Andrew Wargo III has accomplished more in his 77 years than many people could accomplish in two lifetimes, and this year he is celebrating his 50th year as farm manager for Baxter Land, Co., in Dermott, Ark.
Wargo was born in Little Rock, Ark., and learned the value of hard work early in life by working alongside his father, Tim, who was a logger and cattleman. During World War II, the family filled contracts with the U.S. government to raise beef. “My dad farmed row crops later in his life, but I became fascinated with science very early in school,” says Wargo. “For my senior science project, I built a centrifugal flow jet engine.”
For anyone who knows Andrew Wargo, that is not the least bit surprising.
For graduation, his parents paid for him to take a private pilot’s course from a flight school based in Clarksdale, Miss., and Wargo began what would become a successful flying career.
He turned down a full-scholarship offer from the University of Arkansas at Monticello because his parents wanted him to attend Arkansas State University, where he earned a degree in agriculture and was a member of the ASU Sport Parachute Team that won the National Collegiate Championships in 1964.
He made over 200 jumps and built up flight hours while on the team. By the time he landed his last aircraft, he had amassed over 4,000 hours of flight time. “I was just always so darn curious about so many things, I ended up earning six minors to go with my major,” says Wargo. “I also turned down a full scholarship to Texas A&M to study engineering. I was tired of school.”
Wargo periodically returned to the flight school in Clarksdale during his years at ASU to earn more ratings. “I earned my commercial, multi-engine, and instructor ratings for both helicopter and fixed-winged aircraft. After the flight school was awarded a contract to teach flying to students enrolled in the ROTC program at the University of Mississippi, I became a flight instructor and held that position for nine months while also flying charter aircraft for the university.”
When the contract with the ROTC program ended, Wargo had a 100 percent graduation rate. “Believe me, that was no easy task,” says Wargo. “Those students weren’t terribly motivated to graduate because that just gave them a ticket to Vietnam.”
Coming Back to Ag
The aspiring pilot soon found himself back in Arkansas and in agricultural education after the ag teacher at Desha Central High School resigned. “I taught for one year, but soon got a phone call from Arkansas farmer and landowner Mr. Bill Baxter. Little did I know that I would be employed by the Baxter family for the next 50 years. Meeting Mr. Bill changed my life,” says Wargo.
Bill Baxter was instrumental in helping establish what would eventually become Cotton Incorporated. “His industry leadership roles frequently pulled him away from his multi-thousand-acre farming operation,” says Wargo. “Mr. Baxter told me my job was to see that everything that needs doing gets done.”
That job description played directly into the young farm manager’s insatiable inquisitiveness. Farming equipment, products, and processes were changing rapidly during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s — the first three decades of Wargo’s employment with Baxter Land Co. “We saw a major reduction in the use of row crop chemistries, and the ones we were using soon became target-specific,” says Wargo. “We stopped using what was called ‘recreational tillage’ where each January we would disc the ground just because that’s what we had been doing forever. Conservation tillage came on strong.”
By the late 1980s, the Baxters and Wargo began building a catfish farming operation. “We maintained that business until 2008 when so many catfish farms went under, so we converted those ponds back into row crop ground,” says Wargo.
Because of the large acreage the Baxter family dedicated to cotton, Wargo eventually assumed another role — gin manager. “We took the gin from a 6,000-bale operation to a 30,000-bale operation before the Baxters decided to merge the gin with two other gins to make a super gin in Dumas,” says Wargo. “Personally, it was very gratifying to be a part of the ginning operation and watch it grow through the years, but everyone involved with any aspect of the Baxter Land, Co., is part of a team — that’s always been very important to me.”
Establishing and maintaining relationships within ag circles has always been a strength of Wargo. Baxter Land, Co., rents land to other farming operations and through the years, Wargo has been responsible for maintaining relationships with those renters. “It’s not always an easy task, but we have some good renters and our good relationships with them have allowed us to remain a cohesive farming operation for many generations of Arkansas farmers,” says Wargo.
No moss has ever grown under Wargo’s feet. His long list of professional experience, activities, and organizational memberships fill two pages on his bio. He was an honor graduate from Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., and completed the basic and advanced Engineer Officer Courses. “Science and engineering impact so many parts of a farming operation,” says Wargo. “I’ve used my education and love for these subjects for as long as I can remember as I managed this farm,” says Wargo.
Through his work with NRCS from 2008 to 2013, he raised awareness of the herbicide-resistant weed problem. His efforts led to programs being created to specifically address the widespread weed issue.
“This effort wasn’t just about increasing sprays but instituting an entire change in conservation and farming technology,” says Wargo.
While president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, he worked closely with Dr. Ken Smith, University of Arkansas, and Dr. Larry Steckel, University of Tennessee, among others, to design a training program that eventually qualified 100 crop consultants to write farm plans which led to NRCS funding to fight the proliferation of herbicide-resistant weed problem.
Few people know Wargo as well as the man who hired him 50 years ago — Bill Baxter. “I have a lot of respect for Andrew. I placed a great deal of responsibility on him, and he managed our operation like it was his own,” says Baxter. “Andrew has always been driven to succeed and that’s why he has accomplished so much in his lifetime.”