Often sporting his signature cut-off pearl snap shirt, Kelly Garrett is quick to throw his bald head back in laughter. When he’s not on his Crawford County, Iowa, farm, Garrett can be found confidently passing along his wealth of advice to fellow farmers. He shares his knowledge and endless curiosity through XtremeAg, where Garrett is a leader, as well as in blogs on Agriculture.com.
It hasn’t always been this way. Garrett sat down with Successful Farming to reflect how far he’s come from his start as a college dropout and scared young farmer.
SF: Did you always want to farm?
KG: I always wanted to be a farmer like my dad. I graduated high school in 1993 and went to college with the intent of going to the board of trade or a bank. At that time, I didn’t feel that the opportunity to come back to the farm was going to be there. I actually quit school after three semesters and started working construction. I did not want to be indoors. I stayed in Ames because my wife, Amber, was in school. Then the opportunity came up to rent a farm at home, and I jumped at the chance.
SF: So you dropped out of college?
KG: I wonder if I tried to educate myself and pay attention when I was young like I do now if I’d be farther ahead. At the time, it just wasn’t interesting to me. I think so outside the box that being inside that classroom wasn’t for me.
When I proposed to Amber, I said the caveat was that I was moving home to farm. She still said yes.
I think it’s important to live away for a time. It allows that dynamic to change so people don’t look at you like they did when you were 12 years old. It gives you time to grow into your own person.
We came home to farm and lived less than two miles away from where I grew up in my grandparents’ best friend’s house. We were so fortunate to get that house. We were going to wait five years to have kids, and she got pregnant right away with Connor. We didn’t have any money. She was working full-time and I was starting to farm. Then when she had Connor, she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.
I was scared to fail. I shingled. I built decks. I poured cement. I did that for about three years until we got our feet underneath us. The farm was able to support us at that point, but there was no extra money at all.
SF: Now that you’re a dad, do you think differently about farming?
KG: Mom and Dad allowed Amber and me to be partners and gave us an opportunity, but we had to pay our own way. We learned the value of a dollar, work ethic, and commitment. I try to do that with my sons. All of them are on the farm. I don’t want to make it too hard that this life is no good, but I don’t want to make it too easy that they don’t understand the value of things or grow into that role. My most important job is to allow them each to have their own spot and not step on each other’s toes.
SF: Is there a growing season that stands out?
KG: I would say the harvest of 2012 because of drought. The corn made 105 bpa [bushels per acre]. It turned out to be a profitable year because of crop insurance, but I relied too much on my agent. He did a great job, I’m still with him today, but it was scary for me not knowing. That’s when I started to educate myself more so I could have peace of mind and security. It’s really what propelled me to where I’m at today. I started seeking that education and have never stopped.
SF: Is that when you started connecting with peers for XtremeAg?
KG: Because of the drought, I educated myself more on the business side with crop insurance and things like that. It made me seek out drip irrigation. With that came the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) yield award. You could really say the drought, then drip irrigation, then the NCGA award is what led to XtremeAg.