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Kirk Martin: Young Farmer Here to Stay

Fifty-nine years and five generations later, the Martins have maintained their family namesake. They continue to be stewards of the land almost six decades after their patriarch began to farm. Since 1961, the Martin family has farmed in different areas of land in Terry County, Texas. Today, the youngest of the bunch, 25-year-old Kirk Martin, is continuing the family tradition.   

It would be really hard for me to figure out what to do if I wasn’t a farmer, because I can’t see myself doing anything else. 

Kirk Martin

What was once a past time for Martin has now become a way of life. Born into a farming family, Martin recalls some of the earliest memories as a five-year-old spending time with his dad in a tractor or in a field. 

“Sometimes, I would get bored and antsy just sitting in there,” Martin said. “So my dad would get me down, and I would sit in the middle of the field and play in the holes until he finished up.”

As he grew older, Martin said he went from riding in the tractor, to driving it alone, experiencing the long days and hard work he would encounter himself in the years to come.  

“It would be really hard for me to figure out what to do if I wasn’t a farmer,” Martin said, “because I can’t see myself doing anything else.” 

In 2016, he had the opportunity to pick up some land, so he decided to return to the farm and start producing his own crop. Through mentorship and partnership, Martin has helped grow Martin Family Farms. Five years after his first crop, Martin continues to farm alongside his father and older brother, both whom he credits for his success. Martin said he attributes his grandfather as the sole pioneer who kick-started the family farm. 

“Working with family is always hard,” Martin said, “but I greatly appreciate having my dad, my brother and my grandpa, because without them I would be no where near where I am today.” 

As a young farmer, Martin believes he is receptive of new innovations and technological advances within the farming industry. Understanding the importance and need of technology and sustainability on the farm, he stays informed on such systems that allow for farming to be more profitable and efficient. 

Martin said his father had learned about different methods of water conservation and soon after decided to take on a project with the help of both of his sons. They built a water harvest system that would filter rainwater that sat on the top of their barn roof. The system collects fallen rainwater, filters it and stores it. The Martins then use the harvested water to spray their crop. 

“We had drilled a well, and there was no water in there; barely enough water to run toilet and sink,” Martin said, “so we had to figure out a way to harvest some water.”

The Martin’s rainwater harvest system is placed along the top of their 19,000 square foot barn roof along with the filtration system running along the sides of the barn. Martin said they are able to supply up to 30,000 gallons of reusable water with only two and a half inches of rainfall. 

While he stays up to date on different farming technologies and innovations, Martin also has developed interest in agricultural policy. He acknowledges the importance of technology on the farm, and on the media, which in most instances, is politically centered. Several years back, Martin was encouraged to join the West Texas Young Farmers Association, by then-president and fellow Terry County farmer, Mason Becker. In March, Martin was elected as the association’s newest president.

“Kirk is a great young man and he has always had a passion for promoting agriculture,” Becker said. “He has been heavily involved in the West Texas Young Farmers Association for several years and I am confident that he will lead the group in a good direction.”

The West Texas Young Farmers Association works to not only inform young farmers on issues surrounding agriculture, but also to implement positive change within the farming community, whether by sharing information with non-agricultural audiences, giving scholarships to high school students, or collaborating and learning from other producers.

Over the course of several years, the association has strengthened its once loosened ties. Starting as the Terry County Young Farmers Association several decades ago, sons of those who were once members decided to start the association up again. Becker said he hopes that the new leadership understands the difference they can make in the community and across the nation.

“It is my hope that the association continues to educate as many people as possible to what it takes to become a farmer in West Texas,” Becker said. 

Martin said he was interested in joining because Becker explained to him that the only way for his voice to be heard was to get involved.

“I liked being involved from the get-go because I realized that I could be the voice of change in some way or another,” Martin said. 

The association will occasionally meet with congressmen, state representatives and other political figures, to discuss their relevant issues and address questions and concerns. Although the association’s primary goal is not focused on informing the public on policy, they still share information from time to time and stay in touch with members of the community through social media.

“Facebook has been our way to communicate with the public,” Martin said, “and on Instagram we try to share the images of others to not only promote, but also share knowledge that other people might benefit from.” 

Martin said he hopes audiences outside of agriculture will benefit from the association’s efforts on social media. 

The young farmer believes that staying involved and staying informed are ways to share and pass on knowledge and constitute change.

“If we can use our platform to inform and teach others, why wouldn’t we?” he said.

The Balance of Farm and Life

  • The alarm goes off. Annette swings her feet off the bed and places them into her work shoes. She walks into her kitchen and makes a pot of coffee for her husband Mike. Annette calls for her trusted dog, Jackie, and walks down to her barn. She hears a faint cry in the distance and smiles in relief. As the barn door opens, a new kid goat is spotted laying in the hay.
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he alarm goes off. Annette swings her feet off the bed and places them into her work shoes. She walks into her kitchen and makes a pot of coffee for her husband Mike. Annette calls for her trusted dog, Jackie, and walks down to her barn. She hears a faint cry in the distance and smiles in relief. As the barn door opens, a new kid goat is spotted laying in the hay.

Annette Coursey and her husband, Mike, have hit kidding season. Every morning when she awakes, she comes upon a new member of their herd. 

The Courseys run a dairy goat operation on the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas, called Coursey Family Farm. Originally from Millsap, Texas they have ran their operation since 2009.

The couple became interested in raising Nubian goats after they both retired. 

“I was a vice president in a banking situation,” Annette said. “I couldn’t physically deal with the stress anymore, so I needed something that still felt purposeful, but not stressful.”

The Courseys interest in raising dairy goats sparked after viewing a video project over a diary operation made by Annette’s niece. 

Bottle Baby
Annette Coursey bottle feeds a kid goat while her spouse, Mike, milks the mothers.

 “She had done a documentary on a little family farm up in Ohio where they raised dairy goats,” Mike said. “We just kind of looked at each other, and said ‘Hey, we could do that!’”

“We really felt like it was something that God was directing us into.”

Since learning about the dairy goat industry, the couple has faced several challenges as they began their operation. The farm is now home to 10 does and numerous kids. 

“We would anticipate having one to four out of each doe,” Annette said. 

The farm produces raw milk, and Annette also produces her own line of soaps that funds the purchase of feed for the livestock. All of their operations follow health department standards. 

The beginning goal the Courseys strived to achieve was to produce a sustainable farm. They achieve this goal by exchanging products between different farming industries. 

Mike milking
Mike Coursey takes the responsibilty of hand milking all the females. Before they begin milking they clean all the udders to make sure the milk does not get contaminated with any bacteria.

Through the years of following their dream, the Courseys have developed an understanding of how to balance their life and their livestock. Although the well-being of the livestock is No. 1 the couple still strives to have a life outside of the farm. 

“On Sundays, we do our chores, what has to be done, but we don’t do extra stuff,” Annette said. “We take time, go to church and spend time with family, and just rest and watch the Hallmark Channel.”

Annette said they received some advice that was really beneficial from a man who was still involved in his church and had a successful dairy.

 “He said, ‘You have to remember that you own the animals and they don’t own you, you have to have balance,” Annette said. 

 “It’s a big responsibility to make sure that they’re happy and healthy,” Annette said.

The Courseys have created a farm that has incorporated their health and the happiness of the livestock they herd. 

Close up shot of goat
The females​ being milked by Mike Coursey come up to the stand voluntary​ and enjoy alfalfa during the experience.

Mike said that being flexible with their schedules and being aware of what is good for them and the animals has benefited their operation. 

The goats each have a name and come to the milking stand voluntary, which has become Mike’s favorite thing about his small operation. 

“What I really enjoy is we teach them their names early on, but when you call their name, they come in and they just go do whatever like,” Mike said. 

With balance becoming the No. 1 component of Coursey Family Farm, Mike and Annette have found a new hobby and happiness. 

“I still believe we’re where God wants us to be, and so I’m excited to see what our future is,” Annette said. 

Coursey Couple
Mike and Annette Coursey are the owners of Coursey Family Farms. They live in New Deal, Texas where they care for their Nubian​ dairy goats.

Leaving a Longhorn Legacy

Classy Lady poses for a picture at golden hour.
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With a population of 40,000, Cooke County, Texas is a traditionally agricultural focused part of the state. With a blend of production agriculture and the oil industry, something that stands out among the rest is a herd of iconic Texas staples, the Texas Longhorns.

