Young Farmers Continue the Tradition
A few years ago, several movies decried the demise of the American family farm. Hollywood took creative license, no doubt, but the profession is and has been aging for 30 years. The 2012 USDA Ag Census indicates the U.S. farmer’s average age has risen to 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007.
Thankfully, some young people still find farming irresistible – and important. Here are a few of their stories.
Even before he completed high school, Nick Dupree knew his future was in farming. While at North Carolina State University, he commuted 50 miles daily, attending morning classes and farming back in Harnett County afternoons.
Now in partnership with his father, Roger, and brother-in-law, Brian Fox, the younger Dupree farms traditional row crops like corn, soybeans, tobacco and wheat, along with sweet potatoes. Nick’s wife, Kimberly, keeps the books for their 4,000-acre operation.
“We diversified by going into the sweet potato market in 2010, and we’re packaging and shipping them rather than just growing them,” Nick Dupree says.
“A lot of nights, I don’t get to see my children before they go to bed,” he says about children Landon, 3, and Haley, 5. “Farming is hard, but it’s rewarding at the same time.”
He believes agriculture is crucial. “It’s important to provide food and fiber for folks here and abroad,” Dupree says. The difficulty of getting into farming today worries him. “I don’t think there’s a push to get younger people in the business,” he says. “I don’t think the incentive is there. And the cost to enter farming is extremely high.”
He would love for his children to follow in his footsteps. “That’s why I work as hard as I do – to build a business for them to take over and continue.”
Yancey County cattle, hay and burley tobacco farmer Kevin Wilson’s path to farming took a circuitous route. When he was young, his father worked at a textile mill, but also farmed burley tobacco and beef cattle on the family’s 35 acres. “Being a teenager and growing up working in burley tobacco, I missed out on all the things other kids were getting to do,” Wilson says. “I kind of ‘divorced’ farming when I went to college.”
By the time he graduated and took a mining-company job near the farm, he’d changed his mind. Wilson and his wife, Haley, became increasingly involved in the farm while maintaining outside jobs. By the time his aunt and uncle wanted to sell their farm in 2010, the younger Wilsons were ready to buy.
In addition to their 35 acres, they lease another 20. “Our operation is small, but it’s a lot when you consider Haley and I both work 50 hours a week off the farm – and we have three children,” he says, referring to sons Asher, 4, Sawyer, 5, and Hayden, 8. “Farming is my de-stresser. Hopefully we can transition 100 percent to farming in the future.”
He adds, “Farming is a choice; not a lot of people choose to do it. But life is short and fragile. To use the resources that the good Lord gave you to produce food and fiber for others, well, that’s satisfying.”
John Burt crewed a tank while doing two tours during his 11-year stint with the National Guard. He received a degree in agronomy from North Carolina State University and returned to his family’s Wake County farm in 2011. Because of the burdensome federal estate tax, his father, Fred Burt, transferred ownership to his son at that time. Father and son are now the eighth and ninth generations at their 1750s land-grant farm near Raleigh, which now encompasses 711 acres.
“My dad was more of a traditional tobacco and cattle farmer,” says Burt, who consults and manages pasture for others. “I realized that was not the future we had in Wake County.” Shifting more to direct marketing, he says, “We tried to take advantage of being near an urban area.” Along with selling hay and beef locally, the farm began boarding horses. He chose the name Iron Horse Farms as a tip to his tank background.
He and wife, Rachael, and their boys Gunner, 3, and Duncan, 4, live in his grandparents’ former home.
“You look at how old our farm is – the wars it survived, the natural disasters, the ag and tax policy issues – we survived all of this,” he says. “It was important to me to be able to carry on that legacy and tradition of farming. But,” he acknowledges, “farming does present a challenge.”
“If you want a steady income and steady work hours, that’s not a farm,” he continues. “You have to be part scientist and part business manager and you have to be a marketer of your products, you have to be a mechanic, you have to be a laborer, you have to be all these things.”
Every few weeks, he fends off offers to buy or lease his land for a lot more money than he makes farming.
“A lot of people probably say I’m crazy, but I think there is value to my children growing up on a farm and learning a work ethic and our depending on God to provide for us. I don’t want to sell it for housing lots,” Burt says.
He wants to show his children that farming is a viable choice: “I don’t think there’s a career I’d be more proud of them choosing than for them to come back to the farm and tend to our family’s tradition.”
– Nancy Dorman-Hickson