Down to Earth: Young people choose family farming
With two young children and a 430-acre dairy farm in Minnesota, Tara and Nick Meyer have their hands full. But running a small farm is worth all the effort, says Tara, who together with her husband is responsible for maintaining a herd of 275 Grade Holstein cows.
“The size of the farm really does not matter,” explains Tara, who earned her bachelor’s degree in applied economics, before completing the MBA program at University of Phoenix. “What matters is that the family cares for the environment, their animals and has the passion to do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
With enrollment in agricultural programs on the rise, the Meyers are part of a new trend in the United States: couples in their 20s and 30s shunning the corporate ladder in favor of operating small family farms. These entrepreneurs cite several reasons for trading the 9-5 grind for work on a farm, including job security in a weak economy and a growing demand for locally grown foods.
Like many farmers, the Meyers take pride in their efforts to work in harmony with the environment, and have won several awards for their ability to mitigate pollution runoff, as well as for their soil and water conservation strategies, some of which stem from their work with a crop consultant who helps them properly irrigate to maintain fertile soil.
“Environmental stewardship and farming go hand in hand,” explains Tara, whose cows' milk is sold to a larger company to be turned into Parmesan cheese. “What we feed our cows, including high moisture corn, corn silage and haylage, directly correlates to the final product. Many people may not realize the steps farmers take to ensure the environment is in harmony with the farm.”
Raising her kids on the farm is an added bonus for Tara, who serves as CFO of the business. “The kids get to work side by side with me, learning the importance of animal care, farm safety, and general work ethic at a very young age.” She also loves being around animals. “I work with each animal from the day it’s born,” she says. “Watching it grow and prosper into a part of the milking herd is exciting.”
Their chosen profession is nothing new for Tara and Nick, who both grew up on family farms in Minnesota. But farming today has changed and the work is not without its share of challenges.
Since farming is very management-intensive, Tara believes getting a proper education is a must for anyone who wants to start a family farm. “Both Nick and I have furthered our education and continuously learn. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest technologies and tools available to ensure our farm’s continued success.”
She also advises new farmers to surround themselves with experts. “Experts such as veterinarians, crop advisors and nutritionists can help you be successful,” she says, adding, “Farming is a very capital-intensive business, so make sure that you have a solid business plan that will ensure success into the future.”