Based in Era, Texas, Scott and Stacey Schumacher, along with son, Stran, and daughter, Selah, stay busy with many endeavors in and out of the agriculture industry, including raising Longhorns.

“When people outside of the agriculture industry think of cows, they think of either Holsteins or Longhorns, so we have done everything to build a brand that captures the novelty that people have with Longhorns,” Stacey said.

Scott is a fourth generation Cooke County farmer and rancher. He was born and raised in Cooke County then attended Texas Tech University and received a degree in agricultural business. After graduation, he returned to Era to continue his work with his family’s farming and ranching operation. 

“Our operation utilizes a lot of land around Cooke County, including leases,” Stacey said. 

Scott and Stacey were married in 2010 and grew their family when their son, Stran, was born in 2013 and daughter, Selah, in 2018.

The Schumachers run a commercial cow-calf operation and also purchase commercial calves at local sale barns to finish out on wheat pastures as a backgrounder operation. To create more value within their herd, they are starting to switch their commercial cattle to registered Angus to enter the Angus bull sector of the industry.

Scott also started a custom chemical spraying company, S&S Enterprises, where he chemically treats pastures and crops. “S&S Enterprises showcases how chemistry can help shape the future of farming and ranching, and ultimately allow farmers and ranchers to efficiently feed the world,” Scott added.

Additionally, he harvests various crops including hay, corn, milo, and wheat for both cattle grazing and combining for grain. 

In addition, Stacey is the founder and Executive Director of the Texas Coalition of Animal Protection. “TCAP is a non-profit organization that provides low cost spays and neuters for cats and dogs as well as low cost vaccines,” Stacey said. The coalition has seven standalone clinics and contracts with numerous cities to do spays and neuters on-site. 

Before Scott and Stacey met, she needed something to get an agricultural tax-exemption at her home.  She was not interested in purchasing something for that would end up on grocery store shelf, but rather something that could be enjoyed for years to come. She loved the look and the ease of keeping of the Longhorns, and she decided they would be a perfect fit for her home.

            After their marriage, the Schumachers decided to keep growing their Longhorn program. The Schumachers sell their calves after weaning or when the animal doesn’t fit their operation’s needs. Since they sell many of their calves at weaning, the Schumachers purchase cows to continue their personal cow herd growth and improve genetics.

            Stacey said Longhorns can be more profitable than commercial cattle if they are marketed correctly. 

            “Social media changed the cattle industry for everyone, but for the Longhorn industry, it really opened up a new market,” Stacey said. 

            A big market they reach with their Longhorns is the homeowners who are moving to 10-to 20-acre plots wanting something that is easy to keep and to provide visual appeal to the land. Stacey said that as long as that market continues to grow, so will their Longhorn business. 

It is super important for people to know that agricultural producers work hard for them and they do that with a lot of pride.

The Schumacher Cattle Facebook page has 265,000 followers watching for updated pictures of calves, daily chores in the operation, or the beloved “Hey Scott!” video segments that highlight various tasks completed by farmers and ranchers, such as vaccinating, tubing and treating cattle. 

“Not being a native country person, I asked Scott a lot of questions when we met.  Through Facebook, I figured out the questions that I was asked a long time ago, people were still asking today,” Stacey said.

While engaging with others on the Facebook page is not Scott’s favorite part of the job, Stacey saw the need to answer questions and show people about their way of life.

The Schumachers use the Facebook platform to sell their Longhorns, inform followers about the breed, and advocate for the beef and agriculture industries. 

Building a brand around the importance of agriculture and the Longhorn industry has been important for the success of their operations.

“It is vital that people know agricultural producers work hard for them and they do that with a lot of pride,” Stacey said. “We have done everything we can to inform people where their food comes from. We want people to know that ranchers do not abuse their animals or the land, but they work really hard to maximize all the things that they can to create a sustainable product.”

Scott and Stacey have seen their son become extremely interested in the equipment they use like tractors and sprayers, and hope that their daughter, Selah, will have an interest in their way of life, too. 

“My hope is that they continue in this industry, just like Scott did,” Stacey said. “We are aiming for longhorns in every pasture,” Stacey joked when asked where the operation will be in 10 years.

5-year-old, Stran, proudly displays his “My Daddy Feeds You” shirt while helping feed cows.

Reducing uncertainty on the Southern High Plains

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arming practices on the Southern High Plains, and more specifically a farmer’s choice of whether or not to change them, are affected by irrigation methods and crop insurance.

Dr. Darren Hudson of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics is the graduate director and helps put together funding for research.

Dr. Hudson said, “We have students from all over doing research that impacts this area.”

Jorge Romero-Habeych is not your traditional student, he served in the Army and worked as an analyst in the natural gas industry before returning to school. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Central Florida. As a doctoral student in Agricultural and Applied Economics, Romero-Habeych’s research explores how farmers choose irrigation techniques.

Agriculture on the Southern High Plains was significantly impacted by the introduction of center pivot irrigation.

 “Prior to the center pivot in the 1990s, … irrigation was very inefficient,” Romero-Habeych said.

By adopting center pivots farmers were able to sustain yields while using less water.

In recent years farmers have had the option of adopting an even more efficient alternative, subsurface drip irrigation. Adopting efficient irrigation techniques along with the right kind of crop insurance is essential for farmers to reduce their exposure to risk.

“Why is it that we don’t see a wider implementation of this technology in the area?” Romero-Habeych asked. “My theory is that crop insurance in conjunction with already existing irrigation techniques might be making drip irrigation less attractive,” Romero-Habeych said. “On the margin, adopting drip is relatively expensive and the benefit in terms of risk reduction is likely not worth the cost.”

In terms of water use, wider adoption of drip irrigation by farmers on the Southern High Plains does not necessarily translate to less pressure on the Ogallala aquifer. Romero-Habeych made an interesting point on the issue.

“Past experience with the center pivot shows that its adoption led to more water use. Farmers actually started using more water than before because they started planting in fields that had previously not been economically attractive,” Romero-Habeych said.

Using the most efficient farming practices possible is vital for all farmer’s to continue production and not give up yields.

“Perhaps drip irrigation would be more widely adopted in the area if existing crop insurance choices were not made available. The combination of current insurance and irrigation options to reduce risk exposure might be crowding out drip,” Romero-Habeych said. “However, that might be a good outcome for the aquifer.”

How farmers on the Southern High Plains are affected by government policies, along with understanding how they use the tools at their disposal to reduce uncertainty, is what drives Romero-Habeych’s research.

Conserving Today’s Resources

Research participant and farmer, Stever Yoder in his field 45 minutes outside of Dalhart.

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ost farmers try to find ways to ensure quality crops while saving money. Three Texas Panhandle farmers are getting a little help with this thanks to research.

In 2017, the Texas Corn Producers Board, Texas Tech University, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension, the National Resource Conservation Service and three producers in the Texas High Plains have partnered together to find ways to grow crops more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Katie Lewis, assistant professor in the soil fertility and chemistry department at TTU, is the principal investigator for the Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

“This project exemplifies successful and productive teamwork amongst producers, commodity groups, government agencies and universities,”Lewis said.

Other co-investigators involved in the project include Dana Porter, Jourdan Bell, and Donna M. McCallister. The collaborators include Darren Richardson and Keith Sides, from USDA-NRCS, and Brandt Underwood, a conservation agronomist.

The project began in the fall of 2017 with the collection of crop data to get information about crop management. In the fall and winter of 2019, a final report will be released.

“This research is focused on soil health practices and irrigation management tools, both of which can potentially improve farm sustainability,” Lewis said. “The innovative aspect of this project is that the effects of these tools and practices are being monitored on farmer’s fields.”

NRCS collaborator, Darren said this project can install new practices to help everything on one farm, including reducing pressure from pests.

“It is an interesting project with good producers involved,” Richardson said.

The farmers that are taking part in this research are Steve Yoder of Dalhart, Texas, Kelly Kettner of Lamb County, and Braden Gruhlkey of Deaf Smith County. Each cooperator had different techniques used to evaluate cropping, with advanced technology to monitor the soil moisture and irrigation.

With the help of this research, farmers can improve their fields and the way they take care of their crops and soil. Keeping their soil healthy will improve agricultural production and provide long-term benefits.

“The information collected from this research will serve to educate all involved in addition to our policymakers,” Lewis said.

