OWENSBORO (AP) — For young farmers in McLean County, their age in a timeless profession is both an added challenge and an asset.
Matt Turner, 29, began working alongside his father before he left for Western Kentucky University.
“I wasn’t going to farm when I left for college, but I decided, maybe it (wouldn’t be) so bad,” Turner said.
He now operates a multi-industry farm that produces poultry, row crops and tobacco, but it wasn’t until he worked in other industries that he truly appreciated farming.
“I guess I didn’t really learn to appreciate it until I went out and worked for somebody else.”
That autonomy is something farmer 26-year-old Russ Vickers understands as well.
“At the end of the day, I’m always working for me … That’s what I think makes it so rewarding,” Vickers said. “I’m not out here for some guy that’s paying me a salary. I’m doing it for me and for the betterment of myself and my family.”
His father and grandfather both farmed and Vickers decided to carry on the tradition. He attended Western Kentucky University and now produces turkeys, row crops and tobacco.
For Trenton Ayer, 21, farming has always been a career goal.
“I’ve been saying I wanted to be a farmer since I was in middle school. It’s one of the only things I’ve grown up knowing like the back of my hand,” Ayer said.
He attends Murray State University and returns home to help his parents on the weekend. He credited his parents with teaching him how to “treat the land how you would want to be treated” and how to manage others.
Ayer is using what he learns in the classroom on the farm as well, by checking for malnourishment and disease in the crops.
“It’s hard keeping up with everything going on around here during the week because I’m always down there at Murray,” Ayer said.
He said people can judge farming, either from an environmentalist outlook or from just not knowing all the facts.
Turner and Vickers agreed that sometimes farmers are misunderstood, but Vickers said the misunderstanding is from outside of McLean County.
“I’m lucky I live in a community in McLean County that’s very farmer-oriented (and) very agriculture-based,” Vickers said. “You take ag out of this county and there’s nothing.”
However, the industry is changing and it’s something all three men have noticed.
“It’s a business now. A lot of people don’t look at it that way. They think farming is just sitting on a tractor, but farming is a business,” Vickers said. “The days of just going out here and ‘to heck with the paperwork’ are behind us.”
Increased responsibilities on the business side aren’t the only changes they’re seeing in farming.
Changes in technology have allowed for more precision and higher crop yield, according to Vickers.
“Technology is probably the biggest changing thing on the farm,” he said.
But amid all the changes, there are some constants.
“We’re still planting corn, tobacco and beans, but not in the way he (my grandfather) did it,” Turner said.
Tobacco still requires manual harvesting and care. Vickers said the production of tobacco is the same as when his grandfather produced it. Turner agrees, but said the artistry behind tobacco production has lessened.
“We still have a quality product, but the way we handle it and care for it (has changed),” Turner said. “Ours are in big bales. It’s loose leaf tangled tobacco and everything they had was tied in hands and it looked magnificent, but they don’t want that any more . It’s two different generations of growing tobacco there. There’s a big gap in between those.”
Turner addressed one of the driving forces behind changes in the industry — the market.
“We’ll grow what the market wants,” Turner said. “If there’s a good price and a good market, people will grow it.”
Turner said it was a challenge to get contracts with major companies because of his age until the companies realized what an asset young farmers are.
“They really started throwing contracts out to people under 30 to keep them on the farm,” Turner said. “Sometimes that’s the only way you can get in the door somewhere is being young.”
For Vickers, though, the biggest challenge is worrying about things beyond control.
“That’s a big part of farming,” he said. “There’s a lot of things you can control and there’s a lot of things that you can do and that you need to do right, and I make mistakes on the things I can control, but those uncontrollable variables, those are the things, you’ve got to let go.”
But farming is like any other jobs, Vickers said, with days when it’s easy “and as good a job as any” and days when it’s not.
“It’s a job. It’s a business. It has its ups and downs,” he said.
In the future both Vickers and Ayer hope to grow their row crops and poultry. Turner said he hopes his work will allow his son to take over when he’s old enough, but he also has a much simpler goal.
“To stay happy over all, you know? To be able to make a living,” Turner said.
For now, Turner, Vickers and Ayer are getting up with the sun and putting in a hard day’s work.
“You see everything you do grow right in front of you,” Turner said about the tranquility of farming. “You see it change day to day, and you never know what to expect.”