Joanna Carraway is the 2013 winner of Tomorrow’s Top Producer Horizon Award. Her record keeping, financial management and expansion analysis skills helped Carraway Family Farms thrive under challenging conditions.
A young Kentucky farmer thrives amidst adversity
Joanna Carraway is goal-oriented. Not a bucket-list, dreams-of-the-day type of goal setter; Carraway sets goals she will accomplish.
Carraway has lifetime goals, yearly goals and short-term goals. "Joanna will even set daily goals," says her husband, Craig. "It drives me crazy."
Carraway was combining a corn field on their western Kentucky farm not long ago. They moved fields late enough they should have parked the equipment and went home. "I was determined to finish it," she says. Her father-in-law, Steve, calls her at 10:30 p.m. and says, "So, I guess you’re going to finish this field?" She says: "Yep, you all go home."
A few hours later, that field was checked off her list, and she went home. Goal accomplished. "That is just the way my brain is wired," says the 35-year-old farmer. Carraway’s driven personality and analytical nature is what has helped her family’s Murray, Ky., crop operation thrive during adverse conditions.
Every corner of farm country has its own unique challenges. For the Carraways, the biggest challenge has been no rain. In 2006, the couple bought into his family’s farm, which includes a partnership with Craig’s parents, Steve and Freda.
They had a banner year growing white and yellow corn, soybeans, winter wheat and tobacco. It was so encouraging that Carraway left her job at a software development company to join the farm full-time. Craig had left his ag retail sales job in 2003.
In 2007, it quit raining, and has hardly rained since. Corn yields on Carraway Family Farms have come in under 100 bu. per acre five of the last seven years due to drought. In 2012, corn only made 31 bu. per acre.
Carraway says nothing teaches you to manage money better than not having any. In 2007 they were facing a trying financial situation. Carraway knew it was time to nitpick their financials and business plans and make some management changes.
For the past decade nearly the exact same group of men has been working for the Carraways.
Craig’s family had always bought crop insurance, but hadn’t had a crop insurance claim for years, Carraway says. "Then we came back to the farm and it quit raining."
Necessary Changes. Due to consecutive years of low yields, Carraway knew she had to ramp up her understanding of crop insurance. "It took me a week, but I studied everything I could find about crop insurance," she says. "I set up a spreadsheet that I could plug in the bushels we would potentially make, with a price, so I knew exactly what the crop insurance would pay."
Jody Jones, a River Valley Ag Credit loan officer, handles the Carraway’s crop insurance. "I had seen Joanna work hard in the field, but little did I know how smart she was when it came to the business side of agriculture," he notes. Jones says Joanna will often tell the crop insurance adjusters and him the crop insurance claim amount before it is even worked.
Her knowledge of crop insurance has proved to be financially valuable. Twice, their crop insurance checks were significantly less than what she had determined. By having her spreadsheet to show as proof, they were able to have the claims corrected.
Having a good team of advisers and partners, such as Jones, has been vital to the Carraways operation.
After a tough 2007, they decided to add more tobacco acres because it was the highest value crop on their farm. To do so, they needed to set up irrigation and build additional tobacco barns, which had a hefty price tag.
"The bank we were with at the time told us we couldn’t add any more debt," Carraway says. "I showed them on paper how the expansion was going to add a huge amount to our farm income and be the safety net we needed, but they still said no. So I went bank shopping."
With a little extra effort they were able to find a bank willing to take a chance. "We were really fortunate to find Heritage Bank," Carraway says. "They believed we had a good plan and were a good idea; while on paper, we did not look like a good idea."
- March 2013