The business of farming has its risks and its rewards like any business, but it also has an uncontrollable element of surprise – the weather – that can put business savvy to its ultimate test, said two Horry County farmers who were finalists for this year’s Young Farmer & Rancher awards from the S.C. Farm Bureau.
It’s pretty unusual for two finalists to be from the same county, said Faith Lawrimore, the bureau’s director of women, youth and young farmer and rancher.
“That does not happen very often at all,” she said.
Matt Brown and his wife, Nikki, were among the three finalists for the Young Farmer & Rancher Excellence in Agriculture Award. Richard and Megan Floyd made the three finalists for the Young Farmer & Rancher Achievement Award.
Lawrimore said the achievement award has been around since 1973, but the Farm Bureau created the excellence in agriculture category in 2002 to recognize people who farm part-time, as does Brown.
Being a farmer these days, Brown said, takes a lot of planning and a lot of risk management. Brown manages a peanut buying station part of the year and works in the owner’s farm store in Mullins other times.
But he also farms 100 acres near Conway with his father and grandfather.
Floyd has 500 acres near Aynor that he farms, and said that while a farmer must be adept at business, he’s also got to be smart enough to survive the tough times.
“For the amount of money you put out there,” he said, “there’s not a lot of return.”
Floyd said he doesn’t think most people have any idea where their food comes from or what it takes to get it to their tables.
“You have to grow up in it to know anything about it,” he said.
Active with the Conway Farm Bureau, Floyd said the organization and its members have tried to get into Horry schools to expose students to farming and educate not only them but through them their parents about farming.
He said the organization has tried to supply schools with lesson plans, seeds and garden plans and a simulated combine for career day, but has been turned away from the doors. He said he believes that schools in this area are so focused on standardized testing that there’s little time for anything else.
Ben Hardee, a Loris Farm Bureau board member and the school system’s director of careers and technology, said he’s familiar with the programs Floyd is talking about and that Floyd’s reception could depend on who he talked with and the time the organization expected to be in classrooms.
He said that middle schools in particular are searching for additions to career days, and that a young Horry farmer spoke at Loris Middle School’s most recent career day.
“They’re looking for people and all you have to do is volunteer and they’ll accept you,” he said.
Hardee said that teachers can get summer training to use the Farm Bureau’s lesson plans, which could be the key to getting the information into the classrooms.
He said he would talk with Floyd, whom he knows.
Floyd said he’s familiar with the effort by Horry economic developers to stimulate agribusiness in Horry County and believes they could do that best by helping the Farm Bureau to educate area students about farming. The students will take the information home with them, he said, and teach their parents.
Both Floyd and Brown agreed that a food hub, an idea under study by the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., could help to stimulate some agribusiness. Food hubs are designed to take advantage of the farm-to-table movement by providing space where farmers could take produce to sell to grocery stores and restaurants.
“Being successful (at farming) these days,” said Brown, on the Conway Farm Bureau’s board of directors, “you have to be a good businessman.”
Not only do you have to watch markets to know which crops will bring the best return, but you have to stay up to date with bioengineering to know the best seeds to plant.
While there is an element opposed to genetically modified seeds, Brown said they have been around for 20 years. But as the seed gets more specialized, it also gets more expensive.
Both Floyd and Brown grew up on farms, and Brown said that the family’s 100 acres used to be planted with tobacco and able to support three families. No longer, he said. Now the land grows row crops – corn, soybeans and the like.
“The profit margin used to be a great deal bigger than it is today,” he said.
The wild card, Brown said, is the weather. His main crop is tobacco, he said, but he also grows row crops, including wheat.
“We’re having extremes,” he said.
Indeed, Floyd said that two of the last four years have been dry and two have been wet. He said he knew farmers who lost big time to this year’s rains, and while he said he had some damage, he could harvest much of what he planted.
“We just lucked out,” he said.
But with the uncertainty of the weather, the volatility of crop prices and other challenges to farming, what drives farmers?
“If you’ve ever been involved in it in any aspect,” Brown said, “it’s hard to get it out of your system.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.