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Posted: June 27, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Multi-faceted farm

Local farmers adapt to changes in demand, market

By Sabastian Wee/

Farms today are faced with multiple challenges. Between natural circumstances like droughts and floods to a market that grows more fickle by the year, farmers have had to evolve over the years in order to stay in the agricultural business.

Hodges Farm is one such business that has learned to adapt. The farm started as a cotton farm until the mid-70s, when the market for cotton plummeted and the cost of raising the crop skyrocketed. Realizing it was not feasible to invest everything into a single crop, the farm began to grow a larger variety of crops like grain, wheat, millet, wheat straw, soy, and hay.

Tim and Grady Hodges took over the family business to carry on the work their father began. In addition to the array of grains, the farm also raises cattle and goats. Over the years, the farm has grown to 200 acres — most of which are leased from various owners.

Much of the farm’s income is heavily dependent on the strength of the economy. With prices on grain varying dramatically between each season, the Hodges, like many farmers across the country, find themselves at the mercy of the market. Within the time a crop is planted and harvested, the demand for that particular crop may have dropped out of sight.

"The wheat straw we sell is used for erosion control, mulching and grass cover. When there was a lot of development in the city, the farm was able to sell a lot of it, but now that it is done or slowed down, the demand has fallen off," Tim Hodges explained. "You just can’t tell from one year to the next."

"That’s one reason why we do so many different things now. If one crop doesn’t make it, you could make a profit from a different crop," Hodges added. "When you put your crop in the ground, you have to put all of your investments in the crop; you have to buy seed, fertilizer, diesel, invest your time and labor. You don’t know until you harvest your crop if you’re going to get any money back or not. Sometimes you’ll just break even, sometimes you won’t."

Along with erratic behavior of the economy, weather also plays a major role on the Hodges’ farm. Without an irrigation system, the only way for the farm to control their water supply would be to drill a well or pump water from the lake. However, due to strict EPA regulations and the cost of drilling a well, the farm depends on rain to water their crops.

"Our land is so scattered it’s just not feasible to invest the money in drilling a well," Hodges said. "When you plant your crops, the weather can be great and things could look good. But then the weather could change in a week. It was tough when we had that drought a few years back."

The daily routine on the farm depends on which crop is ready for harvest. When a crop is ready, the primary job of the day is to get the crop yielded as quickly as possible.

"It can be quite hectic at times when the crops come in at the same time. For example, once the wheat is harvested, you’d have to get the hay off the field and replant it with a new crop within a limited amount of time," Hodges said. "The key to cropping is time. You have to be able to plant it on time, harvest it on time and spray it on time. If you miss a few days, you could lose a crop."

Hodges Farm also grows a small variety of fruits and vegetables like corn, tomatoes, watermelon, squash, peas, and butter beans. If there’s a surplus of these fruits and vegetables, they give some to their friends or sell them to the public right from the farm.

"We used to grow a lot of fruits and vegetables. But it became tricky when the other crops like wheat would be ready to harvest and because vegetables and fruit have to be harvested within a couple of days, the wheat would have to be put on hold. It just became a conflict of time. So now it’s mostly just a garden."

Despite all of the challenges they face, the Hodges Farm continues to move forward and work hard producing crops.

"We’re always in search of a market we can mostly cater to, one that’s not widely farmed," Hodges said. "With the economy the way it is, finding a profitable market can be tough, but that’s why we’re still around after all these years."

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