On The Farm

Growing My Perspective On Millennial Farmers

Chad, a California farmer, can’t imagine farming without his iPhone.

He considers himself a progressive farmer who embraces technology and likes to experiment with cutting-edge techniques to improve sustainability and efficiency on his land.

Two such advances include using smartphone applications to manage irrigation and investing in GPS-controlled tractors.

“Rather than guessing or collecting data by hand, I can instantly and accurately monitor the crops’ water use and water needs via apps, then schedule and apply the correct amount of water needed,” Chad explained. “The GPS navigation systems help increase precision in the placement of crop inputs such as seed and fertilizer, reduce driver fatigue and allow for more efficient operation during low-visibility conditions.”

Chad, like many young farmers, is modern- business savvy. He’s drawn to the farming industry’s dynamic opportunities for the present and future, but one of the greatest influences was an old-school grower — his grandfather, who was hired in the 1950s by private investors to plan, plant and manage citrus groves just outside Los Angeles County, including a 3,000-acre orchard that Chad grew up on.

The orchards that his grandfather planted were eventually ripped up to make room for housing developments. It was a pivotal time for Chad’s family: His grandfather painfully retired, and his father went on to sell insurance and work other agriculture-related jobs. (Chad’s dad works for him now.)

There was no inherited pathway for Chad to continue the family business, so he had to create his own.

He earned a degree in plant science and upon graduation found a farming niche an hour east of Los Angeles.

His climb was neither easy nor predictable. He sometimes worked 20-hour days, seven days a week to get his business going. In between his hustle, he got married to a fashion entrepreneur and started a family.

When one door would open, another would shut. Chad recalls tractor and farm supply vendors not returning his calls because of how young he was. Not discouraged, Chad pressed on.

“I got my work ethic and dedication from the example my dad set for me,” Chad said. “As a child, I was my dad’s shadow and would follow him around the ranch, always captivated by what was going on and giving him a hand whenever I could.”

Chad’s business strategy going into farming on his own was a focus on leasing open land earmarked for future development (but standing idle) and buying small businesses from retiring farmers with whom he built strong relationships. Within 10 years Chad went from renting 30 acres to farm alfalfa with the help of a small business loan to leasing 1,800 acres and employing 28 employees to grow alfalfa, corn, wheat and oats for hay and silage.

Chad inspecting his wheat

Chad inspecting his wheat

His ultimate goal is to one day own his own ranch.

Chad and I met a few years ago, but until recently we never spoke in depth about his career. What more did I need to know about what he did for a living? I knew he farmed, which meant he buys seeds, plants the seeds, irrigates his crops and harvests them. Then repeats.

I underestimated Chad — another example how first impressions and stereotypes can be deceiving.

Now in his mid-30s, he’s taking stock of his business and making plans. Some of the areas he farms have been designated for residential and commercial development, so Chad needs to think about new opportunities.

So what’s next?

His business plan isn’t finalized, but I can share that he and his wife are considering a move away from farming silage and hay to farming fruit in a much more tropical region of the world. He will have more to share about his plans this summer.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Leah
    04/10/2016 at 10:12 am

    Maybe the real story isn’t so much about the technology, although farming has been going in this direction for years now. But, that this generation of farmers seems to be looking outside of the US borders in order to continue in business. Just a thought. Those farmers that don’t have heavy inheritance have a hard time “making it” here.

    • Reply
      K.L. Andersen
      04/10/2016 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Leah – That’s a great insight and one I would enjoy exploring further. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Reg
    04/11/2016 at 3:45 pm

    Entrepreneurs tend to move toward opportunity. Sometimes it’s land and sometimes it’s markets. And sometimes it’s the spaces in between on the supply chain. As an old guy who has had to re-invent many times, I learned that’s what passes for normal. Re-invention

    • Reply
      K.L. Andersen
      04/12/2016 at 2:03 pm

      Hi Reg – I will be following Chad’s progress and sharing his next moves on the blog. His story is a series of re-inventions.

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