Jill Lambert cradles the phone between shoulder and ear while a John Deere tech rep talks her through a repair that has stalled planter operations. Uncle Gary has already tried his hand at the fix, but she's determined. Daylight is burning, soil conditions are perfect, and the season for getting corn in the ground has already stretched on too long.
Lambert admits when she initially came back to the northeast Colorado farm, she often let her father, Doug Queen, and his brother, Gary Queen, handle such mechanical meltdowns. But one day, she woke up determined to put a modern day agricultural twist on Rosie the Riveter saying: "I can do it."
"I knew if I was going to make farming my profession, I had to be more than a tractor driver," Lambert says. "The conviction that I could do most things had to start with myself."
Doug Queen isn't surprised by his daughter's tenacity. He watched her grow up in these fields. He'd put her precision ability to maneuver a grain cart up against any NASCAR driver. However, it wasn't always clear her path would turn toward farming.
There was a 13-year period when high school graduation led to college, marriage, two children, city life and a successful career managing a medical laboratory. Yet she could never quite shake her rural hometown roots, and the desire to have a better balance between work and family.
Stay-at-home mom was her goal when she and husband, Chad, moved back to Brush, Colorado. She volunteered to help with wheat harvest, and then millet harvest, wheat drilling and corn harvest. That was six years ago and she's been working full-time in the 15,000-acre dryland operation since.
Last year, Doug Queen proposed a business arrangement to give his daughter a broader look at management. She leased 430 acres coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program and all the equipment to operate it.
"I am fully aware of the hours that go into sitting in a tractor and combine, but what I needed was opportunity to learn about the money and the stress that goes with farming," she says. Signing up for farm programs, ordering inputs (seed, fertilizer, chemicals) and marketing the grain fell on her shoulders.
"I spent the months of July, August and September stressing about having enough moisture. At one point, a fire burned right to the edge of my field. In October, I started calculating the 'what ifs' on how and if I would be able to pay all my expenses," she says.
The reward for all that worry came as her first crop flowed into the combine. "Dad is forever asking how many loads came off each field. Now I get why that's important," she says. She eked out enough to do it all over again in 2017. Every penny of profit came with a lesson no book can teach.
Like many of her generation, Lambert enjoys telling her story and advocating for agriculture through her website, photography and blog posts. Her social media presence proclaims: "I'm not the farmer's wife. I'm the farmer."
Surrounding her children with local community is also part of the picture. For Lambert, the fact the decision to come home was based on choice rather than obligation or necessity grants a thankful attitude born out of perspective. Even the final wrench turn on a small, but successful planter repair can be soul fulfilling if you are determined to see it that way.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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