Student Spotlight: NC State Helps Ethan Jordan Address Real-World Farm Questions

Student standing beside tractor.

Ethan Jordan on his family's Columbus County farm.

NC State University junior Ethan Jordan lives in two worlds: On the weekends, he’s usually running a tractor, working in the shop or doing paperwork on his family’s Columbus County farm. Then on weekdays, he’s on campus, pursuing a degree in agribusiness management.

These two worlds came together recently as Jordan conducted research to find out if an investment in irrigating soybeans had paid off on the farm. His mentors, Julianne Treme and Barry Goodwin of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, taught the ARE 455: Agribusiness Analytics class that inspired the research.

As part of NC State’s 26th Annual Spring Undergraduate Research Symposium in April, Jordan presented his findings: The system not only protected the farm from drought, a cost-benefit analysis showed that the system was a wise investment, he said.

Jordan said he found the information useful both for his family and for his future: He hopes to return home to play a leadership role on the farm, which has been in his family for seven generations. The farm produces peanuts, corn, soybeans, beef cattle and sometimes wheat, when it makes economic sense.

When did you decide you wanted to be a farmer?

I’ve had that goal ever since I was a little boy. I remember being out in the tobacco barns when I was little, and then when I was older, when I’d get home from school, I’d get in the tractor with Daddy. I did all my homework after grammar school in the seat of a tractor, and from the get-go, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

How did you choose NC State?

I was told that if I wanted to come home and farm, I had to have a four-year degree, and I was really only given one option: You go to NC State. My family members are big State fans, and some of them, including my uncle, went to State.

I came from a small high school, though — I graduated with 85 kids — and I felt as a transition I needed to go to the community college to get more into the college scene. So I went to Bladen Community College for a year and a half before I came to NC State.

What did you get out of ARE 455?

I enjoyed the class, and I’d recommend it to anybody going back to a family farm. This class taught me how to use Excel more efficiently — and I use Excel spreadsheets to do all of our labor. … I’m also glad I did the research, because what I had seen before is just what goes into the combine. I pick the soybeans, and now I see the numbers behind it.

How is NC State preparing you to become a farmer?

Guido van der Hoeven is my adviser, and he has taken me under his wing. I will go in his office and talk, and one thing he really stresses is that if I can’t make it work on paper — if I can’t make a profit on paper — I cannot make a profit on the seat of a tractor. More and more, as farming starts to get bigger and starts to consolidate, farmers are not going to be driving their tractors as much as they used to be. It’s going to be more sitting in the office behind a computer punching numbers, just like an office job.

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