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Zook Credits Success to Diversification, Partnerships

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, October 12, 2018

Travis Zook of LaGrange grew up on a dairy farm and started obtaining farm ground at a young age. In seventh grade, he got his first 10 acres of farmland. His father provided equipment and Travis paid for the input. From there, he continued to get a little land at a time and his farm continued to steadily grow.

"I grew up on the farm. I was born in November and the next spring I was on the tractor with mom and dad every day," Travis said. "If the tractor left, I went with it."

His dad is now one of Travis' employees, preferring to let someone else make the decisions. But Travis said he still asks his dad for advice. Travis' 11-year-old son also helps on the farm.

Travis has a small herd of 10 beef cattle. He has downsized his herd because he doesn't have the time for them, but he said it may grow in the future. His daughter knows exactly which cow had what calf and seems to have a growing passion for the animals.

"It's a good family environment to raise your kids in and I absolutely love it," Travis said. "And I know I'm raising food to feed America."

Travis said he owes a lot to his wife Sarah for all her help on the farm. Sarah does the book work, and every decision they make pertaining to the farm, they make together. During harvest, she always brings meals to him in the field to keep him going, while also taking care of their children and home. He married Sarah in 2002. Shortly after they took on Beck's dealership and they now sell seed together.

Obtaining more land is one of Travis' biggest challenges. In LaGrange, land is in high demand. He said he has been fortunate enough to have many opportunities to buy and rent land, but it can still be tough. He said knowing the right guys at the right time has helped him obtain farmland.

He believes it's also important for farmers to try different techniques on the farm and continue to learn how to improve.

"If you just keep doing the same thing, I don't think you're going to get ahead," he said. "You've got to try something different all the time."

With commodity prices low, Travis said the thing that keeps him going is his choice to diversify. In addition to selling seed for Beck's Hybrids, he is a dealer for Precision Planting. Not only does the extra income help, but it helps him get out to talk with other farmers and make connections. Travis believes it is important to help out fellow farmers in any way he can, and this is one way he does that.

"You've got to help others," he said. "Helping others maybe doesn't always put money in your pocket or do what you want, but you've got to help others and that will make you succeed in the long run."

Travis was involved with Farm Bureau for a while which helped him meet many people around the state and make more connections. He was able to talk to other farmers from all over and learn how they do things. It helped him learn to improve his farm. He said learning from other people and farmers is important.

"You about have to find somebody that's willing to help," he said. "If you've got 30 acres and you want to start farming and get big you've got to find somebody that's going to help you a little bit. I don't know anybody that can just do it themselves."

His advice to other young farmers is to enjoy it.

"You've got to be passionate about it," Travis said. "You've got to enjoy it and find the fun in it every day because there are days it's not so fun. Break downs, they're not fun. You've got to make the best of every day."

Although harvest time can be stressful and often leaves farmers scrambling to get their crops in, it is Travis' favorite time of the year.

"My favorite part is harvest," Travis said. "That's when you're out reaping the reward. The combine is one thing that I do not want to be pulled out of. Anything else, if I've got to go do anything else that's fine, but when I'm in the combine, leave me alone and let me go combine. I enjoy that."

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