another profession to afford to buy land in Iowa.

It turns out he only needed six years to play video games.

Hilbert, 21, from Ankeny, has earned enough money from YouTube videos of him playing the Farming Simulator video game to help him buy 250 acres in Poweshiek and Mahaska counties which he has now planted in corn and soybeans.

Before anyone gets a mental picture of a slacker getting rich on video games, know that Hilbert filmed, edited, and posted a video almost every day he was enrolled in classes at Iowa State University. , where he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Business and Economics in 2020. .

The reason he has over 1.3 million subscribers on his The Squad YouTube channel is because he comes up with new video ideas, including a time when he and his friends built a race track in Farming Simulator and organized a virtual race.

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In a recent video — he still posts several Farming Simulator videos a week — Hilbert and Chandler Buch, who Hilbert hired to help film videos, play a part by buying a tractor at auction. The video had 55,000 views and 84 comments in 24 hours.

Hilbert and a friend started The Squad channel in 2014 when they were in 10th grade, playing an assortment of popular video games for the first time.

“My boyfriend and I were commercially minded. We went into it knowing you could make money from YouTube,” he said.

Within months, the channel was down to just Hilbert, and he mainly played Farming Simulator, a series of video games developed by GIANTS software and released in 2008 that allows players to virtually grow crops, raise livestock and sell assets created from agriculture.

When Hilbert went to college in 2016, a new version of Farming Simulator was released and there was renewed interest in Hilbert. He took classes at ISU from about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., filmed videos in the afternoons, then edited and released the videos each evening.

“I didn’t have the fun experience of college like a lot of other people; I was doing YouTube,” he said.

Buy a farm

More than a third of U.S. farmland was inherited or gifted by a family member and another 16% was purchased from a relative, according to a 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service .

Hilbert couldn’t do any of these things. His grandparents and uncles farm near Algona, but Hilbert’s parents, Barney and Rita, moved from the farm to Ankeny, where Barney works with supply chains for Corteva and Rita is a mortgage loan officer.

During his junior and senior years at ISU, Hilbert began researching land brokerage websites looking for Iowa farmland.

He bought his first farm right after graduating from college. Later, he purchased two more farms in the same area of ​​southern Poweshiek County and northern Mahaska County near Montezuma. The three parcels, totaling approximately 250 acres, cost more than $1.8 million combined.

“I borrow a lot of money to buy these farms,” ​​he said. “I use a lot of leverage. I would say 60% (of the down payment) was from videos and 40% from investments.”

Hilbert owns Bitcoin and has invested in the MiningStore, a bitcoin mining site in Grundy County.

“Congratulations to him for finding a way to do what he loves,” Iowa Agricultural Bureau Federation President Brent Johnson said when he heard about Hilbert. “There are a lot of farmers on social media telling their stories. I love it.”

New videos

Everything Hilbert does on the farm is a source of videos for the Grant Hilbert channel on YouTube, which has 129,000 subscribers and 50 videos.

His May 16 video “First Day of Corn Planting 2022!” has over 69,000 views. The 19-minute video begins with Hilbert selecting from five vintage caps to wear for the occasion. Then he and his brother Spencer get into the John Deere planter and get to work.

“We can get it up to 12 miles, well not 12 miles per hour,” he said. “We can go up to…”

“Twelfth gear,” added Spencer.

“Twelfth gear, about eight and a half miles an hour,” Grant Hilbert said.

Fans of the 1994 film “Dumb and Dumber” will appreciate the April 21, 2020 video “We Bought a NEW Tractor! (John Deere 1026R)”, which has nearly 935,000 views.

Hilbert said he had no epic failures, but even small glitches can create compelling videos. Take, for example, “Noobs Rebuilding a Hydraulic Cylinder” and “Spilling Corn on the Go!”

“There’s a much older audience on the actual channel,” Hilbert said. “They may be retired or just want to watch a young man farm.”

He estimates that around 40% of his audience on either channel is a crossover from the other channel.

Hilbert learns how to get the most out of his farm repairs from — you guessed it — YouTube. But he has also met helpful neighbors and gets work and advice from his father. Because managing a real farm is different from a video game.

“Any normal person who understands a bit of farming could easily play Farming Simulator,” he said. “Going and doing the real thing is a lot harder.”


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