Couple's way of life earns farming honor


Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 12:55 a.m.
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Sarah Carte and her husband, William, pose together among channels of chives in one of several herb greenhouses at Dasher Farm in Live Oak.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
LIVE OAK - William Carte looked out onto a field he was farming with his dad a decade ago and was surprised to see a teenage girl running a combine, a machine that cuts and cleans feed and seed crops.
"I remember thinking back then that she would make someone a fine wife," Carte said.
It turned out that the combine driver, Sarah Dasher, would became Carte's wife in 2000. Since then the pair have become fine young farmers. The Cartes are so good at what they do that they were named the Florida Farm Bureau Outstanding Young Farmer and Rancher for 2003. In a few weeks, the couple will compete for the national title during the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Hawaii.
"I guess we really understand that farming is not a career but a way of life," said William, 35.
"It's something that gets in your blood," said Sarah, 26, a fifth-generation Florida farmer.
As a teenager living on a rural Suwannee County farm, Sarah was so enthralled with what she was learning from her parents, Randall and Pamela Dasher, that she decided to carve out an agriculture niche for herself.
She took out an $11,000 bank loan while she was in high school to buy a used combine, and then paid off the machine in four years by doing custom combine work around Suwannee County, including on the Cartes' beef farm.
By the time Sarah graduated from Branford High School in 1995, she had earned a Bright Futures Gold Seal scholarship that would pay for 75 percent of her tuition at the University of Florida. However, she postponed enrolling for a year so she could serve as Florida FFA president. As she was nearing the end of her term in office and preparing to enroll at UF, her father was being asked to add a speciality crop to the lettuce he was growing hydroponically.
"There were people in Boston who needed a fresh basil supplier during the winter," Sarah said.
Because of that call, the Dasher family - including Sarah on weekends - started producing herbs. Today Sarah, who earned an agricultural communication degree at UF, partners with her dad to manage eight hydroponic greenhouses and 20 acres of herbs grown outdoors on plastic.
"When I left for college, I never thought I would come back home," Sarah said. "I knew I would be doing something ag-related, but never thought that would be back here on the farm. Now I can't imagine working anywhere else."
William and his father, Tom Carte, manage three poultry barns, herds of Brangus cows and Charlois bulls, as well as hay and grass seed fields. Tom Carte, a former design engineer, began farming in 1966 when he bought property in Suwannee County and raised his son and daughter, Stephanie, in the rural county.
"My dad realized there would be no better life than farming and we see that, too," William said.
The Cartes are pragmatic about farming with their parents.
"One of the pros of farming with my dad is that there is lots of support there," said William, who attended North Florida Community College. "But it can also be aggravating.
"My dad believes that if something can be done manually, it's done better, and I believe in hooking up the tractor. He wants to dig postholes by hand, and I want to get out the mechanical auger."
Sarah said that though it's nice to work toward a common goal with her family, the downside is that "it's always about work."
The Cartes said they recognize that what they are really doing in their partnerships with their parents is serving an extended internship, preparing for the time when the operations will become theirs.
"Our cash flow is probably way below what other people our age have, but our assets are much higher and we try to keep things in perspective - farming is a life-long career," Sarah said.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.
The upside of winning the Young Farmer and Rancher competition was the dark blue Dodge Ram quad cab truck and $500 in cash the couple was awarded. Should the Cartes win the national competition, they will receive two more vehicles - another Dodge Ram truck and an Artic Cat brand all-terrain vehicle.
Scott Christmas, the Young Farmer and Rancher coordinator for the Florida Farm Bureau, said his organization's program has been in place since 1972 to help attract and retain the newest generation of agriculturists.
"The contributions of young farmers and ranchers need to be recognized to encourage them to continue their excellent practices," Christmas said. "We are also looking for those with leadership skills because our organization is run by farmers and ranchers and without leadership, we would be at a loss in the future."
The success of encouraging future leaders has paid off for the Farm Bureau. One former state winner, Adam Putnam, is now the youngest Congressman in the United States. Other former winners are serving on the Farm Bureau board of directors and some others hold elected positions in their home counties.
The annual competition is open to those ages 18 to 35 who are "effective, efficient and profitable, which is difficult in this environment," Christmas said. "In many cases, young farmers and ranchers may gain land through inheritance, but it is still hard to make a profit because of the pressures of international trade and other economic factors."
A big factor in the Cartes being selected as the state winners was the diversification of their agricultural businesses.
"Diversification is a wise business practice that we look for," Christmas said. "Today's farmers and ranchers need to be in five or six ventures because you can't count on one thing for your livelihood. One year beef may be down but poultry is up, and the next year it may be poultry that is up."
The Farm Bureau is also looking for young people who are actively involved in the communities surrounding their farm. The Cartes are regular participants in programs that bring agricultures into the classrooms of the Suwannee County schools.
The Cartes also have become ambassadors of sorts for Farm Bureau. After a lobbying trip to Tallahassee, William said he was amazed at how many doors opened up for him when he said he was part of the Farm Bureau.
"You can't get things changed or programs going if you are not involved," Sarah said. "That's why we have gotten involved with Farm Bureau - to help preserve family farms."

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