This research has been an asset to farmers like Steve Yoder. Yoder has been able to evaluate the difference between farming practices such as fallow land and cover crops on his farm.

“Since we are probably considered as early adapters of new technologies,” Yoder said, “a lot of the practices in this research we are already using such as no-till, moisture sensors, weather stations, yield monitors, and satellite imagery.”

Yoder said he will continue their research practices on his farm after this project is over. Due to this research, these farmers can see what is working for their farm and ways they can improve along with other farmers in the future.

It is an interesting project with good producers involved.

The True Role of Migrant Workers

Growing up on a cotton farm in the Texas Panhandle, my family directly benefits from the work of migrant farm workers. We rely on the support of farm workers year-round from plant to harvest, and with much uncertainty in immigration reform, my family has a lot to lose.

In my youth, I didn’t recognize the need of migrant workers and the role they play in the agricultural industry. My father has always said people here aren’t willing to do the work, and as a student studying agricultural communications, I’ve found this to be true.

Immigration is always a hot-button issue in politics, but today, immigration reform seems to be even more prevalent. Why is this? Aren’t migrant workers providing a service to the farmer, therefore the industry? Many farmers would cease their operation if there were no migrant laborers filling jobs during busy seasons. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 165,741 H-2A jobs in 2016. Click here for the FY 2016 annual report.

Let’s take a look at what migrant workers truly mean for the American farmer.

Montgomery_farmworker
Workers pick strawberries on a farm in California.  Source: John Henry Gremmer

“Migrant workers only benefit their home countries.”
False

Yes, a driving force of migrant workers in the United States is to send their earnings back to their families at home, but they also serve a purpose here. Migrant workers become active members of their communities, spending their income on housing, transportation, food, entertainment and more. Although it is common for them to send some support to family abroad, migrant workers help stimulate the American economy.

“Migrant workers are all criminals.” ­
False

Contrary to popular belief, immigrants represent 5 percent of all U.S. inmates and half of those were in the states illegally (The New York Times, 2017). The United States government is concerned with the vetting of immigrants and migrant workers. In an attempt to streamline these efforts, they have even created an e-Verify system, an internet-based system that verifies employees’ documents against millions of records to ensure their status in the U.S.

“Migrant workers are all here illegally.”
False

Actually, the majority of migrant workers are in the states through government programs, such as the H-2A visa program which provides foreign workers a temporary status to perform agricultural jobs (Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State).

Montgomery_table
Since 2008, the number of issued H-2A visas have almost doubled from 64,000 to 134,000. Source: Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

“Migrant workers steal jobs from the local population.”
False

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, farmers requesting temporary workers must demonstrate there are not enough U.S. workers who are willing, able, and available to do the specified work. Many migrant workers are needed to harvest specialty crops, such as strawberry and citrus, where the need for migrant labor is substantial.

Migrant workers use their skills to provide a service to the country, specifically to the agricultural industry. Migrant workers assist during busy farming seasons to help provide a gateway for Americans to pursue careers in other areas. Coincidentally, the U.S. unemployment rate was at an all-time low in February of this year, a decrease of 22,000 from the month before (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

“Migrant workers are an integral part of U.S. food security.”
True

Today, farmers recognize native workers are not willing to do the work at the same salaries of migrant workers. Therefore, without migrant workers, the cost of labor increases, causing a direct correlation in the price at the checkout line (and you thought extra guacamole was already expensive!). In the September 2014 Census Bureau report on income and poverty in the U.S., the median household income across all jobs in America was $51,939—the average total individual income of farm workers is $15,000-$17,499.

Why should we care?

With the Trump administration’s plans to provide solutions to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a complete overhaul of border security, the urgency to highlight the need of migrant agricultural workers is at an all-time high. There is a need for migrant workers to continue their work in the United States.

Take away your thoughts of the fiscal and social benefits these workers bring to our country. Think of how it affects you as an individual. For me, my father wouldn’t be able to continue in his agricultural pursuits. For you, it may be the cost to feed your family. Ultimately, we need these workers—our labor system relies upon that service. Consider all these things in the discussion of immigration reform. Something has to change.

Want to learn more about migrant workers and immigration? Click below to be taken to sources with lots of helpful information.

Old Legacy, New Farmer

Layton and Glenn Schur look forward to working along side each other on the farm.
Layton and Glenn Schur look forward to working along side each other on the farm.

As he walked out the front door of his farmhouse, he met the crisp winter morning with an eagerness that comes with a new beginning. While this farm was familiar ground to 21-year-old Layton Schur, this day was the start of something new. He may have grown up on this farm, but now he was a real farmer.

Layton’s lifelong passion for agriculture has led him back to the family farming business. The young farmer said coming back to continue the traditions his father and grandfather have set before him has always been his dream.

“It’s kind of like hitting the lottery,” Layton said. “I feel pretty lucky to get to go back and farm with my dad.”

A Farming Legacy

In 1947 Layton’s grandfather, Martin Schur, began farming in Plainview Texas. With humble beginnings and years passing, the family farming operation has expanded tremendously, now farming thousands of acres in multiple counties. The family has survived ruthless crop years and 70 years later, the legacy that Layton’s grandfather originally started will soon be passed to him.

Layton enjoyed his time working on the farm before leaving and going to Texas Tech University in the fall of 2013. He said the hard work instilled in him from his parents and grandparents has attributed to his success in college and will help as he takes the next step into his farming career.

It’s kind of like hitting the lottery. I feel pretty lucky to get to go back and farm with my dad.Layton Schur

“There is never a time you can run out of things to do when you grow up on a farm,” Layton said. “Some kids say they always got bored. I never got the luxury. There was always a weed to be hoed, a weed to be sprayed, or something to be done. Even if you weren’t doing anything in the wintertime, there was always a cow to be fed. So, growing up I got the true value of work ethic drove into me.”

Layton said he realizes how financially difficult it can be to get started as a young farmer and believes this is one of the reasons the number of first-generation farmers have declined in recent years. He will be one of few from Plainview, Texas, whom will return to the farm after attending college.

“You come to college not just to throw away what you learned; it’s to learn something to bring back to the farm with you,” Layton said. “I hope that in my education I’ll be able to bring a different twist to the farm.”

Furgeson_barn
The Schur family farms a variety of crops, including: cotton, corn, sorghum and wheat.

Water Conservation

Layton said his involvement in the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC) has also opened his eyes in the way that he will utilize the water available on his farm.

“It’s a project to help agriculturalists realize that there are other alternatives rather than just turning the pivot on and letting it run,” Layton said. “The TAWC has done a good job helping me realize that there are other challenges for us besides just making a crop every year, making money to put in the bank, or losing money for that matter. They have shown me how to raise crops and how to do it efficiently with new technology.”

Glenn Schur, Layton’s father and president of the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, said he knows Layton understands the value of water conservation and the role that it plays within their farming operation.

Layton said his family sees a future where land must be farmed without underground irrigation due to the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. The issue has been a concern for several years and is more of a matter of when the water runs out, not if it runs out.

“All of us pride ourselves on water conservation,” Layton said, “As a whole, we look at technology and the potential to make every drop of water count.”

Layton said technological advancement will act as a balancing element in years to come. How much water one has and how efficiently one is using it, will be the product of that crop. He said farmers investing time in learning soil and water technology practices will benefit greatly.

“The current fear for many new farmers is financially surviving,” Layton said, “and having water to nourish your crop is part of that. Not having the necessary resources to make a crop is terrifying. Maybe that’s why so many young people are having a hard time going back to the farm. There isn’t a secured pay at the end of the year. But on the other hand, if you play your cards right and manage your assets, you can still make a good life in farming.”

Furgeson_Layton&Glenn
After graduation Layton will farm with this father, Glenn Schur, in Plainview Texas.

Heading Home

Layton leans on the wisdom of his father as he begins his farming career.

“I’m going to benefit the most from the knowledge of my father,” Layton said. “He has been very successful in the industry, and being able to use his knowledge will be enormously helpful, especially in my first crop year.”

Glenn said he is very excited to have Layton back on the farm. He looks forward to working alongside Layton and watching him in his first harvest year.

“He’s been involved in agriculture since he was a little kid,” Glenn said, “and seeing him starting to farm on his own is really exciting.”

