Expanding comfort

Written by Kara Petrovic
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After graduating from North Carolina State University in 1996 with a degree in animal science, Jarrett accepted a job as an assistant manager with Southern States Cooperative, one of the nation’s largest farm supply and service cooperatives, in Marshall, N.C.

Everything was going well until Jarrett received the alarming news that his father needed a heart transplant in 2000.

“Those four years after college working for Southern States were amazing,” Jarrett says. “I learned so much in those short four years, but when I got that news about my dad, I dropped everything and came home to work full time on the family farm. Now, 14 years later, there’s not a doubt in my mind that I made the right decision.”

Today, at 65 and with a successful transplant behind him, Shelly says that working with his son on a daily basis means everything.

“I feel very honored that he came back to the farm and wanted to stay,” Shelly says. “I never wanted him to feel like he was forced into it. But thankfully, he enjoys the dairy and has really taken an interest in the crops.”

Jarrett says he’s extremely thankful that his father’s transplant was successful and says he doesn’t see his father slowing down any time soon.

“My dad works just as many hours as I do, if not more,” he laughs. “He may say I’m in charge of this place, but I wouldn’t be where I am without him. He’s been a great mentor. He taught me that if you want something bad enough, you have to work hard for it. He also taught me that there are times you have to put your family on the back burner because you sometimes have to make sacrifices. However, this job definitely has its benefits.”

To give their employees a break from milking during the week, Jarrett and Shelly oversee the twice-daily milkings on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to Jarrett’s help on the farm, Shelly’s younger son, Jody, who works as a lender for Farm Credit, returns to the farm on weekends to help with the milking in the dairy’s double-six herringbone parlor. Shelly’s daughter, Courtney, also returns to the farm on occasion to help.

“I look forward to getting up early every morning and working beside Jarrett,” Shelly says. “ And it’s even more enjoyable when my other two children come home to help us out.” 

Since joining the farm full time, Jarrett says that one of the worst things they’ve faced was the loss of one of their hardest working employees to a farm accident in 2008. Today, family members are vigilant about teaching all new employees proper safety procedures and following the tips themselves.

“Whatever your job is on the farm, your first goal is always to be safe,” Jarrett says. “That loss is still something that gets to us now and again, but it’s always something that’s made us stronger when looking ahead.”

As for the future of Smith Dairy, Jarrett says he hopes to increase cow numbers over the next few years. The new barn was built to hold up to 260 cows, which is close to Jarrett’s ideal herd of 250.  However, until he sees a steady cash flow, Jarrett says he plans to keep the herd where it’s at, but remains optimistic about the future.

The past years has kinder to the Smiths, but Jarrett says they also recognize the volatile market in which they make their living, which is why he and his father appreciate being members of Dairy Farmers of America.