Young farmer award winner attributes success to good advice, thinking big

Linda Benedict  |  9/15/2015 12:05:58 AM

Linda Foster Benedict

Two of the biggest challenges for today’s Louisiana farmer are finding more land and getting public policy to fit the best interests of agriculture.

That’s according to Danielle Yerby, 32, of Colfax in Grant Parish. She was recognized at the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in New Orleans June 25-28 as the 2015 Outstanding Young Farm Woman.

She’s the financial manager in the farming partnership she has with her husband, Ryan Yerby. They grow corn, soybeans, cattle and pecans on about 900 acres in the Red River delta of central Louisiana.

“I’m in charge of anything related to the dollar sign, and Ryan’s in charge of anything related to the dirt,” Danielle said.

They also have a partnership with Ryan’s parents, Charles and Beth Yerby. The younger Yerbys operate Taureau Farms, named after a bayou that runs through the family’s property. The older Yerbys have Keystone Farms. Their joint ventures are under the name of K&T Farms.

Danielle, whose hometown is Branch in Acadia Parish, did not grow up on a farm. And although she graduated from the LSU College of Agriculture in 2006, her goal was a career in human resource management and not running a farm business.

“I didn’t even take an accounting course,” she said.

But when she and her husband – a 2004 LSU College of Agriculture graduate in ag business – got the offer from his parents to join them seven years ago, the young couple decided to take the leap. They left safe jobs in Gonzales – he with John Deere and her with Profiles International, a human resource assessment firm – and entered the risky world of farming.

The gravity of her decision sank in shortly after their move when her husband announced they had 11 months to pay back their initial $120,000 loan.

“I think I cried. It was such a shock. I was only 26 years old,” she said. That seemed like a mountain of money back then.

She dug in, made contacts and drew upon all the resources at her disposal to learn how to run a farming business successfully.

“I’m not afraid to ask questions,” she said.

She’s also not afraid to let trusted experts see her financials. She thinks sometimes farmers guard their bookkeeping too closely, which prevents them from getting the help they need.

She also doesn’t let sentimentality about family farm traditions get in the way of making good, hard decisions.

“You don’t grow cotton just because your family always grew cotton. You have to look at the numbers,” she said.

She attributes her can-do attitude and ability to tackle life changes partly to her years in 4-H, which spanned fourth grade through college.

“4-H builds character and teaches responsibility,” she said. “You have to take ownership of a project whether it fails or succeeds.”

As luck would have it, her part-time job all five years of college was working for LSU AgCenter wheat breeder Steve Harrison.

“I didn’t realize I’d be able to put to use what I learned from him,” she said, adding that she still calls on him with agricultural questions.

Her Acadia Parish county agent while in 4-H was Ron Levy, now the LSU AgCenter extension soybean specialist based at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Station in Alexandria. She calls on him, too, as well as the other AgCenter specialists at the station.

Other people she relies on for advice include crop consultants, chemical and seed salespeople, and her in-laws. She said her mother-in-law taught her the importance of keeping the farm business separate from home affairs.

“With farming you have good years and bad years,” Danielle said. She doesn’t believe in taking money from the farm business to splurge on a vacation, for example, if there is not enough money in the family account.

And 2015 has not been one of those good years for the farm with all the rain and weather problems that disrupted spring planting.

“This is one of those years you save for,” she said. “We’ll be lucky to break even.”

The wet spring was good for the pecans, however. The Yerby family has 1,300 trees and should see a profitable harvest in the fall.

In addition to her farm responsibilities, she has a full-time, off-farm job. She’s the events and communication coordinator for the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce in Alexandria, only about a 25-minute drive from her home.

“It’s our safety net,” she said of the job. In case things go wrong on the farm, she wants to be able to keep a roof over their heads, she said.

One of the frustrations of farming in today’s contentious society is dealing with the ramifications of misguided public policy decisions. Danielle sees too many politicians being influenced by activist groups who do not have the facts straight.

To help address this lack of knowledge, she sees herself becoming more involved in the political discourse. She plans on applying for the LSU AgCenter’s Ag Leadership Program, which is a two-year program in which members of the agricultural community are exposed to the information and contacts they need to become spokespeople for agricultural interests. Her husband, Ryan, is already a graduate of the program.

Her plans for her farming operation include expansion both in land and cattle. For example, she wants to upgrade the landing strip on their property so people can fly in from all over to buy cattle.

“I would like to become the King Ranch of central Louisiana,” she said with a smile, in reference to the famous mega ranch in Texas. The Yerbys now have about 115 head of cattle. Future plans include custom breeding and online auctions.

Danielle would also like to acquire more land, which is difficult to do with the high demand, although they just recently bought 60 acres.

They also have plans to build a new, bigger house for an expanding family. Daughter, Reagan Jewell, is now 2.

“I have a long candle that I’m burning at both ends,” Danielle said.

This Farm Bureau award that recognizes her management skills is most likely only the first of many she will receive during her farming career.

Linda Foster Benedict is the associate director of LSU AgCenter Communications and is the editor of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.

 

The summer 2015 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine includes articles on a variety of topics that affect Louisiana’s agriculture industry and the environment – water management at Catahoula Lake, 4-H youth wetland programs, artificial reefs for water conservation, corn nitrogen management in saturated soil conditions, and more. 36 pages

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