Next Gen Ag: Making the industry better with Soil and Water Conservation

by | May 8, 2024

Next Gen Ag is a year long series that will run on our In The Field blog, Facebook page, Instagram page and Twitter account. Each Wednesday, we will highlight a young person pursuing a career in the agriculture industry. Individuals can be in high school, college, or recent graduates who are working to establish a career in agriculture. Stay tuned each week to meet some of our industry’s future leaders!

Many family farms in our state have been under operation for several generations, including Makayla Norman’s family farm in Wilkes County. In fact, they are a member of our Bicentennial Farm Family Program, meaning their farm has been under family operation for over 200 years. Falling in love with livestock and agriculture at a young age on the farm led Makayla to pursue a career in the industry where she could continue to make a difference on those around her.

As a little girl, Makayla spent many evenings and summers helping on the family beef cattle farm. “We are a cow/calf operation with about 40 head of cattle,” she said. “My earliest memories on the farm were watching my father and grandfather work in the hayfields. My sisters and I would take them lunch almost every day and I was always fascinated by their hard work.” Makayla has been a cattle lover from a very young age, and that sentiment continues to run through her veins today. “We used to all work cows together as a family, so I have some very special memories and bonding moments surrounding those times,” she said. “However, cows have always been one of my favorite animals. That is one of the very first ways that I knew agriculture was where I wanted to spend my career.” In addition to helping on the farm during the week, when necessary, Makayla also spent every summer working on the farm with and for her family. “When school was out for the summer, I would check cows, bush hogging fields, and bale hay,” she said. “Those early experiences really shaped me into the farm-loving girl that I am today.”

During her high school years, Makayla decided to get a jump on her ag education and began taking college classes at Wilkes Community College through the Career and College Promise program. She graduated with a degree in Animal Science from there before moving on to Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk where she obtained a degree in Wildlife Biology. “Originally I thought that I wanted to be a Livestock Vet, and one day I would still love to pursue that, but college at Lees-McRae changed my direction to pursue a wildlife degree,” she said. “I always knew that I wanted to be in agriculture, and I enjoy the conservation side of the industry as well as the livestock and animal science side.” Today, Makayla is lucky enough to be utilizing both degrees in her job at the Wilkes County Soil and Water Conservation District.

As a Natural Resource Conservationist specializing in Streamflow Rehabilitation, Makayla oversees the StRAP (Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistance Program) program at their district and all projects associate with its funding from the General Assembly. “I help farmers and landowners take care of their streams,” she said. “With the first batch of money we obtained from the General Assembly, we cleaned up the Yadkin River, which services many farmers and community members in our area. This year, we plan to help small farmers throughout the community to focus more on the needs of the individual.” Not only is Makayla enjoying the conservation side of the industry through her job, but she is also excited to be utilizing aspects of both degrees. In fact, she even has the honor to help educate kids in the community about the importance of agriculture and her job at the Soil and Water Conservation District through school visits. “We are involved with all county school districts in the area,” she said,” and we visit periodically to speak on agriculture and the careers available within the industry. We also provide resources to help them learn more and find their way in the industry if they wish.”

As a young person with farming experience, Makayla very easily builds relationships with people across the industry. She is technologically efficient and willing to learn new things, which will continue to help her achieve her goals in agriculture. No matter where the industry takes her, Makayla would love to continue advocating for both wildlife and farmers across the state. Her biggest agricultural dreams are to, one day, take over the family farm and possibly pursue a Livestock Vet career. “My family farm is a sixth-generation farm,” she said. “It means a lot to me and my family. I would love to be the one to take that over one day and keep the legacy of agriculture going for many years to come.” Whether it’s working on the farm or networking with other farms in the industry, Makayla simply loves the hands-on aspect of working in agriculture. “People in this industry do more for the community than many individuals realize,” she said. “It’s an honor to be a part of something that is bigger than myself. There is a lot of pride to be found in this industry.”

For anyone interested in pursuing a career in the agriculture industry, Makayla recommends making connections and getting involved to gain hands-on experience. “Find someone who is willing to show you the industry,” she said. “Get involved in ag classes, FFA programs, and farms within your community. Seek out opportunities to gain experience and learn about agriculture for yourself. Through that process you will find what speaks to you.” We are so proud of Makayla and her work at the Wilkes County Soil and Water Conservation District. We can’t wait to see where the future of agriculture continues to take you!