Layton said he plans to plant a short seasonal corn crop and cotton on his newly rented farm in west Floyd County. He said he hopes to shift water around and catch a few rains in the spring to help his watering rotation. The young farmer said he specifically chose to plant cotton because of its arid characteristics and its ability to “take a beating” when it comes to drought.

“I’m going to get started with a semi-irrigated farm with less than 300 gallons a minute for a half-section of land,” he said. “That little bit of water I have is going to have to go a long way.”

The 21-year-old farmer said getting his land ready for planting season is the first step in his life long dream. He said, more than anything, he has pride in going back to the family farm and being able to continue their family business.

“My history is farming. It’s been developing in me since I was little. The farm means more to me than it does to the banker. The farm has always been my life.”

Underground Livestock: Reaching New Depths in Soil Health

RN Hopper showcases his healthy soils as a result of the no-till and other conservation practices he and his father have implemented since 2004.
RN Hopper showcases his healthy soils as a result of the no-till and other conservation practices he and his father have implemented since 2004.

Just north of Petersburg, in the High Plains of West Texas, lies what seems to be dry, unmanaged fields. The surface is cracked from the heat, and corn cobs from the past harvest litter the fields. But what actually lies in RN Hopper’s fields is anything but dry and unkempt. Beneath the surface is a world breaming with life and a future in sustainable agriculture.

Hopper Graduated from Texas Tech University in 2000 with a degree in agronomy. He came home to work with his dad, Ronnie Hopper, and together started Harmony Farms in 2004.

Hopper’s passion for farming and the land led to an understanding of the soil beneath the surface and how it can provide for him and the land in the future. This understanding was garnered from both his college education as well as an informative experience at a No-Till on the Plains conference in Kansas.

The main goal of Harmony Farms was to take what Hopper had learned and put no-till conservation practices into action.

“A lot of times when people start down the no-till road, they don’t seem to have success with it because they don’t have a diverse rotation,” Hopper said. “You have to have a very diverse rotation of crops; as many species as possible. For the most part, it won’t work over an extended period of time if you’re just cotton after cotton after cotton.”

Hopper’s fields cycle cotton one out of every three years. He follows cotton with wheat, wheat with corn, and corn with cotton. He said no-till practices are very much about getting a bacterial-dominant soil back to a fungal-dominant soil, which is done by ceasing tillage.

“We’re trying to return some of the structure to the soil,” Hopper said. “It’s impossible to build organic matter if you’re oxygenating the soil with tillage because it immediately gets consumed by the microflora, once it is gone, their populations crash.”

Hopper said a healthy soil has the equivalent microbial biomass of three to five beef cattle units per acre. That is a tremendous biomass that must be fed, and the currency of nature is carbon.

Burnett, Abbie-1938
RN Hopper holds the end of a 6 ft pole inserted into his no-till field. No-till fields are composed of compact, healthy fields soils that can hold 75 percent of rainwater.

“So, if you’re not cycling that carbon slowly and naturally into your soil, you don’t have anything to steadily feed that underground livestock,” Hopper said. “And if they’re not being fed, they die. And if they die, they’re not helping to make nutrients more available or doing the thousands of other things that they do.”

Hopper said these “underground livestock” are billions of microscopic organisms that live under the soil. They feed off carbon that comes from recycled organic material. In doing so, they help create healthy soil for future crop seasons.

However, cover crops and no-till are not just about returning carbon back into the soil. John Zak, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech, said he has been working with RN for three years conducting research on microbial health and manipulation.

“Really what we’re trying to understand is how soil can do certain things in terms of productivity if you manage it,” Zak said. “They have their own microbiome the same way humans do. So, the question is, how do you manage that microbiome, and what are the consequences of managing practices to the functionality of that microbiome?”

Zak said the microbiome in soil is what directly contributes to crop yield. He attributes healthy soil to a healthy microflora. One determining factor that makes soil healthy is lowering the variability in daily temperature range, or DTR, which is the difference between how hot and cold soil gets in a 24-hour period. Zak took this idea to Big Bend National Park before using it in Hopper’s fields.

“We decreased solar input (on the soils).,” Zak said. “What that does is raise the night time temperature a little bit because the soils don’t dissipate as much heat, but they don’t heat up as much during the day. You decrease DTR by about three to four degrees centigrade.”

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RN Hopper pulls back the trash from past season’s corn harvest to show the cover no-till practices provide for the soil. Using practices like no-till and cover crops keeps the daily temperature range (DTR) minimal to develop healthier soils and microflora.

What was showed from the lowering of DTR in the soil, Zak said, is that microbial activity in soils can increase without any change in soil moisture by about 30 percent. He explained that one of the reasons deserts are deserts isn’t because of lack of moisture: it’s because of DTR.

Zak said the results from these experiments meant farmers could create healthier soils and higher yields without irrigating more than they were already.

Hopper said no-till has greatly increased water infiltration and holding capacity in his fields.

“(The fields) probably catch 70-80 percent of the rain,” Hopper said. “But, if you have something that’s conventionally tilled, there’s probably some of the times of the year they’re only catching 30-35 percent to be used by the plants and the rest is going to runoff or evaporate.”

Hopper said he and his father did not start irrigating last season’s cotton crop until the first week of August.

“I think we’re barely tapping the potential of what we already have,” Hopper said. “Most people argue no-till is worth 5 inches of water. I would argue that it’s considerably more than that. We have the ability to get to a point, hopefully, where we can consistently capture 75-85 percent of the rainfall and get it to the root zone. And in the worst conditions, the 35 percent zone. In my opinion, it’s usually a 5- to 8-inch advantage.”

Hopper said that cover crops or residue from the past season act as armor for the soil surface. and trash from past seasons acts as a barrier to the soil. When rain falls, the impact is busted on the cover crop and then drains into the soil.

“If it rains in permanent grass, the water doesn’t run out,” Hopper said. “It all goes into the ground. You’ve got mulch cover and grass to deflect the impact of the raindrops. You only see soil uncovered in two cases, shifting landscapes or a desert. But, you won’t see any other natural landscape that’s not covered in plants. You won’t ever find anything clean tilled in nature. If there’s nothing above ground, there’s nothing to feed what’s below ground. Most, if not all, of the benefits of no-till come from that mulch cover.”

I can see a future in farming without irrigation, but I can’t see a future without a healthy soil. RN Hopper

However, Hopper said this whole process has been a challenge and a good learning curve.

“By 2006, we were committed to continuous no-till. There was a lot of steep learning curves, and there’s not a lot of people out here that do it,” Hopper said. “And so, we made plenty of mistakes and continued to make mistakes, but we’ve never had enough trouble with it to deter us from staying on the path.”

Hopper said he believes that the future of agriculture in the United States and West Texas lies in no-till practices.

“I can see a future in farming with no irrigation, but I can’t see a future without a healthy soil,” Hopper said. “I don’t know everything, and I’m definitely not right about everything, but I know there’s not a best way to do anything, but only better ways, and that’s the very definition of progress.”

At the end of the day, all Hopper does for his fields is because of his love and passion for farming and the land, he said.

“People refer to crop production as yield: it’s what you get at the end of the day, but, really, it’s what nature has yielded to you,” Hopper said. “So, I guess what I love most about being a farmer is trying to be the best steward of what God has given us that I can be. And that’s the challenge and that’s what keeps me excited about each coming year, and that’s what gets me up in the morning — just the hope of what might be yielded to us at the end.”

Back To His Roots

Jeremy Brown is a steward of the land.
Jeremy Brown is a steward of the land.

Returning to the farm meant living out a life-long dream for Jeremy Brown. Yet, it was risky. He had a dependable desk job, but that wasn’t the life he wanted. Brown not only continued on the legacy of being a fourth generation farmer; he also attended college at Texas Tech University.

He was the first generation to attend a university and he knew that college would be a completely different world than farming. Jeremy’s parents wanted him to attend college to experience something outside the farming world. He knew that he would be returning to his roots, but had no expectation of what could be in store for his future.

While choosing Texas Tech, Jeremy had no idea on what he wanted to major in. He knew he wanted to do something along the lines of agriculture, because that was all he knew. Finally, Brown found an interest in the College of Sciences and Natural Resources, in agricultural education and communications.

“For a guy that really didn’t know what he wanted to do except farm, it was a great fit,” Brown said.

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Jeremy Brown uses compost to fertilize the ground. It is the natural route, with no tilling  involved.

