Building Drought Resilience to Continue the Ranch

The family was named the 2019 Conservation Ranchers of the Year by the Andrews County Soil and Water Conservation District Board for their land improvement efforts. Photo by Donnie Lunsford, NRCS.

By Donnie Lunsford, NRCS, Texas

Meet the Hightowers, a West Texas farming and ranching family that raises cattle and cotton. Shelly, and her late husband Rickey, were determined to carry on the family’s ranching legacy for their children. The family was named the 2019 Conservation Ranchers of the Year by the Andrews County Soil and Water Conservation District Board for their land improvement efforts.

Building Drought Resilience

Rickey’s father lost his ranch in the 1980s due to drought, hard economic times, and high interest rates. Losing the ranch he grew up on weighed heavily on Rickey’s heart as he watched his father and mentor lose almost everything.

When Rickey and Shelly got the ranch back in 2012, they saw an opportunity to expand their legacy for their children and grandchildren. When the Hightowers were awarded their bid to lease the L7 Ranch from the University of Texas System, the state was in a drought with little cattle forage available. They hoped they hadn’t made a huge mistake. The drought eventually broke, and they were blessed with rain. Continue reading

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Lead Your FSA: In This Together

Wesley Sullivan, a member of the Comanche County FSA County Committee in Oklahoma. Photo by Madeline Alewine.

By Madeline Alewine, Farm Service Agency

The nomination period for the USDA Farm Service Agency’s annual county committee election began June 15 and continues through Aug. 2, 2021. Throughout the nomination period, we’ve been introducing county committee members across the nation. In the fifth installment of the series, we’ll meet Wesley Sullivan, a fourth-generation farmer and rancher in Comanche County, Oklahoma and second-year member of his local FSA county committee.

A Family Tradition

Wesley farms with his brother, Joshua, and father, Joe. Once solely a dairy farm, the Sullivan family has transitioned their operation to now include 3000 acres of cotton, alfalfa, hay, oats, sorghum forage, turfgrass, and millet, in addition to beef and dairy cattle.  Wesley chose to pursue a career in farming because it is all he has ever known.

“Some of my favorite memories growing up was the chance to come home from school and go straight to the farm,” he said. “My friends and I would always go straight to the tractors and cows. It was great to spend time with my friends and get a head start doing what I love.” Continue reading

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Lead Your FSA: Serving Our Neighbors

Lois Manigold, a member of the Grand Traverse FSA County Committee in Michigan. Photo by Savannah Halleaux.

By Savannah Halleaux, Farm Service Agency

The nomination period for the USDA Farm Service Agency’s annual county committee election began June 15 and continues through Aug. 2, 2021. Throughout the nomination period, we’ve been introducing county committee members across the nation. In the fourth installment of the series, we’ll meet Lois Manigold, a member of the Grand Traverse FSA County Committee since 2020.

A Fruitful Business

Although she’s new to serving on the committee, she’s not new to the hard work of farming.

“I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin with seven siblings, so I learned how to work hard early in life,” said Lois. “I’ve been part of the Manigold Orchard cherry crew for 38 years, since Rob and I were married.”

Lois and her family grow sweet and tart cherries, wine grapes and apples on over 400 acres of Old Mission Peninsula on Lake Michigan. Continue reading

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Lead Your FSA: Giving Back to the Ag Community

Paula Sue Steffen currently serves as chair of the Richardson County FSA Committee. Photo by Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, FSA

By Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, Farm Service Agency 

The nomination period for the USDA Farm Service Agency’s annual county committee election began June 15 and continues through Aug. 2, 2021. Throughout the nomination period, we’ve been introducing county committee members across the nation. In the third installment of the series, we’ll meet Paula Sue Steffen. She and her husband, Ben, have a diversified farming operation in the western part of Richardson County, Nebraska, near the community of Humboldt. Paula Sue is currently in the first year of her final three-year term on the Richardson County FSA Committee and serves as committee chair. Continue reading

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Lead Your FSA: Growing in the City

Maureen is an accounting professor at Drexel University and a small urban homesteader. She currently serves as a member of the Philadelphia County FSA Committee. Photo courtesy of Maureen Breen.

By Keith Beattie, Farm Service Agency

The nomination period for the USDA Farm Service Agency’s annual county committee election began June 15 and continues through Aug. 2, 2021. Throughout the nomination period, we’ve been introducing county committee members across the nation. In the second installment of the series, we’ll meet Maureen Breen of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Maureen is currently a member of the Philadelphia County FSA Committee.

