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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

College grad adjusting to life as a farmer

Monday, July 19, 2004

Laura Collins
SIKESTON - When Laura Collins enrolled at Mississippi State University after graduating from Sikeston High School in 1999, she chose an agriculture business major. After graduating from college, she planned to work with crop representation.

But when Collins moved back to Sikeston in May 2003, it was difficult for her to find the right job. "May just isn't the right time," she said. Eventually, she sat down with her father, Dr. Sam Hunter, and her brother, Will Hunter. The three decided her best option was to go into partnership with her brother in a row crop operation. For Collins, this was the job where everything fell into place.

Collins and her brother operate what was her grandfather's farm, located west of Sikeston. They grow corn, rice and soybeans. Right now, they are starting a small crawfish operation as well. "After all, diversification is the first thing to keep you going in farming," Collins remarked.

Although their father is the general manager of the farm and the siblings go to him for advice, Collins said that she and her brother make the decisions and operate everything on the farm.

Through general agriculture classes, Collins learned about the farming operation.

Also she had had some hands-on experience. During the summers while she was at college she crop scouted, working for three years with Agri-Tech 2000 on cotton and corn. Her last summer during college she spent scouting her family's ground.

Crop scouting is when a farmer hires a professional to look at so many acres, Collins explained. Four or five random spots were chosen in each field each week. "Then we would write evaluations and chemical recommendations," she said.

After four years of college, Collins wasn't totally prepared for what life would be like as a farmer. "I think the biggest thing was the reality shock of coming out of college and doing farm work," she said. Of course, the transition from attending classes to joining the work force usually is difficult, but Collins was doing something she had never dreamed of doing.

Collins described every day as a new adventure and learning something new every five minutes. "It's information overload every day," she said. "It's amazing what you learn." She also pointed out books can't totally prepare someone for hands-on farming.

Her brother had taken over the farm in 1999, so he was a bit more experienced. As a child, he was also the one who had gone on the farm with his grandfather, while Collins helped out in the house.

But other than a few funny looks, Collins hasn't experienced anything out of the ordinary. "I'm treated just as normal as can be expected for any young person who goes into farming," she remarked.

Actually, the number of women who are becoming principal operators of farms, like Collins, is on the rise. The National Agricultural Statistics Service documented a 13 percent increase in female farmers across the nation from 1997 to 2002. During the same time, Missouri had an 11 percent increase.

The impressions of some people that farming is easy is 100 percent wrong, according to Collins. "It is totally opposite," she commented. "It is a ridiculous amount of work that is never ending."

Collins usually leaves her house around seven in the morning and doesn't return until eight or nine o'clock at night. Her husband, Ryan, who she married last month is still adjusting to her schedule. Of course, hours fluctuate according to the weather, harvest and planting times.

All of the land they farm is irrigated, so she and her brother check irrigation lines daily and turn pumps off and on as needed. The brother and sister team also scout their own fields.

When Collins and her husband have children, she wants to teach them about the farm. "I'm not going to push it," she said. "But I do think it is a good place to learn responsibility and discipline."

Collins said that although farming is not what she planned to do, it has worked out better than she imagined. "When I'm driving home at the end of the day I look at the fields and think that I have done my best and am satisfied with this year's crop," she said. "What I have done is worthwhile."