TRANSITION OF A FAMILY FARM IS A WORK IN PROGRESS
Andrew and Clarissa Cauthorn on their farm north of Mexico, Mo.
Clarissa Cauthorn is not new to the Farm Bureau world, but she does have a new title, Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee Chair.
Many young adults her age may still be figuring out their future, but Clarissa and husband, Andrew, have a clear direction. The couple is working to preserve and improve their family farm legacy.
Twelve miles north of Mexico rolls farmland that has been home to the Cauthorn family since 1837, except for a brief stint during the Great Depression. Here, Andrew and his dad, John, work a farm of around 1,000 acres. Clarissa describes it as the average Missouri farm. However, there is something special about a new generation taking the reins.
John has started the transition of passing management of the farm to Andrew. The process is intentionally slow and deliberate.
“I run all of the ground that we own and dad handles the rented land,” Andrew says. “It’s nice to know where I stand on the farm. Dad and I are pretty open about it. Dad’s 72, so he’s backing off. We’re doing it in steps, but he’s ready to retire and take off in the camper whenever he wants.”
Clarissa describes them as lucky, “We are very blessed to have the opportunity and very excited for it, but at such a young age to be making these steps is a lot of responsibility for the legacy of our farm.”
It may be a lot of responsibility, but young farmers these days are savvy, smart and up for the challenge.
The Cauthorn farm consists of a cow-calf operation as well as row crops. In a nod to diversification, the couple also does some custom planting, combining, and trucking for neighbors. Andrew farms full-time, while Clarissa sells seed for Beck’s Hybrids. Her off-farm job allows her to learn about what other farmers are doing in an area that straddles up to 50 miles on each side of I-70 in central Missouri.
Clarissa often hears about new ideas and farming techniques in her travels. She is more than willing to share them with Andrew. Some are accepted and some are tossed aside as incompatible with the Cauthorn farm. Married two years ago, the couple understands their partnership must be strong to handle the challenges almost all new farmers face.
The struggle to find land to rent or own in the right location and price range is difficult. More established farmers and outside investors often have the financial backing to purchase land at higher prices than younger farmers can afford.
“I have hope that people will stop seeing farming as a high income source instead of a large capital business with less than minimum wage returns,” she says. “That’s all you can have in farming a lot of the time — hope.”
She knows the farm transition from her father-in-law to husband is happening earlier than in most families. Many sons and daughters do not see a generational change of land until a much later age.
“A lot of guys that I work with have a 70-year old dad like Andrew, but are 40 years old and just now doing that transition. It’s good to start the conversation early and openly, because families and farmers can get frustrated with each other. It’s not an easy conversation and it only comes up every 30 years or so,” Clarissa says.
She credits the Young Farmers & Ranchers program and her position on the YF&R state committee for giving her a new perspective.
“It opens your eyes when you start to see that there’s not necessarily a wrong way to farm as long as you’re taking the best care of your land, taking the best care of your family and doing the best things you can to take care of your environment. There’s different ways for different people, for different farms.”
To make that connection to consumers, the Cauthorns believe communication is key. “Telling your story is important. When the conversation is brought up, you don’t need to shy away from it,” Andrew says.
Clarissa adds that “consumers are not coming from a vindictive side of thinking. They just don’t understand [the process].” In an age of social media, she says conversations can become polarizing and when possible, it's always better to have face-to-face conversations.
She credits leadership opportunities available in Farm Bureau and commodity organizations for her communication skills. She honed those skills competing in the YF&R Collegiate Discussing Meet, where she made it to the last round of four contestants at the national level. Learning from the experience of competition as well as other individuals is invaluable, she says.
The young farmers agree it helps to be knowledgeable. An example is the grassroots development of Farm Bureau legislative policy, which starts with the questionnaire in this issue of Show Me MFB. “It’s nice to be able to explain why some of Farm Bureau's policies are there and why they were put up,” Andrew says.
Clarissa and Andrew are active in many organizations at the local and state level. Andrew is the president of the Audrain County Cattlemen’s Association and Clarissa is treasurer. She is also the secretary for Young Farmers and Young Farm Wives, on the Mexico FFA advisory board and Audrain County Farm Bureau board.
Clarissa cherishes her experience as committee chair and advisory member on the MFB board. She happens to be the first woman to fill the role. But, she started small and local. “It’s so important for you to build the community close to you, before you reach outside of your local circle,” she says. “No one wants to neglect their local involvement before stepping out into the wider world. Agriculture is just too broad in scope and there is so much to learn right at your doorstep.”