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Ag Entrepreneur: A jump-start into farming

Helping out on his parents' farm near Ramer, Tennessee, was a role Randy Stanfield fell into instinctively. He liked working long days and willingly climbed into the tractor seat in early mornings.

Now, at 23, he's still driving tractors, farming for himself. With his wife, Molly, he rents 1,000 acres, sharing equipment and labor with his father, Arnold, and 28-year-old brother, Rodney.

"We all three rent land and farm full time," he says. "Farming is all we've ever done and all we've ever wanted to do."

Randy and Molly raise cotton, corn, soybeans, and hay. They own 60 beef cows and graze them on rented and owned pasture. Molly, who also comes from a farm, teaches family consumer science in the local high school.

Randy knew as a youngster that he wanted to farm. At age 10, he got a special loan from the Farm Service Agency, and with his brother, they bought 10 cows.

At age 15, he rented 400 acres of farmland from several neighbors.

"My father helped me," Randy says. "He went with me to talk to our neighbors, explaining that I was working with him and wanted to get started on my own."

Rental agreements grew from there. Today, Randy rents from 20 landowners.

He rents some land for cash and some on shares. "Share rent is the fairest arrangement," he says. "That way, if you lose a crop, renter and owner both lose. Cash-rental arrangements are getting more risky because rates are getting higher. But as long as landowners aren't asking a really high rent, I prefer cash rent because it means less paperwork."

Randy's open-handed manner with landowners may help him cement loyal relationships. For starters, he doesn't try to sway landowners' choice of rental options when negotiating for new land.

After making landowner agreements -- particularly for share rental -- he lets them know how the growing season went and the crop yield and price status.

"I document each of our shares and show them the figures," he says.

Sharing equipment helps the family control production costs. The family's goal is for each individual to eventually hold an equal investment in machinery.

His parents' farmstead and shop serve as the staging ground for the family's cropping enterprises. Besides sharing equipment, the Stanfields share labor for fieldwork. Randy and Rodney typically combines, while Arnold trucks crops from the fields. Molly and Randy's mother, Charlotte, also combines and operates equipment that packs cotton for the gin.

Randy's farming start while still in high school earned him the title of 2005 Tennessee Star Farmer. The award recognizes outstanding state participants of the National FFA Organization.

He continues to support FFA by annually digging soil pits needed for local students to practice identifying soil types and judging soil quality. It's Randy's way of giving back to the life he loves.

"Farming is just in my blood," he says. "I'm going to be farming for the rest of my life."

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