 

He received a degree in agricultural communications in 2004. While attending Texas Tech, he was not only involved in CASNR, but he was also student body president. This achievement gave Brown the opportunity to work under United States Congressman Randy Neugebauer as an intern.

“The reason I wanted to do it was because my dad had just recently got out of farming,” he said. “So, my opportunity to go back and farm had to come to an end, the doors closed.”

Brown was able to stay in the Lubbock area while working for Neugebauer. He completed the congressman campaign for representative Neugebauer in the time span of four years, only having to go to Washington D.C once a month. This made it easy for him to keep farming on the side, it made him realize he missed it.

“Working with Randy Neugebauer was a neat experience,” Brown said. “It was really fun, and I learned so much about the policy side of agriculture.”
When Brown was not working on the campaign, he was spending every spare moment he had on the farm with his now father-in-law, Mark Furlow.He enjoyed his time being in a suit and tie behind a desk, but he knew he wanted to get back on the farm as soon as possible. Brown always knew he would return to his farming roots, but he didn’t have the opportunity.

I don’t think people truly understand the risks that American farmers take when making decisions.Jeremy Brown

He grew up farming, and he knew that was where he wanted to end his career. His career has always wanted to be in the field doing what he loves to do.
“I am a fourth generation farmer, I grew up on a farm,” Brown said, “I love farming, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Furlow knew how much he loved the farm. Every time Brown would help out around the farm, he felt comfortable and knew that is where he needed to return to. He knew Brown had a passion for farming, he knew he was that was what made him happy He didn’t have that opportunity to do so, because his family was out of the farming business at the time. Furlow decided to go out on a limb and help Brown find his own land and lend him equipment. Brown knew that he wanted to take this opportunity, but had many different plans in how he was going to go about farming this time around.

Brown was studying how to make a difference in the farming of today. He wanted to find different ways to farm and feed the soil. He wanted to expand the way farming was done. He was able to learn different from people’s opinions while off the farm. He had ideas that were different from the old farming tactics. Brown wanted to become a steward of the land.

“Looking back, I am thankful that I took a step back from farming because when I came back, I came with a more open mind,” Brown said. “Maybe there is a better way of doing it.”

Brown believes if you take care of the land, it will take care of you. Brown and his company, Broadview Agriculture, are committed to this goal by focusing on two main practices, soil health and water efficiency.

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Jeremy believes that if you are good to the soil, the soil will be good to you.

“We work at building the soil health through the use of compost, minimum tillage or no-till, crop rotation” Brown said, “and high residue multi-species cover crops that help build soil organic matter.”

Broadview Agriculture grows conventional cotton, organic cotton, wheat, rye, grain sorghum, peanuts and sesame.

About 1,000 acres are used for growing organic, non-irrigated cotton. Farming can be done in different ways, not just traditional farming. He believes individuals have to take risk to see what works.

“I don’t think people truly understand the risks that American farmers take when making decisions,” Brown said, “if you never take risks, you will never know.”
Not only is Brown experimenting with different farming method for farming, he has also recently been nationally recognized for his efforts. He was nominated to be one of the eight Face of Farming representatives.

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance is made up of many affiliates. To be selected as the Face of Farming representatives you have to be affiliated with an organization that is related to agriculture, and Brown is currently members of many different organizations. Brown is a member of the Plains Cotton Growers executive committee, Mary Jane Buerkle is thrilled to have Brown as a member.

“He is a fantastic producer, and we really enjoyed having him be a part of Plains Cotton Growers,” Buerkle said.

This gave Brown the opportunity to start his business of Broadview Agriculture and explain what the business is doing.

“I am thankful to be able to have the opportunity to be able to educate the uneducated,” he said. “I want to be able to represent West Texas in a positive manner.”

Brown said he thinks it is important to understand what Broadview is doing on the farm. He also thinks it is important to show what practices are being used.

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Jude loves helping his dad on the farm. Jeremy believes without God and family, this operation is not possible

He said none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for his family and God. Brown is thankful he is able to return to his roots and continue the farming legacy. He said he loves that it is a family business. Brown’s son, Jude, who is young, gets to learn life skills and the values of hard work at the young age of six. Brown has continued to educate the uneducated about agriculture, because he loves farming and is passionate about what he loves.

“One thing I love about farming is that it is like a canvas,” Brown said. “You are constantly trying to create something and it is a lot of fun.”

 

For The Love of Farming

Although the market is not always in the farmer's favor, Braden loves what he does every day.
Although the market is not always in the farmer's favor, Braden loves what he does every day.

After graduating from Texas Tech in 2009, Braden Gruhlkey had to make a tough choice: would he be an ag teacher, or would he pursue the difficult and risky lifestyle of being a farmer?

How It All Began

Braden and his two younger brothers, Brittan and Cameron, grew up on a farm in Wildorado, Texas, just west of Amarillo. Growing up on the farm with his dad and brothers, Braden said he never felt like he was just a helper. His dad made him and his brothers feel like one day, the farmland would be theirs if they wanted it—and they did want it. Today, Braden farms in the Wildorado, Center Point, Hartley and Dalhart areas.

While student teaching in college, Braden realized very quickly that education was not the career path he wanted to follow. Actually, from an early age, he knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and keep the farming tradition alive. Together with his brothers, they scraped up what money they had saved, and with some help from their parents, bought their first farm while Braden was a sophomore in college.

“I always knew I wanted to farm so I probably wasn’t going to use my degree,” Braden said, “but I thought it might be a good idea to have something to fall back on if anything happened.”

Tradition Continues

Braden said working in the agricultural industry is a tough job that not everyone is cut out to do. When it comes to farming, it is not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job with free weekends and paid vacation days. He said during harvest season, for a month, he will not get home until 11 p.m. or later every night.

“You think it’s going to slow down, and it doesn’t,” Braden said. “You just have to keep on going.”

Braden’s lifestyle is not easy work or an easy profit, and although farming is his passion, he said he is in the business to make money and provide for his family. Braden grows corn, cotton, wheat, seed milo, commercial milo and sorghum silage on his farms, but corn and cotton are his main crops.

Growing corn as one of his main crops, Braden decided to run for the Texas Corn Producers Board and has been a part of the organization for about a year. He said he did this because he wanted to learn more about ag policy, the organization’s educational efforts, and any issues that may affect him as a corn farmer.

Stephanie Pruitt, communications director for TCPB, said the organization works to make sure young farmers like Braden have the programs and resources, like the checkoff board, they need to be able to go back to the farm.

“The Gruhlkey brothers have really pushed the conservation envelope on their farms to make sure they’re making the land and their resources last for future generations,” Pruitt said.

A Family Affair

Upon graduating from college, Braden met his wife, Lauren, at a church event in Amarillo. After one year of dating, Braden and Lauren got married. Today, they live in Amarillo, have two young boys and are expecting twins in April. Lauren is a stay-at-home mom and stays plenty busy keeping up with the kids and Braden. Braden said having only one income can be difficult at times, but this is the life he and his wife have always wanted.

“We worry about how we are going to make this work, but God takes care of us,” he said. “Because what do you know? We’ve made it work.”

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Braden grows six different crops on his farms.

Farming is not only hard on the farmer alone. It demands continuous patience and support from the family back at home. Each day is a new day often requiring a full 15 hours of hard, physical labor. Braden said his wife sacrifices a lot while staying at home with their children while he works.

“I don’t know a whole lot of women who would deal with this lifestyle,” he said. “I am blessed to have her, that’s for sure.”

The three Gruhlkey brothers are all married with children and work on the farm together almost every day. Braden said when they began farming, the brothers decided they would be more successful together than apart—and the partnership has worked in their favor thus far. Working with family on a daily basis has its challenges, but Braden said it is nice to have his brothers around when he has questions or needs advice. Braden said he and his brothers are very transparent and honest with each other and that is what makes their partnership work.

“My brothers are pretty much my best friends and that makes it work,” he said. “We’ve always gotten along.”

Brittan Gruhlkey, who is the middle brother, said going back to the farm was always his goal and he would not change his life for anything else. Brittan said growing up on the farm with his brothers taught them hard work and work ethic. Like his older brother, Braden, Brittan knew he would farm after college, despite knowing the risks and hard work it would require.

We worry about how we are going to make this work, but God takes care of us. Braden Gruhlkey

Brittan said fewer people are returning to the farm because of these risks, but without taking risks, there are no rewards.

