By Zirconia Alleyne
Brian Oatts was still under the impression one of his daughters was receiving an award for “agri-leadership” when the MC announced he was the 2016 Farmer of the Year. His wife of 22 years, Carla, knew that coming up with a fake award for one of their girls was the only way to get Brian off the farm, dressed up and at the Salute to Agriculture breakfast at 7 a.m.
“I was shocked,” Brian said, about the moment he heard his name. “My wife had me fooled. She had me thinking I was going for something else.”
Brian is a fourth-generation farmer who has been in the business his whole life. As an only child, he remembers driving tractors and helping his dad and uncles grow wheat, soybeans and corn.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of school to come work on the farm,” he recalled.
Brian now has his own farm where he also grows a little canola and where he lives with Carla and their two daughters, Macy, 16, and Lexy, 14.
He and his wife are graduates of Hopkinsville High School. Carla graduated from Austin Peay State University and teaches in Fort Campbell. He did a year at Hopkinsville Community College before realizing he wanted to farm full time, Brian said.
“I can’t think of any other job I’d want to do,” he said. “I just enjoy watching the crops grow and seeing all your efforts you put into a crop pay off.”
“That’s why he couldn’t stay in school,” Carla interjected, “because he couldn’t stand being inside.”
A love for the outdoors and farming is something Brain says he got from his dad, Charles Oatts, who was also a school principal and farm toy store owner.
“(My dad) would say when the sun started shining like this outside, he couldn’t stand to be inside (the school),” he recalled.
Brian said he owes his success to God, his dad and uncles who gave him the opportunity to get started and the employees who help with the farm.
During the planting and harvesting seasons, Brian is working the land day and night, and Carla leaves him be.
“I’ll take meals to the field if he’s out really late,” she said.
He’s been a hard worker as long as she’s known him. The couple dated all through high school, and she said most of their dates were late at night because Brian would have to rush from the farm to pick her up.
“Hey, I was on time sometimes,” he joked.
Like many Ag families, juggling life around the farm is the norm for the Oatts. The girls are both involved in traveling sports teams: Macy plays soccer and Lexy cheers. Luckily, Carla said Macy just got her driver’s license, so she can help out with errands.
“It’s a whole family effort,” Carla said. “I don’t know how I’d do it without everyone’s help, including our mothers.”
In addition to his maternal role models, Brian learned to work hard from his dad, his uncle and another uncle who died recently.
“They were hard workers and still are,” he said.
With so much work to be done, finding vacation time is tricky. Most family trips are in July or just down the road at the lake; however, this year, Brian joined the girls on a spring break trip to Florida.
“I thought about not going because I knew I would possibly be planting, but I asked my oldest daughter if she wanted me to go, and she said yes.”
Carla reminded Brian that Macy only has two breaks left until she leaves for college, which sealed the deal.
Because grain farming isn’t as demanding as dairy farming, Brian said he can get away sometimes and not miss what’s going on with his crops. One way to do that is using technology.
With his iPhone, he keeps track of irrigation, the equipment in the fields, the conditions inside his grain bins and more.
“I used to have to sleep with my grain dryer when we’re harvesting,” he said. “I literally had a bed down there that I used to sleep in — and I still do sometimes — to make sure the dryers are running … but now it calls me if it has a problem.”
Brian takes pride in being a good steward of the land and makes a conscious effort not to use more pesticides than needed. He’s also willing to try new techniques on the land.
“There’s a lot of times we’ll take a field and do three different treatments on it to see what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “That kind of thing just intrigues me.”
Looking toward the future, Brian said everything is cyclical in farming — a few good years comes with a few bad ones.
“It’s tough this year, and it’s going to be tough to make a profit,” he said. “But it’s hope for the future. You’ve got to think next year’s going to be better, and this downturn will end.”
Having a positive outlook and loving farming keeps him motivated during the rough years.
“It’s got to be in your blood,” he said, “and if it’s not, then you can’t do it.”
Best family trip: Vegas and seeing the Grand Canyon
Hobbies: Bow fishing and quail hunting
If you had to choose another job: Storm chasing
Go-to field meal: A turkey sandwich and Mountain Dew
Best farm implement out: The corn planters and all the technology in them
Greatest advancement in farming technology: Real Time Kinematic GPS
Most useful tool/gadget you own: My iPhone