The First Gen Farmer – Meet Philip Frank

tfrnetwork October 13, 2019 No Comments

The First Gen Farmer – Meet Philip Frank

 

Meet Philip Frank of Cotter F in Grand Junction, CO

Hailing from Western Colorado near the Utah border, Philip Frank is taking on the entrepreneurial spirit and putting his newly acquired college degree in business to use by widely diversifying his new operation for greater stability. Raising hay and running cattle of his own, along with his custom haying and tractor work, he stays busy in a variety of areas – working to make connections and establish himself in his community as he grows.

Being a first generation producer is being an entrepreneur, and if you can embrace that entrepreneurial mindset and apply it to more than just your operation, I believe you will come out way ahead in the long run. I realized more and more that my two passions are entrepreneurship and agriculture… My passion continues to grow and I find more and more ideas I would like to pursue in my operation as time goes on. – Philip Frank on getting started on his own as a First Generation Farmer and Rancher

Although Philip was raised around agriculture on his parent’s hobby farm with goats and chickens, he didn’t have a production agriculture operation to learn from or step into after graduation. Instead he has started and successfully grown his current operation from scratch. Feeling the call that many of us know all too well, the initial idea of agriculture being a side hobby outside of a full time job and career just didn’t seem as appealing to Philip, so instead he went all in.

My fascination shifted from merely driving tractors to an overall passion for agriculture. I started to see the independence in it, and I got excited about being able to work with the resources God gave us to make a living.

Learning as he grows from the school of hard knocks, Philip keeps driving forward by focusing on his big picture long term goals and makes small adjustments as needed now to keep him on track. By teaming up with other producers in his area, he’s able to borrow or rent the equipment he lacks. He then in turn rents out no-till equipment he owns and works as a liaison with farmers and a local seed company for cover crops as he works to establish himself as an area source in that field.

One of the things we love about Philip is the time he takes to share his thoughts and experiences about his operation on social media. He challenges us all to take a few minutes of our day to share about what we do, why we make certain decisions, and why we are passionate about ag.

I try to focus on showing the work that happens on farms and ranches, as well as trying to show the passion that goes into it for most people. The vast majority of farmers and ranchers are so passionate about what they do that there is no way they would think of making management decisions that would harm the crops and livestock they grow, or the people they are trying to feed. 

Social media is the most powerful tool we have ever had to give consumers perspective on the challenges we face, and I would challenge other producers to start voicing their thoughts and their daily activities on social media as well.

In his interview below, he discusses his experience in building his very own operation from nothing and some of the challenges he has faced as he grows which range from losing land leases to lack of equipment and infrastructure. With some great advice and encouragement about diversifying and thinking outside the box and looking at the long term big picture, we hope you enjoy what Philip has to say.

 

 

Thank you so much for agreeing to share a little about your life and operation with us. Can you tell us a little bit about your family and your operation?

Both sides of my family have roots in agriculture, but they are a ways back. My great grandfather on my dad’s side of the family was a vegetable gardener in Spring, Texas, near Houston. They eventually transitioned off the farm, and my dad was raised in a city setting all over Texas. On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandfather was also the last to be involved in agriculture. He raised cattle and worked on a ranch in eastern Colorado until they finally decided to move to Denver to pursue better opportunities when my grandpa was 12. Therefore, the last two generations of my family have been entirely out of agriculture. My dad owns a small handyman business currently, doing household repairs of all sorts in Grand Junction, CO, and is nearing retirement. My mom works part time as a church secretary, and spends the rest of her time at home managing their small hobby farm with goats, chickens, etc.

I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in business this spring and have been working on building my own operation since I got out of high school. I own a small herd of commercial angus beef cattle, which allows me to sell weaned calves and a small but growing amount of beef on the rail. I run my cattle with the rancher who helped me get started up in the high country in the summertime. In the fall, winter, and spring, I run them on my own on my own leased pastures and fields. I calve in February, go to the high country in June, and move to fall pasture in late October to early November depending on the year.

Additionally, I raise enough hay to feed my cattle as needed in the winter, as well as selling some to other local ranchers. I buy and sell some hay on the side to help create cash flow and provide hay to repeat customers. For supplemental income, I do some custom haying and tractor work with the equipment I own, as well as helping another farmer during his crunch times. That farmer and I are also currently working on building a name for ourselves for our use of cover crops and no-till farming. Currently, we rent or hire out three no-till drills to farmers in western Colorado and eastern Utah, and we work with Green Cover Seed Company to provide farmers and ranchers with cover crop seed options to fit their specific programs.

We are excited about ways that we can benefit our own operations and then help other farmers with knowledge we obtain, so as to improve their operations as well.

What commodities do you currently raise?

My main commodities are hay and cattle.

The First Gen Farmer - A Bio Series

A Cotter F cow with her February born calf on summer pasture in the high country of Colorado.

Where are you located?

I live in Western Colorado, west of Grand Junction, CO. I am almost on the Colorado Utah border.

Agriculture can be a tough industry, we can’t imagine what it must be like as a brand new first gen operation without previous experience to fall back on. What made you decide to get into agriculture?