“It’s a different type of work that a lot of people are not willing to do,” Brittan said. “The amount of time and effort and risk it takes to farm is a lot.”

Braden said their father, Bill, has had a big impact on his life on and off the farm. Besides sparking his interest in farming, Braden said his dad taught he and his brothers work ethic, honesty and how to do things around the farm.

“We’ve learned a ton from Dad about everything to do with farming—planting, irrigating, and just the whole aspect of it all,” he said. “He was always good at telling us why he did this and why he didn’t do that, and we always listened.”

During planting and harvesting season, Braden said he and his brothers come together to help each other and their dad on their farms. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into being a farmer, but Braden Gruhlkey has proven that if you love what you do and have a supportive family by your side, being a farmer is pretty darn great.

“It’s not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, but I think that in the end, we’re going to be all right.”

Texas Alliance for Water Conservation Reaches out to Farmers

TAWC President Glenn Schur and his son Layton Schur on their farm located in Plainview Texas.
TAWC President Glenn Schur and his son Layton Schur on their farm located in Plainview Texas.

The Texas Alliance for Water Conservation is working to help farmers utilize technology to conserve underground water. The TAWC project was made possible through a grant received by Texas Tech University from the Texas Water Development Board.

According to Rick Kellison, Texas Tech alumnus and TAWC project director, TAWC members are gaining recognition and raising awareness by holding meetings and field walks throughout the year. These events cater to producers but also involve many agricultural companies who help extend their reach.

“When we were trying to find a location for the Water College,” Kellison said, “we asked ourselves, ‘Where do we need to take people to help them most?’ In Lubbock, we could entice a larger audience from a larger area.”

On Jan. 18, the TAWC held their third annual meeting at the Lubbock Civic Center and attracted around 200 area farmers.

Kellison said the organization’s goal for these outreach efforts is to put technology in growers’ hands, do their best to support them through training and answering questions, and let them evaluate the value of these efforts to their farming operation. He said the producers keep detailed records for the TAWC and, in turn, they compile an economic analysis on each site involved in the project for the farmer.

“Helping doesn’t cost us anything,” Kellison said. “Just a little sweat. It’s a situation where there is no silver bullet and no one size fits all. Different producers have different comfort levels with technology.”

Glenn Schur, TAWC president, said they have some of the best raw data from different crop varieties.

“We’ve never gone in as a board and told the farmers they need to plant this or this,” Schur said. “Whatever they want to plant, we will look at it.”

Kellison said he believes the organization is making a significant impact and producers view the TAWC as an unbiased source of information.

“We are not pushing one technology over another one,” Kellison said. “We tell growers the difference in technologies, but we don’t tell them which one we think they should use or which we think is better. All we are trying to do is make producers aware that there are different technology’s there, and we believe regardless of what the farmer uses, as simple or as complicated as it can be, as long as they are using something to help them manage their water, it’s better than using nothing.”

Sorghum Shootout Shoots for 250 Bushel Goal

Sorghum bushels, reaching the goal.
Sorghum bushels, reaching the goal.

The National Sorghum Producers (NSP) and Stoller USA hope to show off sorghum’s yield potential by having growers compete in its Sorghum Shootout contest in 2017.

Whether you are just beginning in the sorghum industry or a seasoned sorghum veteran, the Sorghum Shootout is a great way to highlight the high yield potential of sorghum.

NSP External Affairs Director, Jennifer Blackburn, said NSP set a yield goal for producers.

“The Sorghum Shootout Yield contest is going to be focusing on achieving our goal of 250 bushels an acre,” Blackburn said.

With support from the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, the contest is offering prizes for winning growers. The top three contestants to place in each category of the contest will receive awards. Growers achieving the highest yields are eligible to win larger prizes. First place will receive a three-year truck lease from Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, or Toyota. Second place will receive an all-terrain vehicle, and third place will receive a riding lawn mower.

Sorghum growers from around the country have entered this year’s contest with hopes of reaching the 250-bushel goal.

 

To view the contest results, visit the website http://sorghumshootout.com/scorecards/.

Overall, this contest will be a way to promote sorghum and its potential to reach the 250-bushel mark.

For more information about the contest, please contact debral@sorghumgrowers.com.

Sowing the Seeds of the Future

Producers look on during Farmers Cooperative Compress' tour of its cotton warehouses.
Producers look on during Farmers Cooperative Compress' tour of its cotton warehouses.

It all started with farmers. Farmers who were searching for stability in an uncertain cotton market and thirsting for the knowledge to run their operations more efficiently. It started with farmers wanting to have the courage to start all over “come planting time” and sow the small cotton seeds that would largely determine their future. It started with farmers recognizing that in order for the cotton industry to survive, it has to be passed on to the next generation.

Cooperatives all started with farmers. Likewise, the Cooperative Producer Orientation, hosted by Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, Farmers Cooperative Compress and PYCO Industries Inc., started because of the need to educate High Plains cotton farmers on the regional cotton cooperative system headquartered in Lubbock, Texas.

Cooperatives, whether ginning, marketing, warehousing, or cottonseed processing, enable cotton growers to keep their farming operations stable even when the volatile market, like a wolf at the door, threatens to devour their life’s work in seconds. To do so, any profit each cooperative makes is returned to its grower-owners in the form of monetary dividends.

Lincoln Devault, an orientation attendee and 2015 agricultural economics graduate of Texas Tech, commented on the importance of the dividends cooperatives provide farmers.

“If you don’t have a profit, a lot of these farmers aren’t going to be able to make it, so that is pretty important,” Devault said.

The annual orientation featured 46 farmers and their spouses from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico. The attendees were educated on each phase of the cooperative system, or level of the supply chain as industry leaders call it, and how the legacy of farming is preserved in each. In doing so, the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock continually sow the seeds of the future by educating their grower and gin owners.

Devault said he is currently keeping his family’s near 100-year tradition of farming going with help from cooperatives.

“Pretty much my whole life I wanted to come back and farm on the family farm,” Devault said. “The No. 1 important thing for us is to be able to market our cotton at the highest price possible, and the only way for us to do that is to stick together in coops.”

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The 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation featured the largest number of attendees since the program’s creation.

Working Toward a Common Goal at PCCA

The theme of “sticking together” is how Plains Cotton Cooperative Association began the orientation event. The marketing cooperative provided an overview of its rich history, services, and marketing strategies that blend together to help producers get the best possible price for their cotton. The cooperative, which is one of the largest cotton marketing organizations in the world, was founded in 1953 by producers across the High Plains of Texas and has since led the industry in innovation and service. PCCA currently serves an estimated 9,000 grower-owners across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Devault said PCCA’s presentation began with an explanation of the value of being a coop member.

“The first thing they did was go into the benefits of being part of the coop,” he said, “which is how a group of farmers that are like-minded come together and work toward one common goal, which is putting more money back into the farmer’s pocket.”

It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going. Lincoln Devault

Harvesting Profit at FCC

Following the presentation from PCCA, attendees had a working lunch at Farmers Cooperative Compress. The warehousing regional cooperative followed suit with its presentation and provided an overview of its history, services, and even included a tour of its cotton warehouses. In 1948, producers came together to resolve the issue of cotton storage on the High Plains, thus creating Farmer Cooperative Compress. Today, the cooperative has 208 warehouses, 7,000 members, and a USDA licensed capacity to store over 2.2 million bales of cotton. The cooperative recently celebrated a milestone in returning $1 billion back in dividends to its members since its establishment.

Orientation attendees also were provided a tour through the cotton warehouses, which were full of cotton bales from the 2016-2017 cotton crop’s unexpectedly high yields.

Travis McCallister, a new cotton farmer and 2014 Texas Tech agricultural economics masters graduate, said it was very educational to view the operations at Farmers Cooperative Compress.

“My favorite thing about going to the compress was going out in the warehouses and getting to see the production of how they move cotton in and cotton bales out and ship those,” McCallister said. “It was really interesting to see the production of it all.”

After a brief question and answer session in the cotton warehouses at Farmers Cooperative Compress, attendees traveled to PYCO Industries Inc.

Extracting Value at PYCO

PYCO Industries Inc., shared its history and an overview of its services and procedures prior to the tour of its facilities. The oil mill, which was established in 1936, is the oldest of the regional cotton cooperatives in Lubbock and is the largest cottonseed cooperative in the southern United States. The cooperative is also owned by cotton gins, rather than cotton growers like PCCA and Farmers Cooperative Compress.

