STORY BY Linda Benedict
Ryan and Danielle Yerby have faced a flood of challenges with their 1,000-acre farm near Colfax in Grant Parish, but they continue to thrive.
Because of both their diligence and business skills, they were named winners of the Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award during the 94th annual meeting of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation in New Orleans June 23-26.
Danielle, 33, described the past few years of farming as “scary.” The couple has had to deal with low commodity prices, a drought a couple of years ago, and flooding last summer and again in early spring this year. Her husband, Ryan, 34, agreed.
“We had a substantial yield loss,” he said of his soybean and corn crops last year.
Then in April 2016, heavy rains put nearly 400 acres under water. About 100 acres were already planted in corn, which they had to subsequently replant in soybeans.
When faced with adversity like this, however, this couple just digs in and looks for new approaches to farming. They find more ways to save money on fuel, labor and inputs. The most difficult part, Danielle said, is weathering the storms emotionally.
“It’s a tornado of unknown,” she said. “You put your emotions on the back burner because at the end of the day, he needs me there. You don’t turn it off. You go to bed with it. You can’t leave work. It stays on your mind constantly because it’s not a job, it’s a life. It’s a life we’re trying to thrive at.
To help manage disasters and other challenges, they’re using new technology. Ryan is in his third season of using a drone to help operate his farm. With a remote control, he can fly the video camera-equipped drone over his land.
“Instead of being on the ground, I can see exactly where I need to go,” Ryan said of the aerial device.
The drone came in handy this spring to help him assess flood-damaged fields for insurance purposes. He does use it for non-disasters, routinely utilizing it to check on irrigation, crop emergence, weak spots in fields and weed pressure. He also uses it to keep tabs on his cattle.
The drone is not a new toy for the Yerby’s, it’s a necessity. Farmers have to keep up with new technology to “stay competitive,” Ryan said.
The Yerby’s are constantly learning the latest about farming strategies and techniques through their connections with Farm Bureau and the LSU AgCenter. Ryan has completed the AgCenter’s two-year Ag Leadership program, and Danielle will be applying for a future session.
The Ag Leadership Program, with its classes on communication and speech, has helped Ryan become more articulate in his efforts to educate non-farmers about the agriculture world.
There is so much misinformation being spread about farming practices, he said, especially on social media. Farmers are being held up as “polluters and destroyers of the earth” when it’s exactly the opposite, he said. The goal of farmers is “to improve the land and protect the water” because it’s in their best interest and vital to their future, Ryan said.
The Yerby’s wound up with 300 acres in corn and 700 acres in soybeans this year. They grow pecans as another source of income in addition to their cattle operation. They also manage the 2,000-acre farm of Ryan’s parents, Charles and Beth Yerby.
Their vision is to expand their operation with more cattle and more diversity in crops, including alternative crops. They are also looking at new ways to market their products, including direct-to-consumer.
Of the many tools at their disposal, the Yerby’s count faith among them. They said they have faith “in each other, his (Ryan’s) work ethic and, most of all, in the good Lord,” Danielle said.
“There’s not a farmer out there that doesn’t farm on faith,” Ryan said. “You gotta to have faith that we’re going to make this,” Ryan said.
More than any other factor, Ryan and Danielle are committed to a lifetime of farming because of their 3-year-old daughter, Reagan.
“Watching her grow up on the farm is why we work so hard to keep going,” Ryan said. “Honestly, I think the best day stems from the worst day. You just have a horrible day that nothing’s going right and you look at the end of the turn row and you see your family coming. You know that’s why you’re doing this. You toil and you struggle and none of it matters any more because the whole reason that you’re doing it is right there with you, being a part of it with you.”
“She is our pride and joy,” Danielle said. “This is the whole reason we’re doing it. We’re doing it because we want to leave something better. I think every farmer feels that way—to leave what you were given just a little bit better. When it’s all said and done, we need to make sure that we have something for her to go to. That we have something for her to fulfill that dream.”
As Louisiana’s top young farm couple for 2016, the Yerby’s will go on to compete for a national award at the American Farm Bureau convention in Phoenix, Arizona, in January 2017.