At 16 Years Old, 7th-Gen Iowa Farmer Smashes the Mold as Family’s First Female Farmer

    Women of Ag Pellett Family Feature (Farm Journal)

    Callee Pellett is breaking the mold when it comes to farming. Considering the majority of U.S. farmers today are male and nearly 60-years-old, the 16-year-old farmer in Atlantic, Iowa is not your typical farmer. And it’s how she’s blazing her own trail through drive and dedication, that makes Callee so unique.

    According to the last Ag Census, there are 1.2 million female producers, which accounts for 36% of the total number of producers in the U.S. However, if you travel rural America during planting or harvest, it’s often rare you see a female behind the wheel of a tractor or combine. Callee is one of the exceptions.

    It didn’t take her long to learn her calling in life, even if it meant she was the only girl.

    “I don’t really remember a point that I was not on the farm,” says Callee. “I’ve always been out there, but I really started getting into it when I was like five or six.”

    Even at a young age, it was hard to pull her out of the combine, because farming is right where she wanted to be. That love for farming is something Callee’s mom, Stacey, saw from her daughter early on.

    “She has been daddy’s girl from day one, and I was daddy’s girl, too, growing up, so I understood that. I’ve always been very supportive of that,” says Stacey. “When Mike would be ready to leave for the farm, she was boots on and probably out the door before he was, and as she’s gotten older, she’s taken it upon herself to just learn more.”

    It was then, that Callee didn’t realize being a female farmer wasn’t the norm, but once she got older, she started to notice she was one of the few females who want to farm.

    With the support of her parents and grandparents, Callee took a big leap a little over a year ago. At the age of 15, she signed her first lease, the same piece of ground that her dad leased to get his start. The farm of nearly 20 acres is Callee’s crop, from start to finish.

    “I make the decision on what crop I’m going to plant. I do my own anhydrous. I do my own planting, and I do my own harvesting,” says Callee.

    She’s learned how to make those decisions by farming along her dad, Mike.

    “I definitely use his expertise, because I’m not an agronomist, not having gone to school for that yet,” says Callee.

    Callee will be the first to admit that some lessons in the field have been harder than others.

    “I made the decision on what size rows to plant this year,” says Callee. “I asked him [Dad], and he said, ‘You make the decision.’”

    And she did, the decision to plant 20-inch rows this year.

    Learning by doing, means Callee’s dream of being a farmer is well underway.

    “She’s really taken it upon herself to not just say, ‘Mom and dad, what do I do?’ To see that drive in her to say, ‘I want to do this,’ and then be willing to do the work to learn and earn it,” says Stacey.

    The Balancing Act of School, Sports and Farming 

    No matter if it’s volleyball, softball or track season, or if she’s showing cattle for FFA, Callee has a lot on her plate as a junior in high school. Yet she’s still drawn to the farm, even when she’s not supposed to be.

    “Last week, I said, ‘Hey, can you run dinner to dad?’ And she said, sure. And she has softball practice and has to be at the field at 5:45 in the morning, so I told her to not be out late,” says Stacey. “A little after 9 p.m., I called her and said, ‘Where are you?’ She said, ‘Mom, I’m planting, I know it’s late but I’m on my last round. I’ll be there soon.’ You can’t get mad at the fact that she went to the field and she’s out there planting.”

    Long Line of Fierce Females, But Not Female Farmers 

    Callee has some great examples in her life. Whether it’s her grandparents or her parents, she comes from a long line of fierce females, but not female farmers.

    There are 14 family members involved in the family operation. But only two of those are female: Callee and her mom. And only Callee is operating equipment, as well as planting and harvesting her own crop.

    Last fall, Callee clocked 107 hours in the field. And the way the Pellett’s farm is set up, all 14 farm together, but each family member owns their own ground. Then, all of the equipment is shared, as it belongs to their separate equipment corporation.

