From the Farmer's Tractor
June 24, 2012
Marty and Crystal Wooldridge, 34 and 28 respectively, run a 500 head cow-calf ranch on 3,000 acres in Oil City, Louisiana. Marty is a fourth generation farmer, and took over his family’s Wooldridge Land & Cattle operation after training with his grandfather for many years.
How did you get into farming?
Crystal married into the farm, but Marty was born a rancher! Marty is the fourth generation to run/own the farm. He started working with his grandfather when he was young and earned his way to his own herd. Marty knew he belonged on the farm and has an amazing love for cows. Marty took over the small cow-calf ranch after his grandfather passed away, and it has just grown from there.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
Marty has tripled the herd and lowered unit costs by becoming more grass efficient and lowering feed usage. He is operating with the same or less labor due to newer equipment with the ability to move faster and cover more ground with the larger, newer equipment. He has worked with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and used a spray program to improve the forage for grazing and hay production without increasing fertilizer cost. He has also tripled-quadrupled the hay production by taking on more acreage and purchasing newer, bigger equipment.
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
If nothing is done to demolish or keep the Estate Tax rate low, farms are likely to change hands due to deaths and possibly go out of production agriculture. The burden of paying these taxes could cause many problems to farmers and their families. With the potential loss of direct payments, row crop farmers will see tighter and tougher times, because those payments were sometimes their profit margin. Direct payment loss will also affect lease land and pastures, making for higher lease costs. The land owners will not be making what they use to and will have to go up on leases. Higher leases would have a negative affect for farmers and also decrease their profit margin.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Market volatility, input and output costs, amounts of capital needed and government regulations are all challenges as a farmer, but I would say trying to find a bank that is willing to lend large amounts to agriculture – and mother nature – are the greatest challenges. Over the past three years, we have gone from worrying about getting the cows to higher ground and boating in hay due to flooding to only getting one cutting of hay, worrying if you were going to have enough hay, and feeding hay three months earlier than usual.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
As farmer, you have to stay in tune with market trends, diets, fads, scientific research and the economy and market your product accordingly. Provide a quality product they want at a price they are willing to pay!
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
At the farm, we work hand in hand with our local NRCS office to make sure we are using good conservation practices in all of our projects. We have done all of the following to increase conservation on our farm: fenced off ponds and increased forage around the ponds to stop sediment and pollutants from reaching the water supplies, built rocked feeding pads to stop erosion in the pastures, put in new water troughs to keep the cows from eroding around the pond and polluting the ponds, and built many new ponds specifically for irrigation purposes so we don't over use ground water and take advantage at every attempt to use surface water.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We sell freezer calves once a year by marketing steers that don't make the truck loads to friends and neighbors. We feed the calves for 150 days and then deliver them to slaughter house for our customers. We also sell all of our calves – steers and feeder heifers – directly off the farm.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Most consumers react with a certain "WOW" factor because they never really had a chance to put a face/farmer with the products they consume. It really is interesting to hear that some people, children and adults, truly believe that their food came from the grocery store. Once somebody realizes you are a farmer and grow the food they eat, they are amazed and enjoy talking to you about everything that you do.