The Urban Homesteader

Maureen, an accounting professor at Drexel University, is a self-described small urban homesteader. She grows produce and raises up to six chickens for eggs and to research the value of backyard chickens in reducing food waste. Maureen’s interest in growing her own food has multiple components.

“I like the self-sufficiency,” she says. “I want to preserve biodiversity by growing crops that are not commercially popular. The food tastes great, and I think we should respect the land by not covering it with lawn grass.” Continue reading

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Lead Your FSA: Keeping Local Farmers Informed

Charles Wesson currently serves as chairman of his local county committee in Jefferson County, Arkansas.

By Lauren Moore, USDA Public Affairs Specialist

The nomination period for the USDA Farm Service Agency’s annual county committee election began June 15 and continues through Aug. 2, 2021. Throughout the nomination period, we’ll be introducing county committee members across the nation. This week meet Charles Wesson of Jefferson County, Arkansas, where he currently serves as the chairman of his local FSA county committee.

Starting a Farm

Charles started farming in 1972 and grows around 260 acres of rice, soybeans, wheat, hemp, watermelon, peas, and several varieties of greens on his property in Altheimer.

“I was working for the railroad when I married a young lady back in 1969,” he said. “Her father and brother were farmers. I bought a cotton picker and did custom work on the side.”

After a few years, his father-in-law noticed Charles’ interest in agriculture and encouraged him to start his own farm. “And that’s what I did,” he said. “I started renting some land and I kept working on the railroad. I’ve been farming ever since.” Continue reading

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Family Dairy Shows Resiliency in Uncertain Times

Clayton Wright is a fourth-generation dairy farmer. Photo courtesy of Wright’s Dairy Farm and Bakery

By: Leila Naylor, FSA, Rhode Island

Meet the multi-generational family owners of Wright’s Dairy Farm and Bakery, one of the oldest dairy operations in Northern Rhode Island. They focus on cow comfort, value-added products, and accommodating the needs of their customers.

Focusing on the Future

On their 200 acres of land, the Wright family grow corn and hay to feed their 115 Holstein cows. Over the past three years the Wrights have worked to transition to a no-till cropping system, which helps store carbon in the soil, improves soil structure and biodiversity, and minimizes tractor time. They’ve noticed an increase in worm activity, which is a sign of healthy soil. Continue reading

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Growing Interest in Gardening

Ashley DeBord took her hobby and love of plants and turned it into a greenhouse operation. Photo courtesy of the DeBord family.

By Dana Rogge, USDA

Ashley DeBord is the owner and operator of Glory Gardens and Greenhouse LLC in Eubank, Kentucky. Managing her business during the pandemic led to adjustments in how she operates and created a bevy of new customers.

From a Hobby to a Business

Ashley has a passion for horticulture. As a college graduation gift, she received a 10-foot by 12-foot hobby greenhouse from her parents. That hobby turned into a full-fledged business in 2012 when the lifelong vegetable and plant grower decided to scale up production. Continue reading

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Conservation, Crops, and a Corn Maze

Katie Peebles with Reggie Cunningham at Peebles Farm.

By Christopher Willis, USDA

Katie and Dallas Peebles are the owners and operators of Peebles Farm Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze in Augusta, Arkansas. The Peebles bought the farm in 1996 and have transitioned to agritourism over the last 16 years. It’s now the state’s largest certified organic pumpkin patch operation. In addition to pumpkins, they produce honey and grow watermelons, cantaloupe, peas, and soybeans. Continue reading

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Lead Your FSA: A Voice for Diverse Agriculture

Luke Gianforte of Cazenovia, New York, is currently the chairman of the Madison County FSA Committee.

By Lynnette Wright, Farm Service Agency

The nomination period for the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) annual county committee elections began June 15 and continues through Aug. 1, 2020. Throughout the nomination period, we’ve been introducing county committee members from across the nation. In the final installment of the series, we’ll meet Luke Gianforte of Cazenovia, New York. Luke is currently the chairman of the Madison County FSA Committee.

Luke is the managing partner of Gianforte Farm LLC, an 800-acre certified organic grain farm that grows a variety of small grains and row crops for the food grade market throughout the northeast. They also process some of the farm’s grains to be sold as value-added products such as flour and rolled oats. Continue reading

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