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Young couldn’t wait to get back to the farm, still ‘farming the same dirt’ of his grandfather

The next generation of Young farmers - Brian Young's son Christopher, at their Trimble County farm. (Photo provided)

The next generation of Young farmers – Brian Young’s son Christopher, at their Trimble County farm (Photo provided)


By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent

For many farmers, the driving force behind their endeavors is connected to tradition. And on few other farms is that stronger than on the Young farm in Trimble County.

Brian Young has grown up a tobacco producer in an area where there are still several growers; in a part of the state known for quality burley tobacco production and an area once home to one of the premiere tobacco auction markets in the state.
“I’m still farming the same dirt that my daddy’s grandfather purchased,” he said. “I think a lot of people couldn’t wait to get away from the farm, and while I was a student at the University of Kentucky, I couldn’t wait to get back to the farm.”
Young, like many producers, works an off-the-farm job in addition to the 50 acres of tobacco he and his father will raise this season but keeping the farm in the family is important to him on many different levels.

Brian Young and son Christoher (Photo provided)

Brian Young and son Christoher (Photo provided)

This year will mark another year in which the Youngs have increased production, something unusual for smaller producers in the era of a free-market tobacco industry.
“We’ve made a significant investment in our infrastructure through construction of greenhouses, barns and most recently, we’ve added a third (tobacco) bailer to our stripping facility,” he said. “This is not something we did in one year; each year we added a little to the operation.”
Another addition for operation includes the use of H2A workers for the first time who will come to the farm in August to help with the harvesting end of the season.
An adequate work force has been an issue for tobacco farmers over the last few years prompting many to cut production but for the Young’s, going the H2A route was a move they couldn’t afford not to make.
“We relied on local workers and had a pretty good labor supply for a long period of time but it has slowly diminished to the point where there were days last year when we should have been harvesting and we didn’t have any help, at all,” he said.
That lack of help put the Young harvest behind schedule which in turn put their stripping behind. Ultimately their markets closed before they could get the whole crop to those stations.
Thankfully they were able to turn to one of the few tobacco auction markets left that enabled them to sell the remainder of their crop.
Young said he was so grateful to the people running the market otherwise he doesn’t know what he would have done with that portion of the crop. In fact he said the auction reminded him of the good old days when tobacco auctions were the norm as opposed to the exception when it came to tobacco sales.
“There was a lot of laughter and smiles and I haven’t seen that in years at a tobacco market. We were very fortunate to have that outlet for those pounds,” he said. “And we were not alone. There were several farmers in the area who weren’t finished stripping by the time the markets closed and most of those issues were centered around either labor or weather.”
Young added that with the H2A labor force, when the time comes to cut the tobacco it will be cut and when it’s time to strip the crop, it will be stripped.
“We’re still not going to be able to control the weather but we need to focus on the things we can control and the labor supply is one of those things we can control at a certain cost.”
Young noted that he knew there would be added costs in bringing in an H2A crew which was one reason for expanding production this year.
While producers deal with the challenges from nature or otherwise in raising a crop, Kentucky still remains tops in the country when it comes to burley tobacco production. Young feels that the quality of the crop will always help it to find a buyer at market time.
“We have top quality tobacco year in and year out,” he said. “I feel like if we continue to grow that top quality tobacco, we’ll find a home for it.”
Young however doesn’t think the market will be able to absorb lesser quality leaf and that getting the kind of quality needed in today’s market is about timing.
“It’s all about timing. We make sure we do things when they’re supposed to be done,” he said.
Young is making decisions now that will ensure a new generation of the family will take over as he has done. He said there is something about being on the farm that is missing from today’s society.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure that the tradition gets passed on,” he said.

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995. 

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