When Robert Walker was young, he loved animals and he loved the classic western movies, saying that is how his passion for the business began.
“I wanted to be like the cowboys in the movies,” Robert said, “which is a big motivation for a 13-year-old who just bought his first horse from money earned on a paper route.”
Robert has been passionate about the agriculture and cattle industries from a very early age. He spent a lot time helping on his uncle’s farm, which only increased his interest in the business. In the 1970s, he was leasing 120 acres near Socrum Loop in Lakeland when an attractive 1,800-acre estate opened for bidding.
“There was a group of us who were going to bid on the land together, then divide it at the end. But I didn’t have the money,” said Robert. “As a solution, I took my vision to Carl Peters at Farm Credit of Central Florida, and the support he gave us was incredible.”
Walker and his partners won the bid by a marginal amount of $12.50 per acre. Acquiring this sizeable property was a crucial milestone to the ranch’s development, and is a warranted point of pride for the Walkers.
After winning the bid, Walker immersed himself in the ranching business. He immediately bought cattle to put on his land.
Flipping the switch
“I was working for Lakeland Electric when I transitioned into a full-time cattle rancher; the inherent nature of the business demanded all of my time and it was impossible for me to come up with the cash flow,” Robert said. “Believe me, there are easier ways to make a living. I was up for raises and promotions at Lakeland Electric, but my real passion was on the ranch.”
The excitement surrounding Robert talking about his cattle is as obvious as it is captivating. He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every day eager to tend to his 1,100-plus acre ranch alongside his wife, Renata.
“Farm Credit was more than helpful when it came to cattle loans,” explained Walker. “The mobility of cattle means there is uncertainty when it comes to financing them. However, I was very honest with Farm Credit and, in turn, they were honest with me. Their support was vital in kick-starting that facet of my ranch.”
He shared a scenario where he went to considerable lengths to purchase bulls for his operation, “One time, I drove to Alabama for a bull sale, and as soon as the auction started, I realized there was an incredibly high number of buyers, meaning the price of the bulls would be low. The opportunity knocked and I answered by buying 38 bulls that day, which is unheard of for a single buyer. Farm Credit was one call away with on-the-spot approval for a loan totaling almost $80,000. People started asking what crazy, gray-haired man bought so many bulls.”
Renata chimed in, “And that crazy, gray-haired man hasn’t settled down for a second. He’ll be 78 this year.”
Unwavering time and dedication
Walker Cattle & Hay houses more than 500 head of Angus and Hereford crossbred cattle, as well as pastures of hay and Bahia hayseed.
“Farm Credit has made so much possible,” said Renata. “Not only by giving us a line of credit, but they’ve financed vehicles, equipment, operating expenses and even our old feed store, Kathleen Cash Feed. A few years prior, Bobby purchased a previously repossessed building with the help of Farm Credit. He co-owned it with Murray Edwards and planned to return it to its former glory under the name Walker Cattle and Hay.”
Ringing true with any business, it takes unwavering time and dedication from the owners to result in success.
“We don’t really take vacations. Every once in a while, we’ll go to the movies, but there’s nowhere else we’d rather be than our farm,” Renata said. “The small parts bring the most joy: taking in the gorgeous landscape while I spot-spray, spending time with the horses and raising the orphaned calves—they’re like my babies. Those are my favorite parts.”
A steadfast resource
Robert urges anyone looking to enter the agribusiness industry to be resourceful with their financing.
“Before you start an operation, be it cattle or crops, check with Farm Credit first,” he said. “There are advantages other financial institutions simply don’t offer, like their patronage program. Our interest rates result in being lower because of the patronage we receive.”
The Walkers highlight the best aspects of traditional American agriculture. From the beginning, their ingenuity has played in their favor. They remain steadfast in using Farm Credit as a resource and have established a reliable connection with the Association.
“The relationship we have with Farm Credit is invaluable,” said Renata. “We’ve been with Joseph Sweat for several years, and he takes tremendous interest in our operation.”
“Exactly,” continued Robert. “He knows me and the ranch inside and out, and there are no secrets. Honestly, he’s become a family friend whom we explicitly trust. That makes doing business with Farm Credit so easy. Without the initiative of Carl going to bat for me on the original bid, none of this would have been possible.”