By Haleigh Powell
Gaylord Nelson, co-founder of Earth Day, once said, “The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
I am Haleigh Powell, and I’m 18 years old and part owner in a family farm operation in west-central Ohio. You may be thinking, “Where is your grandpa, daddy or uncle, and why are they letting you own part of the business?” The answer is they believe in the younger generation, and they want to train, equip and enable me to be responsible and run my own business.
As farmers, we disagree on the little things, how far apart to plant our rows, how to integrate the latest technology, what the perfect time is to plant — and the list goes on. One thing all farmers want and can agree on is the desire to see the next generation take over the farm. For many of us, farming is more than a way to make a living (if we really wanted to make money, we would go work for the EPA). For us; farming is a way of life. However, most farmers do not know how to pass on the responsibilities of running the farm to the next generation. They keep control of the farm, even when they can no longer participate in the daily activities required to run it.
Two things are wrong with this scenario:
• The older farmers are nervous about the future of a business they have invested their lives in, and this causes them to hesitantly view the next generation. This restricts the next generation’s opportunities to manage, plan and run the business.
• The younger generations are losing interest in farming because they know their chances of being able to run the farm are very small.
The whole point of raising up the next generation of farmers is to teach those who will come after us how to raise crops, manage an agriculture business and plant soybeans at just the right time to ensure optimum growth.
Growing up on the farm, in a family of seven children, my dad taught us responsibility from a very young age. We started out raising and selling produce throughout the surrounding small Midwestern Ohio towns. Even though we were so young, my father expected us to be responsible and run our little business like corporate professionals. Assisting through financial, managerial, employee and logistics issues we faced throughout the life of our business, my father always taught us how to be better professionals in the future. Whenever we made the mistake of giving a customer too much change or breaking yet another piece of equipment, my father used these little accidents as life’s teaching moments.
We eventually retired from the produce industry and went into grain farming. At the time, my grandpa was retiring, and he gave his grandchildren the opportunity to work together once again. This time we worked together growing and selling grain instead of vegetables.
My father gave us the opportunity to learn how to work and make money. This money was invaluable to us later in life when we wanted to start other businesses or invest in our farming business. My grandpa gave us the opportunity to farm his land; he trusted us because we had proven ourselves trustworthy through our hard work, ambition and willingness to learn. We have all realized that when the older generation takes the time to invest in the younger generation, more than just money is made: Memories are created, relationships are strengthened, and traditions are passed on.
Next generation’s worth
Like anything in life, letting go of something we have worked and lived with for so long is hard and, in many cases, takes time to adjust to. The next generation of farmers must prove themselves worthy of the farm, worthy of taking control and responsible for making the family farm better. Just like the younger generation must prove themselves, the older generation must be willing to pass the farm on.
Today, I work alongside my older and younger siblings to analyze, integrate and use the latest agriculture technology. Our goal as a company is to be constantly learning and using our knowledge to make us better farmers. We attend seminars, field days, Farm Science Reviews and webinars to learn more about variable-rate planting, spraying techniques and cost tracking accounting methods. We have a desire to learn and an urge to make the business better and bigger because we know our actions directly relate to how well our business does. Because we are farm owners now and not hired hands, we desire excellence in our fields, yields and technology.
Powell Family Farms is a partnership, formed in 2011 by two generations. We farm around 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. Our goal is to stay on the cutting edge of technology and go the extra mile to make our fields yield more while replenishing the natural resources found in the soil. Together, we strive to learn and grow our knowledge of the agriculture world.
Powell is from Arcanum, and attends Liberty University’s business school.