Teach a boy to farm and he feeds others for a lifetime. As a young farmer learns the ropes, small steps cut the path toward continuation of a family legacy.
When 12-year-old Evan Kirkpatrick climbed into the box and cut his first five acres of soybeans in 2017, the harvest represented a big link in a chain connecting past and present. What is the right age for a farm kid to really learn the trade? Every farming family is unique and every child has a different maturity level, but for Evan, 12 years is prime time.
“Driving the combine at harvest was the most exciting thing,” Evan says.
After delivering his bushel bounty to a grain elevator outside of Dumas, Ark., Evan stared down at a shiny dollar figure on a crisp check. Alongside his parents, Wes and Vonda, Evan walked back to the family truck and climbed into the cab, clinging tightly to the payment. Time to seal the lid on the season? Not quite.
Variety selection, planting, scouting, treatment and harvest were complete, but one big task remained. On the kitchen table, Wes and Vonda unraveled a spreadsheet. Pencil in hand, Evan began scratching away to reveal the realities of farming and possibly his biggest lesson of the season: Money from a crop sale goes to bills before pocket.
“Evan was pumped at harvest, but we did a spreadsheet together to make sure he understood you can’t multiply bushels by sale price,” Wes says.
“We included the actual production costs specific to the five acres, and not estimates of budget numbers off the internet,” Vonda adds.
Evan was involved from the get-go, helping to choose a disease-tolerant variety before planting in mid-May with his father in the buddy seat. Alongside his parents, he scouted the crop as it progressed. A hitch in the herbicide program left a small portion of the canopy open and ripe for a weed invasion.
“One thing for sure, I learned to hate grass, and there was a little in the field when we harvested,” Evan says. With a particularly sharp eye for weeds, Evan has won the regional 4-H weed identification contest for two consecutive years.
By late September, Evan was behind the wheel of a John Deere 9870 equipped with a 35' header, cutting 38-bu. soybeans. For the first time, he had skin in the game and was excited to be in command.
There’s no room for pressuring a child into farming, says Evan’s grandmother, Darlene Stevens. “We’re going to follow this pattern and let him see how he likes it,” she says. “We’ll put the option out there, and the rest will be up to Evan. Don’t push a child; just provide the knowledge so they can make their own choice.”
“I highly recommend a degree in agriculture or business,” adds Steve Stevens, Evan’s granddaddy. “Farming used to be only a way of life, but now it’s also a business. If you’re not careful to treat it as a business, it won’t remain a way of life either.”
With five acres under his belt, Wes says track hoe lessons might be next for Evan. “These are stepping stones,” Wes explains. “We might put Evan on the bottom of the field with a track hoe to clean the ditch and make the field drain better. We want him to learn to adapt and change before the next season.”
“Don’t be afraid to let your kids make farming mistakes,” Vonda echoes. “Give advice, but let them see what happens with their choices.”