Farming is my family business

By Darrell Bowers

I am a farmer. It’s what I am and what I’ve always wanted to be. It is a family business. In fact, agriculture today is kind of difficult to get into without a family history of it.

My name is Darrell Bowers, and I appreciate this chance to talk to my customers and Texas neighbors. I farm near Victoria, Texas, and I am 30 years old. I am married and have two children. The Texas Farm Bureau has chosen this week to make a special effort to connect with the people who are our customers. We call it Texas Food Connection Week. I appreciate you!

Part of what I do would be easily recognizable. I grow corn and grain sorghum, and I have planted cotton. I might yet do some this year if the rain falls at the right time. I am also a catfish farmer and that’s a bit unusual. I’ve been in that business since 2003, and I’ve seen good times and bad. That’s what I want to talk to you about today…profit.

At the end of the day, farming is a business, like many others. To commit myself to this life, I have to ask myself some serious questions: “Can I make a living for my family?” is the most important one. This means a decent living—one that includes not only healthy food and adequate clothing, but piano lessons, Little League baseball, a family vacation, a comfortable home and college educations for at least two children. I’m hoping for Texas A&M, but we’ll see.

Like other businesses, I have to be able to adopt innovations and have access to the latest technology. Without that, I cannot compete with my counterparts in Brazil and Asia, who have many advantages, like cheap labor. Technology and labor costs add a lot to my bottom line, and profit is the key if the next generation of farmers and ranchers is to stay on the farm.

In the catfish business, I’ve struggled through many tough years.  Fortunately, the last two have been pretty good ones.  The drought and how it has hurt grain and cotton crops is well known.  Prices have been pretty good, though. When you grow food, there are always ups and downs. I can handle that, if I know you are behind me.

I am skilled in the tools I use on your behalf. I am a steward of the land I farm. I know that when it is passed on to other hands it must sustain another generation.

I love the fact that, as a farmer, I participate every day in what I believe is an American food and fiber miracle. Ask me questions on this blog or on the Texas Farm Bureau Facebook page. I love growing food for Texas and America. Happy Texas Food Connection Week!

The above post is from Darrell Bowers, a Texas farmer from Victoria. Darrell is one of five guest bloggers who is talking about food and farming during Texas Food Connection Week, sponsored by Texas Farm Bureau Feb. 17-23.

14 Responses to “Farming is my family business”

  1. Darrell, I feel for you having to satisfy customers, stay ahead of the competition and make a profit in between. Very tough!

    However, I know you said you “have to be able to adopt innovations and have access to the latest technology.” Actually, your customers will decide that for you.

    If your customers don’t like your technology or innovation then they won’t buy your product. You may not agree with your customers, but if you go against them… well… you’ll have more time to fish.

    The trend is your friend. Look where the market is headed and get on board. Leave it to the lobbyists, associations and unions to fight perception. Remember, it’s their job to influence consumers AND producers (you). It’s your job to keep focused on what customers want, your bottom line and make your own assessments where the two will be in the future. Good luck!

    • Organic food and beverages make up 4 percent of the market, according to the Organic Trade Association. Yes, that proves people want those products, as I assume you do, Clay. However, I don’t know of ANY business owner who would overhaul their operations to chase 4 percent of the market. Customers should and do dictate the market, and 96 percent are happy with the food that farmers like Darrell grow. I am in that 96 percent. Thank you, Darrell, and all the other farmers who grow safe and healthy food for my family.

      • I was just talking about general business. The tablet business 5 years ago was under 4% of computing devices sold. So should Aaple computers have scrapped the idea of the Ipad?

        It’s about growth and where the market is headed. You can stay cozy in the 96%, but if that market drops to 92% and gives up market share to organics, then that means the organic market has doubled (from 4% to 8%). Farmers need to focus on that and position themselves accordingly, or face declining margins and profits. We live and die by our customers perceptions (right or wrong). Farmers need to obey them and not try to change them. Leave that to associations, unions and lobyists.

