indiana Prairie Farmer Logo

Farming through the eyes of a college student

Slideshow: Coming back to the family farm requires tough conversations and complex considerations.

Allison Lund, Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

May 28, 2024

11 Slides

Most college students are worried about passing their next final or landing their dream internship for the summer. While those stressors exist for farm kids planning on returning to the farm after college, their focus tends to look a little different.

Take it from Nate Thompson, Francesville, Ind. He just wrapped up his second year at Purdue, where he is studying agribusiness management with minors in farm management, ag systems management and crop science. Thompson says he works to achieve good grades and make the most of his college experience, but his mind never fully leaves the family farm.

Thompson regularly heads home to help his father, Scott Thompson, and his grandfather Glenn Thompson run their farm, which revolves around corn and soybean production. The plan is for him to return to the farm at some point, whether that is right out of college or after he works elsewhere for a few years to gain experience.

Always in mind

With Thompson’s focus on the future of the family farm, he is constantly considering what could impact his plans to return — or completely throw them off course. For example, the proposed solar projects in Pulaski County, Ind., are something he just can’t shake when he’s at school.

“It makes it a little bit tough — like, what’s the farming community even going to look like in my case?” Thompson says. “Are there even going to be opportunities for growth, or is it just going to be struggling to survive? None of us really know how that’s going to work. Hopefully, it just kind of fizzles. But it’s hard to think about that stuff.”

Along with those concerns comes the impending succession plan the family will need to create. Thompson says there is nothing official in place — mostly just the idea that he will return to the farm and a rough timeline of when that will happen. But he knows those deep conversations need to start happening.

“There’s a very rough guideline, but it gets difficult, as you can imagine, because it’s hard stuff to talk about,” Thomson adds. “I wouldn’t say we have everything laid out like we probably should, but I feel like some of the general stuff is there.”

One of those general ideas is knowing that Thompson plans to return to the farm. However, that is another tricky area. He explains that the rough timeline he created with his family includes him finding an ag-related job after college that would give him a unique experience that he could bring back to the farm. As with all plans, this one may need to change.

“Grandpa would like me to come directly back, but I’d always planned on taking a few years to experience other jobs,” Thompson says. “I think something like that would be nice, but I don’t know — with the age Grandpa is — if I’ll have the opportunity.”

Finding his place

With that future in farming not so far away, Thompson’s father and grandfather have exposed him to new jobs on the farm and given him more responsibility. For example, this was the first year he planted soybeans.

“Within the past year and a half, I have been getting more and more involved,” Thompson adds. “This is day three of me planting beans, and last fall, I started doing a lot more hauling grain to the elevator than I have in the past. I’ve been slowly doing more things and learning more and more. Grandpa used to do some of this stuff, and now that I’m doing it, it’s just going to be mine to deal with in the future.”

Three generations farming together makes for an interesting dynamic. While Thompson is still in school and helps when he can on the farm, he feels like he already has a voice and is able to take what he’s learning in school and apply it to the operation.

One area where he had an influence this year was with soybean seeding rates. He learned in one of his agronomy courses that soybeans could fare well with lower seeding rates than his family had been using. While they didn’t bring rates down to the levels discussed in class, Thompson persuaded his family to try lower rates on one field as a trial run this year.

“We talked about it a little bit, just going back and forth,” Thompson says. “Maybe we don’t implement it to its fullest, but we’ll do a little bit of a trial.”

Although Thompson’s mind is always spinning with thoughts about his career plans, new ideas for the farm and the farm’s future, he says the decision to return home was easy.

“I feel like I have this opportunity in my hand, and I would hate to give it up for anything else,” Thompson says. “And I’d like to think that if I didn’t like doing it, I don’t think I’d be sitting in this tractor right now.”

About the Author(s)

Allison Lund

Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Allison Lund worked as a staff writer for Indiana Prairie Farmer before becoming editor in 2024. She graduated from Purdue University with a major in agricultural communications and a minor in crop science. She served as president of Purdue’s Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. In 2022, she received the American FFA Degree. 

Lund grew up on a cash grain farm in south-central Wisconsin, where the primary crops were corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Her family also raised chewing tobacco and Hereford cattle. She spent most of her time helping with the tobacco crop in the summer and raising Boer goats for FFA projects. She lives near Winamac, Ind.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like