For younger generations who grew up on a family farm, taking over the land is a meaningful rite of passage. And with today’s young farmers being immersed in the world of technology, social media, diversity and more, their reign over the family farm is looking a little different than it did in the past.
Brandon Batten is a sixth-generation farmer (third generation on his family’s farm) in Eastern North Carolina in Johnston County. He farms at Triple B Farms with his father and uncle, producing tobacco, rye, wheat, soybeans, corn and hay on about 800 acres. They also raise beef cattle, and recently, thanks to Brandon’s encouragement, have started experimenting with industrial hemp.
“I came back to the farm full time in 2010 after getting a bachelor’s degree in agriculture engineering at N.C. State,” Batten says. At 33 years old, he observes that he’s definitely seen the need for more diversification on the farm, especially with the instability farmers are facing today with traditional row crops.
“It used to be that the tobacco industry was something farmers could always count on,” he says. “That’s not quite the case anymore. Diversification has been very important.”
One of the ways Triple B Farms is diversifying is through industrial hemp. Batten says he took hold of the opportunity when they decided they needed another cash crop, and right now, it’s an exciting thing.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about hemp,” Batten says. “I’m not sure we’ll turn into a hemp farm exclusively, but I think it will be part of our operation.”
Young Farmers Are Tech-Savvy
Along with diversification, Batten says technology has been key in moving Triple B Farms forward.
“Since I came back, we’re doing a lot of new things technology-wise,” he says. “We’ve added GPS technology, and we’re using a drone now for some crops to survey them. We’re also doing cloud-based record-keeping via smartphone and computer. All of that makes my job easier.”
He says that with technology, it’s important to engage with consumers and let them in a little bit more to the farm, as people – millennials especially – want to know about agriculture.
“It’s going to be important as a young producer to engage that customer market and let them know that agriculture is still very important,” he says. “It’s not just a guy in overalls – I have an iPad in my truck and tractor. It’s as technologically advanced as anything.”
New Ways to Connect
Like Batten, young farmers across the state are incorporating other new ideas to engage consumers and increase efficiency on their operations, such as the use of social media, the addition of agritourism aspects to the farm and innovative conservation practices.
It’s not uncommon for farms to have a Facebook page, Twitter account or Instagram presence to take consumers behind the scenes and show what’s happening on the farm. These platforms are also used to help spark conversation and engage directly with consumers to give them accurate, from-the-source information on where their food
is coming from.
Many young farmers are open to the idea of agritourism, adding corn mazes, pumpkin patches, farm tours and more to help increase revenue and connect with consumers.
Young farmers understand that being flexible is key to keep the industry growing. Batten says it best: “Agriculture is ultimately a consumer-driven industry. If you’re not willing to adapt and change with the times, you’re on the way out.”