Get better before you get bigger.
These six simple words have shaped the way Brenton and Justine Paxton operate their Wyoming farm and prioritize the needs of their young family. When the couple hears about land opportunities, they step back and ask: Can the two of us manage the additional work without cutting into the quality of our existing operation? Is the extra time required to farm more land worth the sacrifice to our family time?
Better before bigger is central to the message Dr. David Kohl -- professor emeritus at Virginia Tech -- delivers to young and beginning producers during FCSAmerica’s annual Side By Side conference. When Brenton and Justine heard Dr. Kohl’s advice during the 2013 Side By Side conference, they had been farming full-time for about five years. They also had two children and were expecting their third.
“It was awesome being at that Side By Side,” Brenton said recently. “It helps you look at your values. What do you really want out of life? Do you really want to run 90 miles an hour and farm 2,000 acres or do you want 1,000 acres and still be able to go on a family vacation or spend time with your kids?”
The Paxtons currently farm 700 acres, growing beets, malt barley, hay and corn in north-central Wyoming. The two of them are able to manage the land with occasional part-time help. But like many young farm couples, they want to continue to grow their operation. The key will be finding a full-time employee they can depend on to help manage the farm. The lesson of getting better before getting bigger has kept the Paxtons focused on their goals and priorities. More than once, Brenton says, the couple has decided bigger isn’t always better.