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Maria Cox and her father, Ethan.
Maria Cox and her father, Ethan.

My father, my business partner, professor and mentor

Thank you, Dad, for giving me the opportunity to farm with you.

It’s easy to take the older generation for granted on the farm. But what happens when you become the older generation? If I’m lucky, at some point I’ll become the older generation. For now, it’s my dad.

“Ethan, how does it feel to be the oldest farmer in the neighborhood?” asked our neighbor to my dad, when we took over some food when my neighbor’s dad passed away this spring. My neighbor then looked at me and said, “Maria, I used to be in your shoes. When I was your age I thought that my dad would live forever. Now that he’s gone, I’ve not only lost my dad, but my business partner, friend, college professor and mentor.”

After wiping my tears, I thought about what my dad has taught me.

Take risks. Wow, my dad has taken some risks. Many have failed. Back in the early 90’s, he had our feeder pigs processed into pork burgers. He bought a refrigerated trailer and marketed the burgers as antibiotic-free to Dairy Queen and other local restaurants. He was truly ahead of the times but struggled with selling his product.

After he quit the feeder pig business, he jumped on the worm farming bandwagon. He ended up losing $10,000 but didn’t let this worm Ponzi scheme get him down.

Not all risks have failed. In 2006, he built cattle feedlots to take advantage of cheap by-products to feed to livestock. Twelve years later, we still feed cattle and they diversify our business and provide invaluable nutrients for our crop ground. 

Some folks do the same thing year after year. In a few seasons, we have changed the way we work the ground, fertilize, and plant. Five years ago, I spent several days disk ripping ground. Today, most of our acres are in cover crops. We are working toward a strip-till system for corn and no-till program for soybeans. We soil sample in 2.5 acre grids and apply variable rate fertilizer.

Let’s not take the older generation for granted. My neighbor lived a good life; he did what he wanted, helped people, and farmed actively until he was 85 years old.

My dad often tells me, “Maria, I couldn’t farm without you.” What I really need to say is, thank you, Dad, for giving me the opportunity to farm with you.”

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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