PYCO Industries Inc. currently serves 60 member-gins and processes cottonseed from those gins to extract and refine cottonseed oil for cooking in various forms, as well as cottonseed byproducts, including cottonseed meal, hulls, and linters.

Cooperative Producer Orientation attendees had the opportunity to take a walking tour through the oil mill facilities to see every part of the operation possible, including real examples of the products and byproducts that result from processing the seed.

Devault noted the tour of PYCO Industries Inc., and its complex operations served as a valuable learning experience.

“A cotton plant is one of the most diverse plants as far as the amount of products that can come out of it,” he said. “It was really interesting to see how they develop all the different products that they sell and what they are used for.”

The tour of PYCO Industries Inc., concluded the 2017 Cooperative Producer Orientation.

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Orientation attendees took a walking tour through the facilities at PYCO Industries, Inc.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF PRODUCERS

Devault and McCallister, both young producers, cooperative members, and former Red Raiders, said their takeaways from the event were second to none.
“I now have a vested interest in not only the cotton I grow here, but also getting it to the consumer in the cheapest way, and that turns me back more money,” McCallister said. “It allows my operation to have a wider reach than what it would if I was just taking it to the gin and selling it and if I didn’t have anything invested in it further down the supply chain.”

Devault echoed McCallister’s comments.

“Anytime you get a chance to visit a coop that you are a part of or that you are thinking about going into, you should jump on it,” Devault said. “You are going to learn something, and the more young farmers my age can get out and see what these coops are about the better it is going to be. It is time for this younger generation to start taking over the reins and learning how our industry works and what it takes to keep it going.”

Breaking out of their Shell

Search Engines. Almanacs. Keyboards. Tractors. Blog posts. Commodity prices. Farmers. The internet.

Farming has been around for millennia. The internet, on the other hand, has been around for just a few decades. While one does not usually associate the internet with the hard-working, old-fashioned farmer, farmers continue their move toward incorporating technology and the internet into their practices. In fact, utilizing the internet has opened up a wealth of opportunity for farmers.

The state of peanut farming in Texas in the spring of 2016 was a peculiar one. Texas peanut farmers were faced with a large surplus on their hands. For the first time in many years, the consumer had seemingly become disinterested in the peanut.
For farmers, a surplus of any crop can be a scary thing, and many Texas peanut farmers were being told not to plant for the upcoming season unless they knew they were going to have storage space, which isn’t the most exciting news when your livelihood depends on planting a crop every year.

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Peanuts are planted in March and then harvested in the early weeks of October.

A Unique Idea

The peanut needed to be made more appealing to consumers, but how?
Hallie Bertrand, communications director for the Texas Peanut Producers Board, had an idea. Traditional advertising through radio and TV commercials? No. Her idea involved an area where farmers needed the most help — the internet and more specifically, food bloggers.

“Surveys and research show that one of the most trusted people that moms go to are bloggers,” Bertrand said. “They have shared connections. They are all on the same page. It’s not free necessarily, but anything on the internet in a blog is the closest thing to free advertising that we could do. It was like a no-brainer to me.”

Bertrand set out to target a specific medium that could provide the biggest reach for the peanut and the farmers. Through careful planning, Bertrand developed the TPPB’s first ever blog tour.

Unknown Territory

Bringing in nine of Texas’ most popular food bloggers to tour the South Plains’ peanut industry for two days was a sure-fire way to increase the popularity of the peanut, however, trying to convince farmers that were unfamiliar with the value of blogs that food blogs were the best way to promote their product was a challenge.

“Pitching it to the board, we had some directors who were like ‘What’s a blog?’” Bertrand said.

Local peanut farmer from Brownfield, Texas, Kathy Henson, helped host the blog tour and shared the same experience as Bertrand.

“My husband wouldn’t have known (what a blog was),” Henson said.

Connecting with Consumers

And therein lies the problem. Bertrand, with her blog tour idea, was potentially hamstrung by the fact that many of these farmers were not familiar with blogs.

Year in and year out, these farmers and board members wanted to allocate their budget to research to ensure better farming practices and improve peanut yields. Research is safe and practical. A blog tour? Maybe not.

Henson said the main problem was getting the crop sold and connecting with the consumers where they are. And where are the consumers, currently? Reading these food blogs.

Many farmers, such as Henson, see the disconnect between farmer and consumer. Henson doesn’t believe it’s a matter of farmers being apprehensive of the internet and blogs, it is just that between the management, the plantings, the digging, setting the proper equipment, and so on, they just don’t have the time.

“There is absolutely a disconnect between farmers and the new age of technology,” Henson said. “Which is where we need to use technology to get our story out.

“That’s one thing that farmers aren’t very good at, just getting out our message, and what we do. It was a good opportunity to get it out to a group of women who could use technology to spread the word.”

Bertrand eventually got the necessary approval from the board and was able to design the blog tour. Nine bloggers from Houston, Dallas, and Lubbock attended the two-day event from Aug. 2-4, 2016.

The tour included a look at the Henson’s farm with personal one-on-one contact with Monty and Kathy, a tour of the Birdsong Peanuts shelling facility in Brownfield, a wine tasting at McPherson cellars in Lubbock, and even an eight-course meal that included peanut-based recipes.

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The nine food bloggers getting an up-close look at the Henson’s peanut field during the tour. Photo credit – Lindsay Hamer

After the tour, Bertrand calculated the impressions and engagements from every blog that was posted about the event, and determined the event cost less than a cent for every impression the blogs have received so far. While the success was great, there was an immense amount of pressure on Bertrand to make sure every aspect of the tour went smoothly.

Pressure to Perform

Bertrand said checkoff dollars were used to fund the whole tour. This was money that came from farmers and the work they put in to produce their crop. There was a certain amount of trust that the farmers had in Bertrand and her idea would allow for a better return on their dollar.

“It was kind of taking a chance because our board is made up of peanut farmers,” Bertrand said. “If they all saw what we were doing and were wondering, ‘What is a blog?’ It had to be successful. They are putting their trust in us with their money.”

The blog tour idea was put into action by the surplus of peanuts back in March (India and Argentina ended up having bad crops that year, so China ended up buying the whole surplus.), but connecting the farmers with the consumers was something that Bertrand has been working towards ever since taking the communications director position about a year ago. She did an overhaul of the TPPB’s website and has been posting consumer-friendly content throughout social media.

While the main goal was to sell peanuts, TPPB’s focus on food bloggers may have done much more than they could have imagined.

Bloggers bring new audience

“Bloggers bring a different perspective because we have these readers and they want to know what we learned about peanuts or what we learned in Lubbock,” AZestyBite.com food blogger Meagan Wied, who participated in the blog tour, said. “We are bringing in a different audience that are willing to learn about peanuts.”

Wied and the other food bloggers who participated can now attest to being attached to agriculture.

“When you participate in things like this, you put a little more thought into it when you eat,” Wied said. “If you’re eating peanuts, you think about the farmers. There is just more thought into the whole process.”

And so, the blog tour was a success – both financially and on the consumer level – the bloggers (many of whom are reaching 150,000 readers a month) now have a special connection with peanuts and the agriculture through their experience with the tour.

And just like the peanut after the fall harvest, these farmers are now breaking out of their shell and getting to the customer through a new area of technology, blogs. While there was, and still is, some unfamiliarity with blogs, the TPPB’s blog tour was a testament to how thinking outside the box could yield positive results.

A Lifetime of Cotton

Dan Taylor at the Bayer Museum of Agriculture

Standing just outside of his barn, below the scarlet red Texas Tech Double T that faces County Road 1240, Dan Taylor stares at his collection of tractors, a chuck wagon and a lifetime of memories hung up on his walls.

Taylor said, “Green sure is a pretty color on a tractor but that red one, that’s where it all began for us.”

An alumnus of Texas Tech University and the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, Dan started his journey as a cotton farmer almost 51 years ago in Lubbock, Texas. As a junior in high school, Dan was asked about what his future-plans were after graduation and though he knew that he wanted to pursue a degree in higher education, he never thought it would lead him back to farming cotton.

Taylor grew up on a cotton farm around the Fort Worth Area and at the time he wanted to get as far away from the cotton farming industry as he could.