When I was 6, my family moved into an agricultural area, and though my family never had an income from agriculture, we had goats, chickens, sheep, etc. for fun. We started to grow some of our own food, and we learned exactly what it took to feed a family. My parents never planned on being involved in production agriculture or trying to do anything more than be self-sufficient, but I always had a fascination with the bigger farmers and ranchers. I loved watching the equipment, seeing the crops, and watching the process with cattle and calving.

When I was still maybe a little too young I started helping the neighbors, raking some hay, bailing some hay, and learning about equipment and farming. As I grew up I started spending more time around cattle and ranching, and my fascination shifted from merely driving tractors to an overall passion for agriculture. I started to see the independence in it, and I got excited about being able to work with the resources God gave us to make a living.

My fascination shifted from merely driving tractors to an overall passion for agriculture. I started to see the independence in it, and I got excited about being able to work with the resources God gave us to make a living.

For a long time I fought with the idea of going a different route career wise and treating agriculture as a hobby, and I just couldn’t find excitement about it. When I finished high school, I took a year off and worked full time for a rancher/farmer before going to college to earn an associates degree in agriculture science and a bachelor’s degree in business.

During that time, I realized more and more that my two passions are entrepreneurship and agriculture. I started to see that while it is a tough path to take, agriculture and entrepreneurship go hand in hand and there are unlimited opportunities to build businesses that support agriculture while I also work on building my own operation. My passion continues to grow and I find more and more ideas I would like to pursue in my operation as time goes on.

The First Gen Farmer - A Bio Series

Overseeding orchard grass into an existing alfalfa grass mix pasture. I am slowly working towards incorporating more and more cover crops and no till farming into my programs and learning how to mix it with cattle.

What are some of the challenges you face?

Finding the opportunities I need to be able to grow at a pace I can handle is a huge challenge. It’s hard to balance between growing at a rate that I can handle financially and time-wise and growing at a rate that will get me where I want to be sooner. Recently, the hemp industry has put particular strain on me, between losing some of my lease ground to hemp growers, and the decrease in other available ground to take on. Many landowners are holding out to rent to hemp growers because of the higher price they can command, and commodity farmers are struggling to keep their acreage up.

Another huge challenge that all beginners face is the huge need for equipment. I have been fortunate in having a couple farmers and ranchers that have been extremely willing to let me rent or borrow the equipment I don’t have, but it is daunting to think of eventually getting to a point of owning that equipment myself. You can’t rent and borrow equipment forever but being able to do that for now has allowed me to pursue some opportunities most people my age would not be able to.

Finally, a huge challenge on the cattle side has been getting set up with the facilities to handle my own cattle. Pasture has not been so much the issue but working corrals with squeeze chutes etc. has been a challenge. So far, I have been able to put together enough of my own corrals to do limited work, and I have been able to haul my cattle to a squeeze chute when need be. Again, like the equipment, I am slowly getting closer to being self-sufficient, building better corrals and getting set up with a chute, etc. These are challenges that I believe all beginning farmers and ranchers will face, simply because it takes so much capital to build these assets, and the payback is so slow. It seems like you just have to take it one step at a time and not get discouraged, because things will fall into place eventually.

Talk to me about the biggest rewards or your favorite part of being involved in the agriculture industry.

To me, the biggest reward of being involved in the agriculture industry is being able to get up every day and know that I am working for a greater goal – feeding people and the animals that feed people. In today’s world, everyone has an opinion on how everyone else should live their life, and I think some people are almost paralyzed by it, trying to do right by everyone. I believe in the agriculture industry strongly enough that I know every single day that I work to help feed people using the resources God gave us, I am working towards a greater purpose. As long as I am living my life ethically and morally, I will know that I have created at least a small amount of value for someone who got to eat.

To me, the biggest reward of being involved in the agriculture industry is being able to get up every day and know that I am working for a greater goal – feeding people and the animals that feed people…I believe in the agriculture industry strongly enough that I know every single day that I work to help feed people using the resources God gave us, I am working towards a greater purpose.

Social media has been really tough on those of us involved in agriculture lately – what do you do to try to combat the negative stigma? Do you have anything you’d like to say to those who are misinformed?

Social media is such a powerful tool that can be used for good or bad; I used to be mostly against it because I only saw the bad in it. Over time though, I came to realize that the best thing we can do to combat the negative opinions towards ag on social media is to show those people what is really happening on farms and ranches. Social media is a two-way street, and I believe those who bring positivity and authenticity to the world will have the greater influence ultimately.

I try to focus on showing the work that happens on farms and ranches, as well as trying to show the passion that goes into it for most people. The vast majority of farmers and ranchers are so passionate about what they do that there is no way they would think of making management decisions that would harm the crops and livestock they grow, or the people they are trying to feed.

Furthermore, people need to step back and realize the predicament they put us in, when there is pressure from one side to increase efficiency and grow more food to support an expanding population, and yet there is pressure from the other side to not use the opportunities science has given us to create that efficiency. Everything in the world is a compromise, so at some point people are going to have to step back and look at both sides of the picture.

