“We have a lot of irons in the fire,” he admitted. This year he hired additional labor to help out in the field and a separate part-time mechanic. “I realized that parts of the business were starting to suffer because there wasn’t enough of me to make everything get the attention it needed,” Garrabrant said.
Delegating tasks pays dividends, he noted. “We entered the spring with the machinery in the best possible condition,” he noted. This year, that seems especially cautious because blackouts aren’t what you want when the weather squeezes the season. There is also the ongoing problem of questionable parts availability.
“Having help gives me a different perspective,” he admitted. “Communication, training, work/life balance with them, respecting their time and just learning to loosen control of every task and learning to trust are some of the things I had to learn.”
“Implementing management skills is important in my small business now, and I would like to continue growing,” he added.
Turning the reins of the tractor and spreader was difficult at first, he says. He was the only person to operate the platform since its purchase in 2019. “It was like letting my baby go or watching a newly laid off teenager go for the first time.
“I trust my guy 100 per cent, and it made the transfer a little easier. It was also interesting to watch as a spectator – to see something that you worked so hard to make the work,” he said.
Garrabrant Farm Services LLC started as a business idea for a few thousand acres locally, but quickly grew to encompass the sale and land application of trash in multiple counties.
This agricultural service business has also helped support his farming business, which he would like to continue to expand. However, he admitted that finding landowners willing to take a chance on a young operator can sometimes be frustrating.
Its planter isn’t new, for example, but the 1994 model has all the latest bells and whistles of precision technology from one that is. “I have all the tools of a larger operator and can do the same job and pay competitive rental rates. I’m motivated to do well to prove myself. I just need a chance, and it’s harder to get than you sometimes think,” he said.
He also realized that he may have to look further afield for these opportunities. “Until recently, I had a very optimistic view of being able to continue to develop the operation in the region where my family roots are established,” said Garrabrant. “But I became worried about what the future holds for us here.”
Johnstown is about 35 minutes from Columbus. It was once a kind of sleepy suburb of the state capital, but the addition of giants like Amazon has pushed the populations high enough that it’s now considered a city. The announcement earlier this year that Intel would build a semiconductor chip factory in the region further amplifies the situation.
“We were recently called the Silicon Valley in the heart of the country. I’ve never been to the real Silicon Valley, so I’m not sure what any of this means or entails. But what I do know is that’s changing the landscape here.” Also add a proposed new solar farm to the land compression.
Garrabrant’s current agricultural acreage spans Licking, Knox, and Delaware counties – a stretch of approximately 30 miles. The climate and weather are like much of the Corn Belt. “We have quite cold winters and planting usually starts from late April to mid-late May. The autumn harvest begins towards the end of September.
“We don’t irrigate. In fact, we install a lot of drainage pipes to better manage the water table and so we can complete the field work in a timely manner,” he said. “Fields can be 25 acres in size where I live in Licking County, but five miles to the northeast are flat fields of 100 to 200 acres.”
USDA NASS pegged 2021 corn yields at 201.6 bushels per acre (bpa) for Delaware County at 179.8 bpa for Licking County, with Knox right in the middle at 185.6 bpa. Soybean yields ranged from 58.6 bpa to 53.1 bpa among the three counties.
“People here joke that the Corn Belt ends about five miles east of us where State Route 13 runs north to south. When you take that road, everyone says you don’t you’re no longer the corn belt,” he said.
Corn and soybeans are the main crops, but Garrabrant has built a good market for small square bales of quality hay for the horse market.
Wheat is added to the rotation primarily on acres intended for orchardgrass or alfalfa. “We’re lucky to have hay established in the fall after the wheat. We press the (wheat) straw and wait about three weeks before sowing in August,” he said. Double-crop soybeans are a possibility if the wheat comes up early and the weather improves.
The beef cattle business is something of a hobby as well as an emotional connection to his mother, Lori, who loved cattle. She died of cancer in 2009 when Garrabrant was 13.
The farm currently operates nine mother cows and one bull. Calves start arriving in April and are fattened to 1,200 to 1,400 pounds to be sold as frozen beef.
“We are not allowed to sell processed meat to the consumer, but we can sell the animal to the consumer and help coordinate the processing,” he said. “The cattle also help us to use the hay that is not of the quality needed for the horse market.”
SLOW, BUT BUSY SPRING
The weather so far this spring has been a little chilly, but Garrabrant isn’t complaining – yet.
“Our biggest challenge is getting the right conditions to plant,” he said. “We grow very clayey soils which really retain moisture. We struggle to get the soil dry enough for it to be planted – although we are trying to do more and more tiling and drainage work to solve these problems.”
Soil temperatures finally reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit last week, and a few planters have already rolled over, he reported. So far Garrabrant has focused on early burndown spraying – giant ragweed and maresttail can be real troublemakers here if allowed to establish themselves early.
“In recent years, it has turned out that once I have finished my work for others, my own land is fit to plant,” he said. “I cultivate a fairly good ground, and I cultivate a ground that is very hard and will make a person humble.
“Luckily having help leading a spray crew and keeping me on the sprayer is going to pay off with our smaller window to get the job done in the field this spring,” he said.
He points out that he may have gone his own way, but his dad is a manure and spray customer. Father and son always exchange help when needed.
“I’m excited to tell my story as a young farmer and get others’ perspectives on what worked and what didn’t work for them. I hope others take it there’s no one way to approach this agricultural activity. Being flexible and open to learning is huge,” he said.
Pamela Smith can be contacted at [email protected]
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