“We have a lot of irons in the fire,” he admitted. This year he hired additional labor to help in the field and a separate, part-time mechanic. “I realized parts of the business were starting to suffer because there wasn’t enough of me for everything to get the attention it needs,” Garrabrant said.
Delegating tasks is paying dividends, he noted. “We went into spring with the machinery in the best shape it has ever been,” he noted. This year that seems particularly prudent as breakdowns aren’t what you want when weather is compressing the season. There’s also the current issue of questionable parts availability.
“Having help is giving me a different perspective,” he admitted. “Communication, training, balancing work/life with them, respecting their time and just learning to loosen the grip on the control of every task and learning to trust are a few of the things I’ve had to learn.”
“Implementing management skills are important in my small operation now, and I’d like to continue to grow,” he added.
Turning over the reins of the tractor and spreader was hard at first, he said. He’d been the only person to operate the rig since purchasing it in 2019. “It was like letting my baby go or watching a newly licensed teenager drive off for the first time.
“I trust my guy 100%, and that made the handoff a little easier. It was also interesting to watch as a spectator — to see something you’ve worked your butt off to own do the work,” he said.
Garrabrant Farm Services LLC started as a business idea for a couple thousand acres locally but has grown quickly to encompass selling and spreading litter across several counties.
That farm service business has also helped underpin his farming enterprise, which he’d like to continue to grow. Finding landowners willing to take a chance on a young operator can be frustrating at times, though, he admitted.
His planter isn’t new, for example, but the 1994 model has all the latest precision technology bells and whistles of one that is. “I have all the tools of a larger operator and can do the same job and can pay competitive rental rates. I’m motivated to do well to prove myself. I just need the chance, and that’s harder to get than you might think sometimes , he said.
He’s realized too that he may have to look further afield for those opportunities. “Until recently, I had a very optimistic outlook on being able to continue to grow the operation in the area where my family roots are established,” Garrabrant said. “But I’ve become worried about what the future holds here.”
Johnstown sits about 35 minutes from Columbus. It used to be something of a sleepy suburb of the state capital, but the addition of corporate giants such as Amazon have pushed populations high enough that it is now considered a city. The announcement earlier this year that Intel would be building a semiconductor microchip facility in the area is further amplifying the situation.
“We’ve recently been referred to as the Silicon Valley in the heartland. I’ve never been to the actual Silicon Valley, so I’m not sure what all that means or brings with it. But what I am sure of is it is changing the landscape here.” Add a proposed new solar farm to the land squeeze too.
Garrabrant’s current farming acreage is stretched across Licking, Knox and Delaware counties — a span of about 30 miles. Climate and weather are like much of the Corn Belt. “We have fairly cold winters, and planting typically begins in late April through mid-to-late May. Fall harvest starts near the end of September.
“We don’t irrigate. In fact, we install a lot of drain tile to better manage the water table and so we can complete field work in a timely manner,” he said. “Fields can be 25 acres in size where I live in Licking County, but five miles northeast, lie flat fields of 100 to 200 acres.”
USDA NASS pegged 2021 corn yields at 201.6 bushels per acre (bpa) for Delaware County to 179.8 bpa for Licking County, with Knox smack in the middle at 185.6 bpa. Soybean yields ranged from 58.6 bpa to 53.1 bpa between the three counties.
“People here jokingly say the Corn Belt ends about five miles east of us where State Route 13 runs north and south. When you hit that road, everyone says you are no longer the Corn Belt,” he said.
Corn and soybeans are the mainstay crops, but Garrabrant has built a good market for small square bales of quality hay for the equestrian market.
Wheat gets added into the rotation mostly on acres destined to be put into orchardgrass or alfalfa. “We have the best luck getting hay established in the fall following wheat. We bale the (wheat) straw and wait about three weeks before seeding in August,” he said. Double-crop soybeans are a possibility if the wheat comes off early and weather stacks up right.
The beef cattle business is a sort-of 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 runs nine mother cows and a bull. Calves start arriving in April and are fattened to 1,200 to 1,400 pounds to be sold as freezer beef.
“We aren’t allowed to sell processed meat to the consumer, but we are able to sell the animal to the consumer and help coordinate the processing,” he said. “The cattle also help us use up any hay that isnt of the quality needed for the equestrian market.”
SLOW, BUT BUSY SPRING
The weather so far this spring has been a little cool, but Garrabrant is not complaining — yet.
“Our biggest challenge is getting the right conditions to plant,” he said. “We farm some high clay soils that really retain moisture. Getting the ground to dry out enough to be fit to plant is something we struggle with — although we are trying to do more and more tiling and drainage work to address those issues.”
Soil temperatures finally reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit last week, and a few planters have rolled already, he reported. So far, Garrabrant has concentrated on early burndown spraying — giant ragweed and marestail can be real troublemakers here if allowed to get an early foothold.
“In recent years, it has worked out to once I complete my work for others, my own ground is fit to plant,” he said. “I farm some pretty good ground, and I farm some ground that is very tough and will make a person humble.
“Fortunately, having help to run a spreading crew and keeping me on the sprayer is going to pay off with our smaller window to get field work done this spring,” he said.
He points out that he may have walked his own path, but his father is a manure and spraying customer. Father and son still swap help when needed.
“I’m excited to tell my story as a young farmer and get perspectives from others on what has and hasn’t worked for them. I hope others take away that there isn’t one way to go about this business of farming. Being flexible and open to learning is huge,” he said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at [email protected]
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