Skagit County dairy farmer Dwayne Faber said young farmers need to have more of a business mindset than farmers of previous generations and they need to think of innovative ways to run their farms.
The 35-year-old is competing in the National Outstanding Young Farmers competition, which recognizes farmers between the ages of 21 and 40.
Faber has dairy farms north of Burlington and near Mount Vernon. Since he started 10 years ago, he has grown his farms from 300 cows to nearly 2,000, he said.
He said he sees the contest as a way to advocate for farmers.
“I think being pro-active and having a voice is important,” he said. “As consumers get further and further away from agriculture, it’s more important now that we foster and cultivate voices in agriculture that can represent what we do and how we do it in an accurate manner.”
If selected as a finalist, Faber will travel in February to Westbrook, Connecticut. Four winners will be selected.
Washington State University Skagit County Extension Director Don McMoran nominated Faber after soliciting suggestions from the community. He said Faber is the fifth applicant from Skagit County to compete.
Berry farmer Nate Youngquist won an award in 2016.
McMoran said he thinks Faber’s two successful farms and public speaking ability make him a strong candidate.
“He’s a good operator in his record keeping and is very innovative in his farming practices and how he runs his farm,” McMoran said. “I think he’s got a good shot at it.”
Faber grew up on a dairy farm in Whatcom County. After graduating from high school in British Columbia, he earned an associate’s degree in animal science from a California community college. He said continuing education and business skills are crucial for farmers.
As a commodity farmer, Faber said he monitors futures markets for milk prices. On these websites, contracts are made to buy or sell a commodity at a specific price.
“It used to be the farmer that worked 15 hours a day got ahead,” he said. “Now it’s the one that has the sharpest pencil and is crunching numbers.”
He said one challenge is competition from other areas and from countries that can produce the same product for a smaller cost. Other challenges include the ability to attract workers through competitive wages and affordable housing.
To compete in the marketplace, he said he is finding ways to boost the milk yield per cow. One strategy has been the use of genetic testing to select the best breeds.
“We’re much more efficient with the resources we have,” he said.
Faber said he has found a successful business model in leasing land instead of owning it.
“Putting all my capital into dairy cows and animals, you turn the dollars over faster,” he said.
He said someday he would like to buy land, although it depends on factors such as the cost of land and labor.
Faber works with the potato farmer who owns his farmland to rotate potatoes with grasses and to add dairy manure to keep the soil healthy. He said he sees himself as a steward of the land.
“I love the challenges, obstacles and finding areas to improve,” he said. “And finding symbiotic relationships between animals and land.”
Faber will learn this fall if he is a finalist in the competition.