Dual careers give some soybean farmers the best of both worlds
Each new generation of farmers inevitably comes to a point when they must decide whether to pursue a career in farming or choose another path. Sometimes, the desire to work in an industry completely unrelated to agriculture wins out. Other times, sons and daughters pursue an education or complementary career that ultimately helps them run an even better operation when they return to the family farm.
There is a third category: those who decide to do both. Dual careers aren’t uncommon in agriculture, particularly for crop farmers who are less likely to have animals in need of constant monitoring and care.
Successfully managing a dual career path requires balance, discipline and flexibility. Soybean farmers Amy Sigg Davis of Ohio and Jacob Parker of North Carolina share how they have balanced the demands of having careers both on and off the farm.
A Legacy of Dual Careers
Sigg Davis always knew she was meant to be a farmer. Later, even when her father tried to guide her in a different direction, she still felt she would eventually choose a career on the farm.
Some of her earliest memories were of being on a tractor with her father and crying when he took her home again. What she doesn’t have are many memories of the small real estate brokerage her father also ran. “I never thought of him as working in real estate,” she says. “He was a farmer.”
Sigg Davis took her fond memories with her when she left the farm to earn a master’s degree in education and travel across the U.S. and Europe with her Air Force husband.
But when her father grew ill, Sigg Davis not only returned home to help run the family farm, she also helped operate her father’s real estate business.
“We built a house on the edge of the farm, and my dad remained as partner in the farm,” she says. “He kept his real estate brokerage, and I worked with him there and on the farm. We went back and forth together.”
When Sigg Davis’ father died in 1988, she continued his legacy of dual careers.
“I inherited his ownership in the farm, and my mom passed on her share to me. I ultimately bought out our partner,” she says.
Sigg Davis says the two businesses complement one another. “When it’s too wet to plant, I’m in the real estate office. I have the flexibility to drop everything if I need to go and be on the farm,” she says.
“I’m fully vested in both. I’m not a hobby farmer, and I’m not a hobby real estate agent.”
A Commitment to Fellow Soybean Farmers
Parker has been running his family’s century farm since 1974. He also works as an agronomist for Black Gold Farms, a large supplier of fresh potatoes for chipping.
Parker’s dual careers initially stemmed from necessity. When the economy made it challenging to stay afloat as a farmer, he found security in his work as an agronomist.
“Farming allowed me to spend some part of every day with my children when they were growing up,” Parker says. “Even if they were out doing chores with me, we were getting quality time working together. That time wouldn’t have been possible had I been working off the farm back then.”
Parker has been an agronomist with his current company for 14 years. He says working off the farm is what has allowed him to keep operations going for his family.
“I think of all those years in the 1980s when we farmers were struggling to survive,” he says. “Your farm is a part of your family. If you lose the farm, well, it’s difficult to separate farm and family.”
Working as an agronomist has taught Parker information management while keeping him current on advancements in farming. He has then been able to use that knowledge for his own farm operations. More importantly, it has provided financial security for him and his family.
“I’m retiring from agronomy,” says Parker. “But that income helped make my last land payment in December.”
Although Parker has the help of his son and his son’s family running the family farm these days, he still remains active in the day-to-day operations. His flexibility also allows him to serve in various leadership roles for the U.S. soybean industry, including the past nine years as a USB director and previous roles with the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association, his county Farm Bureau and county planning board.
“I want to do what’s best for American soybean farmers,” Parker says. “That’s why I’ve worked to balance everything I take on. I have enough sense now to say no once in a while, but I also feel the ones who are busiest always figure out a way to get the job done.”
Setting a Precedence
Sigg Davis and Parker agree that while their typical workweeks may be divided between their on- and off-farm roles, their focus is still on being the best soybean growers they can. Both farmers also want to show the next generation that they don’t have to choose farming over another career opportunity.
“Both of my children now live on the farm, having built houses on the land. They are both very passionate about the farm, so it will stay in the family,” Sigg Davis says. “Now whether they keep up the real estate side, I don’t know. But it has been an easy combination for me, and I think following in family footsteps is vitally important.”
Although agronomy and real estate helped make ends meet and then some, for Sigg Davis and Parker, the farm also represents their legacy.
“Real estate has been great, but farming has always been my passion,” she says. “Being a farmer was my ultimate goal.”