Nonetheless, Taylor’s answer was always, “I’m not going to farm, and I will not do anything cotton related.”

Little did he know, the good Lord had different plans in store for him. Dan then spent the next few years of his life pursuing that degree and pursuing his now wife, Linda, who is also a Texas Tech graduate. Linda had her own ties into the agriculture industry through her family’s small livestock operation around the Austin, Texas area. Although Linda grew up around the industry, she did not receive her degree in agriculture, instead a degree in business management.

Dan and Linda married shortly after graduation from Texas Tech with a degree in interdisciplinary agriculture, Taylor acquired a job as an agriculture teacher at Lubbock-Cooper High School where he taught several young men and women the ins and outs of parliamentary procedure and meat judging, and he eventually started a school ag farm where they were able to grow cotton and show the students the process of the cotton growing business.

            In 1975, after 11 years of teaching, Taylor made the decision to step away from the classroom and pursue other dreams he had for himself and his family.

“I decided to quit teaching because my kids were getting up in age and I wanted to be able to spend more time with them. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make but if I had to go back and do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Dan Taylor, Cotton Farmer

That same year the Taylor’s came upon an opportunity that allowed them to blend all the many aspects of their lives together. Taylor could still teach the consumers, produce his cotton and watch his three children grow as well.

Taylor said, “I loved teaching, I still do and that’s the best part about this industry, I still get to interact with the public and teach them about the practices of farmers across the U.S. There are many similarities between the two professions and more than anything we simply provide information to the public.”

It was not long before the Taylor’s were purchasing Buster’s Cotton Gin in Ropesville, Texas and just like that, they were wrapped up in the cotton ginning world and spending their days living out their dream.

 “The best part about owning that old cotton gin was being able to gather around and drink coffee with those who came to our gin religiously,” Taylor said.

With his degree, 11 years of teaching, cotton farming and ginning, Taylor has had a lifetime of cotton come in and out of his home and it has now lead him to becoming the president of the Bayer Museum of Agriculture just east of downtown Lubbock. Taylor has dedicated the last few years of his life to not only farming his cotton but also spending many days and nights planning, fundraising and giving back to the community through the museum of agriculture along with several others.

            “When we were first approached about the museum it was only but a thought and for a while, we were housed in a warehouse, now we look around and see all of our hard work come to life and I think that is my favorite part about it,” Taylor said.

Taylor walks through the museum and easily knows every detail about every piece of equipment or artifact in the museum. The Bayer Museum of Agriculture opened its doors in April of 2012 with the intent to feature all sorts of machinery for planting and harvesting crops.

Alton Brazell, a farm equipment collector, was for the most part the mastermind behind all of the machinery because he had collected most of them himself for many years and they decided it needed to be out in a museum for everyone to admire.

Almost five years later, the museum features a cotton stripper simulation machine that allows you to strip your own cotton in three minutes, a section of crops grown on the south plains and all the facts about them, and several other agricultural processes such as drilling for water wells. In addition to being able to learn about crop production, the museum also rents out their facilities for wedding receptions, luncheons and many more events where people can gather and enjoy the museum. As the president of the museum, Taylor spends most days ensuring that all things run smoothly for visitors and those who wish to learn about agriculture in West Texas.

The Taylor’s are also scholarship donors for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech. Many students in CASNR have said that they owe their education to the Taylor’s generosity.

Jessica Corder a Graduate Research Assistant from the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications and a Dan and Linda Taylor Endowed Scholarship recipient said,

“It never ceases to amaze me how generous CASNR is to their students. This college is by far the most awarded students when it comes to scholarships. None of it would be possible without the amazing and giving donors that support the college every year, like Dan and Linda Taylor. During my undergraduate career, I had the fortune of benefiting from Dan and Linda Taylor via scholarship. Their generosity and genuine interest they showed into the lives of every student they supported was encouraging. I am so thankful for their kindness, and know that one day, I want to show the kindness that the Taylors showed me in helping me achieve my education to other students in CASNR at TTU.”

The Dan and Linda Taylor Endowed Scholarship was established by the Taylor’s in 1993 and is a scholarship for any incoming freshman majoring in any degree within the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

For the last two centuries, cotton production and ginning in Texas has proven to be a major player in the United States cotton industry in producing 25% of the cotton in the U.S., somewhere along the way, Dan Taylor was thrown into the mix and has made all the difference.

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Grazing a Gold Mine

 

Born and raised in Burkburnett, Texas, Keith Easter said he is a rancher/farmer or vice versa. While attending Texas Tech University, he worked for a friend who farmed and ran stocker cattle.

“I had always wanted to run cattle on my own wheat,” Easter said. “That’s all I have ever really wanted to do.”

Once ready, Easter was given the chance of a lifetime.

“I was very blessed to get the opportunity to buy the ranch I grew up on,” Easter said. “My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.”

The ranch came with quite a bit of farming, Easter said. However, he was excited to be in control of his own operation and his source of feed and wheat.

My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.
Keith Easter

Hard Work and A Lot of Faith

Wheat is a cash crop in the region. From mid-fall until late spring, Easter said, wheat provides a good source of protein for stocker calves.

Easter said the great thing about wheat is that it enables ranchers to have an opportunity to have cattle on high protein forage, and do well, through the winter months when warm season grasses are dormant.

“Wheat is a dry land crop, but it is also a cool weather crop,” Easter said. “It is well-suited for our area. If we can get the wheat planted and established early along with some timely rain, it’s hard to beat.”

For farmers and ranchers to depend on wheat for a forage supply, wheat must be planted early. Early planting allows the plants to get a good start before cold weather and short days set in.

“TAM 401” and “Razor” are the beardless wheat being used by farmers in the region. This type of wheat matures earlier, and it has proven to be a good fall and spring grazer.

Easter said once cattle ship in the spring, he starts running the chisel on his ground, to break it up.

Easter uses two four-wheel drive tractors, a chisel plow with a disc, and an air seeder.

“Once you get it broken up enough,” he said, “you are then able to fertilize and sweep the ground through the summer to keep summer annuals from growing up and robbing your moisture.”

The objective is to get the ground in better shape to have a good seed bed in the fall.

Any time after the first of September when there is an adequate amount of rain, he will begin to plant his wheat. If no rain is in the forecast by the first of October, Easter will dry sow his wheat.

“It is all dictated by weather,” Easter said.

While there are many variables, time and rain are key for a successful wheat crop.

Firm, wet ground is desirable for sowing wheat. “You want your moisture, but you don’t want to get it so shallow it’ll dry out,” Easter said.

Wheat: A Rancher’s Gold Mine

Owner and operator of the Wichita Livestock Sales Company, Billy Joe Easter, said he uses wheat as a source for economical weight gain through late fall, winter, and early spring.

Keith and Billy Joe are cousins who both grew up with agriculture. Their dads are brothers who were raised on a farm.

“Our dads’ good reputations have helped both of us in starting and growing our businesses,” Billy Joe said.

Through the years, they have stayed in close contact because of their interest in the stocker wheat grazing.

“Wheat pasture is a very suitable cool-season grazer that one should take advantage of for fall weaning calves,” Billy Joe said.

Along with his cattle auction, Billy Joe runs his own cattle/wheat operation.

“I use wheat to grow stocker calves into yearlings ready to go to the feed yard,” Billy Joe said. “Along with that, wheat allows me to grow breeding bulls for resale.”

If the market allows, Billy Joe said, he will put first calf heifers on wheat to give the young females a better opportunity to breed back and raise their first calf with ease.

Since Billy Joe does not harvest, he plants a wheat and oat mix to improve grazing.

“I want a variety of wheat that puts out lots of leaf,” Billy Joe said, “and is late maturing so it will last longer.”

Depending on moisture, Billy Joe said his cattle will graze on wheat from December until May.

Right now, the expense to harvest wheat for grain is far too high for farmers to take that kind of loss.

By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef.
Billy Easter

Billy Joe said thousands of wheat acres are strictly used to grow grain outside of Texas.

Local wheat prices may see a slight impact (slightly higher prices due to less wheat being harvested), but globally it does not affect the price of wheat.

“By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef,” he said.

Billy Joe is thankful to be able to grow his cattle on wheat pasture, which allows stocker calves to spend less time in the feed yard.

“Wheat is giving us an opportunity to make money,” Billy Joe said.

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