I'm sometimes asked, "What's the ideal preparation for a next generation member joining a family business?" Ideally, I'd recommend a college education, work experience somewhere other than the family-owned business, desire rather than obligation, passion for the industry, and willingness to dive into new challenges with thoughtfulness and drive.
That description captures Tracy Schohr of Gridley, California perfectly. Tracy is one example of the brains, talent and drive that are building careers in rural American agriculture. After receiving her degree at Chico State in ag business, Tracy spent eight years at California's Cattleman's Association helping shape state envirnmental policy and advocating for ag. Tracy was involved in her family's farm and ranch operation in her spare time through those years and joined it more substantially during and after a master's degree in horticulture and agronomy from UC Davis. Since then she balances work at K Coe Isom accounting and consulting firm helping farms and ranches benefit from conservation practices and incentive programs, and then at UC Davis.
Schohr Ranch grows rice, walnuts, commercial cattle, and registered Herefords in northern California. Tracy, her brother Ryan, and parents Carl and Susan are a formidable team. She took on the challenge of updating accounting software and practices as one of her first major projects. In addition, you'll find her managing significant regulatory compliance programs and overseeing the cattle operations.
Tracy's passion, however, is environment stewardship and the opportunity to use farm and ranch land as a positive force for the environment while sustaining a profitable business. That passion has played out in projects to enhance water-bird habitat and obtain cattle grazing leases on public land by proving the positive impacts on fire fuel load and wildlife habitat. Tracy also lives that passion in her position as an extension farm advisor. That role had her organizing the evacuation/care of almost 1300 animals during the recent Paradise "Camp Fire" and collecting forage and water samples from the affected area. "Being able to help my community during that tough time has been one of the most rewarding things in my career," Tracy said. Tracy advocates for agriculture on Twitter at @beefnsushi.
Beyond that impressive resume, Tracy's example speaks to how the experiences she has had all those roles -- good and bad - are valuable to her business every day. Her family teases her at times of being a 'free agent' able to pick and choose her task of the day while working on and off the ranch. Tracy said, "I love connecting the science and policy and real-world application together. This situation works well for us because my need for variety is met and I bring lots of ideas and connections back to the ranch. Since my parents aren't retired yet, the workload at the ranch may change down the road."
Tracy and others give us ample reason to believe there is no "brain drain" in rural America. Far from it.