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Radke: 11 tips for young beef producers

In early June, I spoke at the Beef Improvement Federation in Athens, Ga. One of the sessions during the BIF Young Producer's Symposium featured Kevin and Lydia Yon, owners of Yon Family Farms, an Angus, SimAngus and Ultrablack seedstock business located near Ridge Spring, S.C.

The Yons started their business from scratch and offered advice on how they went from working for another rancher to building their own 1,500 head of brood cows on 3,600- plus acres.

Here are 11 things I learned from the session. If you're a young producer, I hope these tips will be beneficial to you, as well.

1Learn the ins and outs of business

"The production side will come to you, but learning the business side takes some time," said Kevin, who studied animal science at college, but said in hindsight, he would have focused on agricultural business instead.

2 Take advantage of networking opportunities

"This business is more about people than anything else," Kevin said. "Attend events or pursue agricultural jobs off the ranch that will further your network and help you make connections. There are many complimentary job opportunities in the beef industry that will help you buy the groceries and also build your network."

3 Live modestly and put your money to work

"Everything we had we poured into the farm to make it better," Lydia said. "We didn't do without, but we didn't have a lot of extras either."

4 Have shared dreams with your spouse

"Just because farming is your dream, doesn't necessarily mean it's your spouse's dream," Kevin said. "It's a big commitment that you both need to be passionate about. Be careful about the spouse you choose. They don't have to be involved in agriculture, but it sure helps if they understand and support what you're trying to accomplish."

5 Know your vision

"Where are you going to be when you get where you're going?" Kevin asked. "What is your vision? Nothing we do in the beef cattle business is very fast. Everything moves slow, but with time and a vision, you can accomplish your goals."

6 It's not always paradise

"Every day isn't going to be great," Lydia said. "Some days are going to be bad and not go your way. It takes cooperation as a family and patience, too."

7Find solid mentors and ask questions

"We learned early on to listen to those who know more than us," Kevin said. "We have had so many great mentors over the years who are older and wiser than us. There are so many people who are willing to help you out and want to see you succeed."

8Focus on stewardship

"Take care of the cows, and they'll take care of you," Kevin said. "We are stewards of what we've been given. We are grass farmers who happen to use cattle to harvest our grass crop."

9Talk openly about finances

"Borrowing money comes with the territory, and ranching often requires large sums of debt," Lydia said. "It can be stressful, especially if you're debt averse. We also believe in talking finances with the kids, so growing up, they understood that the ranch isn't just a fun place to live. We wanted them to understand the business side and to have a strong desire to work."

10 Get creative as you expand

As the Yon children moved back to the ranch, Kevin and Lydia encouraged them to find innovative ways to expand the operation. They've diversified with new breeds, invested in the pecan business and are farming more of their own feedstuffs, for example.

11 Don't give up

"There's nothing wrong with being bull-headed," Kevin said. "Everyone has a dream, but it's up to us to write our story. Through passion, family and faith, you can achieve your dreams."❖