It is our responsibility as farmers and ranchers to show both sides of equation and explain what causes us to pick one compromise vs. the other. Social media is the most powerful tool we have ever had to give consumers perspective on the challenges we face, and I would challenge other producers to start voicing their thoughts and their daily activities on social media as well. 

I came to realize that the best thing we can do to combat the negative opinions towards ag on social media is to show those people what is really happening on farms and ranches. Social media is a two-way street, and I believe those who bring positivity and authenticity to the world will have the greater influence ultimately.

Tell us about your social media accounts, websites, etc so we can follow you!

I am on Facebook and Instagram, but the majority of my activity is on Instagram, @philipcotterf. I post pictures of what I am up to in both my small operations and helping others in their operations, as well as some of my thoughts about agriculture and entrepreneurship. 

Are you involved with any organizations or programs?

I am currently not but would like to get more involved again. I am currently looking into the Young Farmers and Ranchers program with the Farm Bureau. I think it is really important to be involved in these types of programs where like-minded people can support each other, as well as spreading information to some of the people who are misinformed, so I am excited to become more involved again!

What do you wish you had known before you got your operation started?

As strange as it sounds, I can’t think of anything I wish I would have known before I got started. The reality is that I have learned lessons and overcame obstacles I never would have imagined when I got started. I have had haystacks catch fire, I have had equipment break downs I couldn’t afford, and I have pushed through times when I didn’t think it would be possible to get everything done with the time and money I had. But a lot of those challenges are unavoidable, and if I had known every challenge I would face, maybe I wouldn’t have taken this route.

I think in starting any business or making any big step there is a fear of the unknown, but maybe those unknown factors are a blessing. I guess the biggest thing I am learning that will benefit me moving forward, and would have helped me from the very start, is that it is easy to look at a bigger producer and think of the things you would like to do differently when you are that big, but the time to implement those changes is now. It is so much easier to make a change and build a habit when your operation is small, that there is no point in waiting until you are big.

I am shifting my focus now while my operation is small on creating habits that will benefit me greatly when my operation has grown to the point where it is hard to make big changes. Make sure every detail is done correctly now, and then build on it. Make sure you give your crops just the right nutrients, build the best vaccine program for your cattle for the area you are in, design a maintenance schedule that will keep your equipment in the best condition even when you grow, and make those things become the norm so you don’t have to worry about them when you are larger and stretched more thinly.

What do you want others potential first generation producers to know?

I think it is really important for someone getting started in agriculture, or any other industry to know where you want to end up before you get started, or at least in the early stages. What are your end goals? What is your ultimate plan for where you want to take your operation? It’s a lot easier to fly to the moon if you start out pointed straight towards it.

However, I also think it’s important to realize that while you need to know what your end goals are, it is impossible to know exactly how you are going to execute every step of the trip. At some point, you have to jump in and start moving. Better to be moving however slowly than to be paralyzed doing nothing.

Lastly, people have put such a bad light on those of us who are getting started in agriculture, because it does require most people to have other sources of income to supplement the farm or ranch. I would just like to remind other first generation producers that there are very few entrepreneurs in the world who have started any type of business and not had to have supplemental income for a period of time.

I would just like to remind other first generation producers that there are very few entrepreneurs in the world who have started any type of business and not had to have supplemental income for a period of time.

Yes, agriculture can be tougher because it is capital intensive, but it is not at all a bad thing to have other sources of income as well. I would challenge others though to be careful what they choose for their other source of income. When getting started, the connections you build are as important as the money you make, if not more important. Therefore, I believe it is important to pick a second source of income that keeps you in the arena of agriculture. You may or may not be able to make better money in town, but when you spend five days a week in town, there is someone else who is out among the farmers and ranchers making connections, gaining experience, building trust and respect, and finding opportunities. There are so many options for making extra money that don’t involve getting a job in town, that I would really challenge people to think outside the box. Being a first generation producer is being an entrepreneur, and if you can embrace that entrepreneurial mindset and apply it to more than just your operation, I believe you will come out way ahead in the long run.

The First Gen Farmer - A Bio Series


Philip checking his cattle which he runs on private oilfield property during the summer at about 8000 foot elevation

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to tell everyone that I am still early on in in my process of building my own operation, and have a lot to learn. These are only my insights from the little bit I have learned, compared to what I will learn in the future. I in no way want anyone to think I have it all figured out, but any time I can share something I have learned with someone who is headed down a path I have been down, I will do it. In the time we are in where agriculture has been made the enemy, it is important for us to band together and help each other out in any way we possibly can. I am excited to continue growing my operation and learning lessons, and any time anyone has questions or needs someone to bounce ideas off of, I would be glad to give any advice I can, or help them connect to someone who can advise them if I cannot.

“In the time we are in where agriculture has been made the enemy, it is important for us to band together and help each other out in any way we possibly can.” – Philip Frank

Thank you so much to Philip for sharing about his operation and experiences.

Do you have any questions for Philip?

Let us know at TheFarmAndRanchNetwork@gmail.com or comment below.