Coming back to the farm offers challenges, learning curve

Scott Irlbeck grew up on a family farm near Tulia, Texas, where he spent his summers plowing, but after high school wanted to do something different. “I always wanted to work in journalism,” he says. “I’d have regretted it if I hadn’t followed that dream. As a journalist, I developed a different perspective on life and the world. I’m glad I did all that.”

But after nearly 20 years in journalism he’s come back to the family farm, working with his dad Albert and learning how to do more than plow fields.

He’s had a pretty steep learning curve since last April, when he left his job at Texas Tech to take up farming.

“It’s a different world,” he says. “At the university, everything was streamlined, every day was planned, my calendar was full. Here on the farm, I have no calendar.”

But, he says, his days are still full: scouting for aphids, checking for moisture stress, maintaining pipes for the furrow irrigation systems, prepping for harvest — duties that keep his days, if not his calendar, full.

Things have changed since he lived on the farm, Scott notes. “I’m 40 years old, and as far as modern agriculture is concerned, I’m way behind. I grew up here, but I wasn’t involved in the business side. I had no idea how much money it takes to get a crop started, or how expensive it is to protect that crop. Now, we have a lot of money in this crop — and the price is not that great.”

He says he’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to work as a journalist. For one thing, he met his wife, Erica, through his work as an agriculture reporter. They worked for competing TV stations for a while before each took different career paths. Erica is now a professor, teaching agricultural communications at Texas Tech. Of his return to the farm, Scott laughs, “She says I’m having a mid-life crisis.”

He says it’s a chance to do something new, to take on a new challenge. "It was time,” he says.

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