    “And then we bill each member of the family for their acres,” explains Stacey, who handles the finances for their operation. “We have a per acre fee for planting and a per acre fee for harvest. And that fee covers the ability to use the equipment on your farm, it covers the insurance, the fuel and the maintenance.”

    Whoever works in the field, they then get a credit for those hours, to offset their equipment bill. Which means the more Callee works during harvest or in the spring, the more that can go toward her operating costs.

    “Just like everybody else gets credit, her 107 hours was applied to her bill. It was more than her bill for the harvest charges. So, that credit carries over to the spring and will help cover her expenses for this spring,” says Stacey.

    Learning From Her Mom

    Callee is learning a lot already from making the decisions about what crop to grow and the inputs she needs to use, but she’s also learning a lot from her mom.

    Stacey has a lot of titles on any given day. Not only does she handle the finances for their farm, but her full time job is with managing state public affairs in the Midwest and Northwest for John Deere. And when she’s not meeting with legislators or doing jobs around the farm, you’ll often find her at her kids’ sporting events

    “My favorite title of all of them is mom, of course. I think probably any mom would say that, but that is by far my favorite title,” says Stacey.

    Stacey and Mike also have a son named Carter, who’s preparing to graduate high school this month. Unlike Callee, he doesn’t have plans to farm.

    “His comment would be, ‘I’m probably going to farm because that’s what all Pellet men do,’ and that’s what he just says, but in reality, farming has always been Callee’s thing,” says Stacey.

    Some may view it as their roles are reversed, but Stacey knew sports is where Carter’s heart truly is.

    “When he was young, he played with tractors, but by the time he was older, he had a ball in his hand, and he’s never changed that. He’s always been very focused on sports and athletics.”

    Carter may not have plans to come back home and farm right now, but as Stacey knows, sometimes life has other plans.

    “I had a list of things I would never do,” says Stacey. “I will never leave Texas. I will never live in Corpus Christi, Texas. I will never marry a farmer. There’s a lot more on there, and I’ve done every last one of them.”

    Stacey is raising her kids to value work ethic, while also pursuing their passion, whether that’s on or off the farm. And no matter where life takes them, both Stacey and Mike know each day Callee is on the farm is a day full of lessons.

    “Sometimes helping her to understand that it’s not always easy,” says Stacey. “She came into farming when corn was $7. Fertilizer prices were record high, as well. But we’re helping her understand that it’s not always going to be $7 corn and $14 beans.”

    Callee is finishing up her junior year of high school, but she knows life lessons extend beyond the classroom, or farming the land. Many have come from her mom.

    “There’s a lot of lessons that she’s taught me, but I think the biggest thing is balancing it all and making your priorities a thing, because that’s what I’ve watched her do,” says Callee.

    7th Generation Farmer 

    Even at the ripe age of 16, being the seventh generation of this Iowa family farm is something Callee never takes for granted.

    “Not all kids get this opportunity and get the opportunity to learn alongside multiple generations, so that’s really cool,” says Callee.

    She plans to attend either Iowa State University or Kansas State University after graduating next year, which is proving to be an even harder decision on what career she wants to pursue.

    “Then, when I’m done with school, I’ll come back here and I’ll farm,” says Callee.

    Reflection on Mother’s Day

    While Callee plans to farm, Carter will attend Iowa State in the fall, not majoring in agriculture. That’s perfectly fine for Stacey, as she’s raised two kids who are kind, charismatic and driven to succeed.

    “I’m unbelievably proud, because as a parent, all you care about is building something that you can hand off to them, and we did,” says Stacey. “I also truly love the relationship that my in-laws get to have with our kids. I love that Carter has his own thing, and it doesn’t have to be farming, yet we can celebrate him being unbelievably successful in something other than this.”

    As for Callee, she admits she’s a daddy’s girl. And she knows no matter the hurdle at hand, she can overcome it, something she’s steadily seen watching her mother’s way.

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