It was a cold December day on the Hardeman/Fayette County, Tenn., line. A drizzling rain fell slowly from a low-hanging gray sky, but for the crowd of people gathered to celebrate Willie German’s 40th anniversary of farming, the environment could not have been warmer or more pleasant.
A sea of Carhartt jackets and ag logoed baseball caps milled around the large farm shop as everyone talked about various and sundry things like the end of another harvest, deer or duck hunting – or both, and Willie’s longevity in the farming business.
For a guy that started his farming career in 1977 with 150 acres of rented land scattered over three farms that nobody else wanted to work, Willie has done well.
As a young boy, sometimes he would get into trouble with his momma when he would sneak off to find the field where his daddy was farming and end up on the tractor.
His parents never encouraged him to farm. They knew the trials and tribulations of the lifestyle, had no land to hand down to Willie, and wanted what they thought would be a better life for their son – but, it was already in his blood. His daddy should never have let Willie up on that tractor if he didn’t want him to fall in love with farming.
The bell rang at noon each day during his senior year of high school. By 1 p.m. he was back home and farming the 110 acres of cotton, 300 acres of soybeans and a few acres of corn they grew for hog and cattle feed.
When Willie came home after his first week at UT Martin, his daddy had sold the hogs, let the rented farm land go, and had started working a mail route for the Unites States Postal Service.
Started from scratch
After college, Willie started from scratch. He drove a propane truck for Tex-Gas Co. in the winters of 1977 and 1978, and was asked to become the outfit’s manager in 1979. In the spring of 1980, Tex-Gas bought out another gas company, and Willie was given the ultimatum to be the full-time manager of both locations or choose full-time farming.
Of all the years he could have chosen to start farming full-time, it had to be the year of a major drought – 1980. He persevered and never looked back.
He does wish he had taken that typing class he passed on in high school because you can’t do anything today without some type of keyboard – so he hunts and pecks with his two fingers.
He marvels at the yields his land is capable of producing today thanks to the incredible technology advances in seed and farm machinery. During those first few years, if he averaged 25 bushels of soybeans an acre, it was a good year. If he told people he averaged 100 bushels of corn, they thought he was crazy. Back then, he could break even averaging a bale of cotton per acre – today, it takes twice that and sometimes more.
Willie’s three sons live close, farm with their dad, but Willie describes farming with his sons as a blessing and a curse. He loves farming with them, but realizes he will have to stretch out his career several more years until they learn the intricacies of the business – of which there are many.
As the celebratory luncheon came to a close, Willie rocked back in his chair and smiled as he watched his grandchildren chase around a blue heeler puppy. He then looked out the door at the gentle rain that began to puddle on field behind his shop and started thinking about his 41st year of farming.