        • First of all, it is 4% according to the Organic Trade Assoc. http://www.ota.com/organic/mt/business.html – USDA agrees. Let’s not obfuscate. Clay your tablet analogy breaks down on cost. We love our organic farmers here, but they will never compete on costs. It’s just not possible. A substantial portion of food consumers will ALWAYS consider cost an important factor. Farmers will follow the market as you suggest. It’s just that the market will not go where you hope it will. It will grow some more and find it’s niche at some point. That’s a good thing. You are making a political and emotional argument, not a market based one. These arguments always go in a circle and come down to “Well what about this, then?” I think you, Clay feel strongly about this and can afford the choices you make. I would never presume to tell you you can’t…but like most on your side of this, you want to choose for the rest of us too. Some can’t afford that and some don’t think it matters. You can have the last word unless someone else want to argue with you. Hope your week is going well.

          • I won’t trouble you again with my emotional arguments.

          • Mike Barnett says:

            We certainly respect your opinion, Clay. And we appreciate your comments.

          • What a cold and sterile place this blog would be without emotion. My emotions have been part of this blog at times. Yours, Clay, are welcome as well. Your insight too. We’ve also seen that.

          • maria Concilio says:

            The market for “organic” food is much more than a market. It is a movement. If you will for a moment step aside from all the hype of the chemical ag industrial pharming voodoo, it is the way our grandparents farmed, with care and without the use of the toxins that these folks are trying so hard to lobby and sell to the farmers and to the people, that is what we want. THat is what will provide and guarantee a future for our children. Chemical farming does not allow carbon to remain in the soil, where is belongs, chemical farming destroys the purity of our water, our air and chemical farming does not deliver on its promises to produce higher yields. Not everything is about money and some other green things count just as much because in the end, you can’t eat money. When the air, the water and the soil are so contaminated that we can no longer sustain ourselves, then we will remember.

          • Thanks for posting Maria. My grandfather did, in fact, farm this way. For real, not as a 21st Century theoretical exercise. No one had the choice. It was all as you describe. He had different words for it, though. He called it “going broke.” He adopted technology as it became available. Later, I helped him. In the late 1970s, he and my Dad made the decision to retire from farming because they could not get big enough. A movement it may be, but even a movement bumps heads with cold hard economic reality. I have no quarrel with anyone who choose this lifestyle. I am elated if they can make a living serving that niche market. There is no disrespect there. Niche market are real and fair and have helped people make a fine living. However, I feel compelled to speak up for farmers who are using technology and for the single mom on a tight budget who MUST shop on price as a very important factor. The science says she is feeding her family safe and healthy food, too.

          • Some of the technology we are talking about means we reduce chemical and fuel in trips across the field. Both have been substantially reduced over the past 50 years while yields have more than tripled. Thanks to technology. If you think, Maria, that the chemical carpet bombing you describe is anything close to reality, you should get off the Internet and talk to some farmers.

  2. Darrell, your statement, “I am skilled in the tools I use on your behalf. I am a steward of the land I farm. I know that when it is passed on to other hands it must sustain another generation.” is just amazing! What a wonderful perspective that you realize as farmers, we do use the land and tools on behalf of everyone. (Thanks for those wonderful catfish! Fired with hushpuppies is a weakness of mine!)

  3. Darrell Bowers says:

    My wife and I would first like to thank everyone for their interest on this post! This exchange of information and perspectives is what allows us to move this industry we call Ag forward! We agree that organic is a market and or ‘movement’ that many are interested in and actively live! The market that we participate in and BELIEVE in, is growing a sustainable food source for the world’s growing population! The fact of the matter is that if farmers were forced to no longer use the advancements that have been made available…people across the world would go HUNGRY! When our grandfathers were farming there were 2.5 billion people in the world and now it is nearly 7. Last time I checked God hasn’t created any more land in the last 60 years, so farmers have been and will continue to use advances in science and technology to feed the world’s growing population on the same amount of dirt that they used so many years ago. The advancements we use have been proven safe! Do they increase production, of course they do and while this does improve our likelihood for profitability, it more importantly ensures a safe food supply for ALL!
    We do take our job of feeding people very serious and feel like we are impacting the world in a way that does not discriminate! And in doing this we are also making a living for our family and providing for our two boys. We eat our catfish out of our ponds and our corn from our fields and don’t think twice about the product we put on our table for our boys. Again thank you for your feedback and support!

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