Ramseys pondering transition between generations
WILMINGTON, Del. (Nov. 14, 2017) — Like a lot of farm kids, Carl Ramsey got started at an early age.
His father Stewart recalls toting Carl in his car seat on the tractor while making hay.
Before he was a teenager, Carl was operating equipment and he’s had a big role in the hay, pumpkin and agritourism farm in northern New Castle County ever since.
“I absolutely love being on the farm,” he said, as the farm was recovering from Halloween and the bustle of pumpkin season. “There are some hard days but overall I do love it.”
Now, in his junior year at Penn State, studying agricultural business, Carl is quickly reaching the point of deciding what his next big step will be.
He said he feels well-positioned for a future in agriculture, but he said he still knows he has a lot of decisions to make.
That’s not uncommon for a college junior, but with his father’s farming operation as part of the equation, it brought up significant discussion about what opportunities are out there both on and off the farm.
“I’m starting to get to the point where you’re going to get out of college and it’s going to hit and that’s life,” Carl said.
The timing has the father and son in what Stewart called “rapid decision mode” this winter, exploring several options to give the farm and Carl the best chances for success.
“We want to make several decisions and prepare to execute and see if we can make this happen,” Stewart said,” he said. “They’ve talked about making changes in the business structure for shared ownership and protection and plan to delve further into how the farm’s revenue or income insurance can be used to reduce its downside risk from weather and other factors that negatively impact the farm.
“I feel like part of my role as long as he is interested in the farm, is for me to drive the income engine so it will make sense” for him to come back, Stewart said, adding they also plan to meet with farming friends that have recently had children come back to their family’s farm business and discuss their decision processes.
Along with planning for Carl’s future on the farm, they’re also exploring internships and other work experiences off the farm.
With Stewart working full-time as an agriculture economist, he’s been offering up suggestions on other career paths for his son to consider.
“I’m putting out there jobs that he might have experience in so he can see what that type of work is like,” Stewart said.
Carl shows clear excitement for being part of the farm’s future and helping it grow but said he’s also aware of what the other jobs can offer in experience, personal challege and salary.
“I think the farm could actually achieve it but is it there when I get out of college? Carl asked. “I don’t know yet. There’s a lot of open options.”
Set in a densely populated area north of Wilmington, expanding by adding acres to Ramsey’s Farm, albeit tough in nearly any part of the Mid-Atlantic region, isn’t a feasible option Stewart said, unless they decide to move the whole operation entirely.
“This ground is tough to compete on on a cost of production basis with the rest of the state and the country for that matter. I have to play the cards we shine on and that’s location,” Steward said. The land they lease now — once owned by Stewart’s family — is rolling and steep in places and has a lot to say about what they can grow.
“We’ve used up all the space that’s open on the farm for other activities,” Stewart said. “If we’re going to put something somewhere, we have to take something else out.”
That has them looking in the direction of intensification, finding ways to squeeze more profit out of the land they manage now.
They’ve tried pick-your-own strawberries but, “they didn’t match our season well,” Stewart said.
Now much discussion has been put to planting Christmas trees on some of their hay ground.
Stewart said that they already have a lot of the equipment they would need, and with an already-established customer base, it looks like a promising way to extend their marketing season.
“People will come up and ask us all the time for apples and Christmas trees,” Carl said. “It’s interesting how they associate different things with the products we sell.”
Another component in the discussions is analyzing the products they do sell and how they sell them. Carl and Stewart agreed they need to take more time to, as Carl said, “perfect the things we could perfect.”
Carl having a larger role on the farm could help facilitate that efficiency, but they said there’s still a lot of conversations to have and decisions to make.
“There’s things we have with our current operation that we could do better,” Stewart added. “We’re spread too thin and leave a lot of meat on the bone. Maybe Carl and I are not even enough.
“We may need another person, or two other people, to capture the vision and help move it forward.