From planes to pecans, Donnie Cochran has done it all.
Donnie Cochran started his career in the United States Navy, retiring at the rank of Captain. He holds the distinction of serving as both the first African American pilot to fly in the Blue Angels and the first African American Commander and Flight Leader of the Blue Angels, the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron.
Returning to the family business
Donnie went on to work as a professor of Naval Science at Florida A & M and Florida State Universities, then the private sector. Though, after all those years away from home, he felt a calling to return to his family’s farm in Southwest Georgia.
Started by his grandfather and then managed by his uncle, the Cochran farm has been in the family for more than 100 years. When Donnie returned to the family business, he looked to diversify some of the land that had been cultivated for timber into pecan production. Fortunately, his transition into leadership occurred simultaneously with a large harvest that cleared 58 acres of timber.
While the military and farming may seem very disparate to an outsider, Donnie feels differently. “My background in engineering and the military come to bear in the farming operation. Nothing is wasted,” he said.
In addition to resourcefulness, Donnie also calls upon skills such as persistence and diligence. For example, his 58 acres of pecan trees will need seven to ten years to mature before they produce a return on his investment. “The good news is: I'm a patient person. And that's what it takes to be very successful in this type of business,” Donnie said.
As a beginning farmer, Donnie turned to Farm Credit for help. “Without the support of Farm Credit, I think a lot of my ideas would still be ideas rather than reality,” he said. Donnie has purchased equipment and cleared land with his loan from Southwest Georgia Farm Credit, a loan that was made specifically to fit his needs.
Looking to the future, Donnie said, “I have a long runway in terms of when these trees will actually start producing, and I look forward to continuing to work with Farm Credit.”