Fannin County, TexasDownload
Quentin Newhouse eases his truck down a hill overlooking the big bottomland in northeastern Fannin County, Texas. Situated a few miles south of the Red River, the farm is green and lush with cool season grasses. Quentin’s cattle are well-fleshed because of it. It is March, and the field to which he is headed sits fallow for now, resting between crops and soaking up moisture left by an unusually cold and wet winter.
His dad, Mark, is already in the field, working on an implement that they will soon put into service. His uncle Jimmy Newhouse, a former Farm Credit loan officer, arrives, and the three start talking farming.
Mark and Jimmy used to operate the farm. Now 34-year-old Quentin, the fifth generation to work the land that their forefathers settled in the 1800s, is earning a living from the soil as well. He is bucking a nationwide trend: young farmers leaving agriculture.
Nationally, more than 60 percent of farmers are older than 57. In Texas, that number is closer to 59—and rising. Statistically, it is rare to see someone Quentin’s age tackling the financial risks associated with farming. The 2012 United States Department of Agriculture Census found that for every farmer under age 35, there were almost half a dozen who were 65 or older.
Quentin has a lifelong love for agriculture, a sideline construction business and the backing of a dedicated Farm Credit lender. He is determined to succeed in farming.
The Newhouse family is no stranger to hard work. Over the years, they have tried various enterprises, including a dairy that Mark and Jimmy operated in the 1970s and 1980s. After phasing out the dairy, they continued to raise cattle and farm while holding down other jobs.
While in high school, Quentin started working for Jimmy’s construction company. Following graduation in 1999, he assumed a larger role in the construction firm, eventually taking over the company when Jimmy took a job with Mueller Inc., a manufacturer of metal buildings and roofing products.
In 2007, seeking a more active role in the family farm, Quentin entered into a 50-50 partnership with Jimmy, now 68, and they began full-scale farming of the family land, located seven miles north of Honey Grove. Quentin acquired secondhand equipment to use in his newfound operation. Buying used equipment — some of which was not fully operational — was one way he made the transition affordable.
“With my metalworking skills, I was never afraid of buying equipment that needed some fixing,” he says, watching his 2-year-old son play with toy tractors in the dirt. “I figured if a plow was broken, I could weld on it and get it going again.”
His strategy proved sound, as startup costs in farming can be prohibitive. Nationwide, the average initial investment for a 250- acre farming operation can be upwards of $1 million.
Staying Ahead of the Hogs
The pair began growing wheat and soybeans with success, but eventually feral hogs developed a taste for their crops.
“Pigs got so bad that they knocked out seven acres of soybeans in one night,” says Jimmy. “So we started trying to come up with other crops they didn’t like as much.”
They tried milo, but the pigs liked it, too. They couldn’t grow corn, because that would have been like giving candy to the porcine invaders. Eventually the pair discovered that pigs didn’t bother bearded wheat, so it became one of the farm’s signature crops.
Along the way, Quentin and Jimmy also grew sunflowers when they could contract the crop for a favorable profit. Sunflowers perform well in Fannin County’s soils and temperate climate, and an elevator in nearby Bonham made for convenient delivery of the crop.
“We did well with sunflowers, but when the contract price fell, we couldn’t make money growing them,” Quentin explains. “So we started looking for a new crop that we could do well with and one the pigs wouldn’t eat.”
Their answer was cotton.
Going for Cotton
Historically, dryland cotton was a staple crop in Fannin County. Over the past half-century, however, more diversified crops, including cereal grains, sunflowers, corn and milo, came into favor. In 2013, the number of acres dedicated to cotton in the county was negligible. With no gins or local market, the Newhouse’s’ cotton-farming prospects might appear dim.
“That first year we grew cotton, the weather turned off dry,” Quentin says. “But we still managed to make half a bale per acre.”
Uncle and nephew persevered, and last year they had their best cotton crop yet. While they proved they can successfully grow the crop, getting it to market still remains a challenge.
“ “We have to take the cotton over 40 miles to the gin, and then it takes several months to get the cotton sold,” Jimmy says. “It’s still been worth it, though.”
An Ally in Farm Credit
With his Farm Credit background, Jimmy knows it’s important to have a financial partner who is familiar with the local agricultural conditions and the challenges of farming. That’s why he and Quentin rely on Texas Farm Credit for their operating, land and equipment financing. David Althof, senior loan officer in the cooperative’s Bonham branch, is a strong ally.
“No one else can understand what’s going on with what we do unless they understand the agriculture business,” Jimmy says. “David understands.”
In the four years he’s worked with Jimmy and Quentin, Althof says he has seen their strong work ethic and dedication to their farming operation translate into success.
“Quentin grew up involved in agriculture, working with his dad, who was a crop and dairy farmer, so he has a strong work ethic,” Althof says. Quentin has diversified into running his own small cow-calf operation, and works closely with his uncle Jimmy on their crop-farming partnership.
“As a lender, it is reassuring to see experience and enthusiasm being passed down from one generation to the next,” Althof continues. “Young people like Quentin are the future of our industry.”