As only the second Stiles Farm Foundation manager in its history, Archie Abrameit says he has always viewed the 2,600-acre Stiles Farm as a “validation center” for Blacklands farmers in Central and South Texas.
The farm, owned by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, is located near Thrall, about 40 miles northeast of Austin. After 18 years of helping lead the Stiles Farm to employ such pioneering practices as conservation tillage, Abrameit will retire March 31.
The farm serves as a research and teaching platform for Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Ryan Collett, currently AgriLife Extension agent for Hill County, will become the new farm manager April 1.
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The Stiles Farm produces a variety of crops: corn, grain sorghum, wheat, oats, cotton and new alternative crops such as sesame. It also runs a cow-calf operation on both improved and native pastureland.
“The Blackland soils here are unique,” Abrameit said. “Some things that might not work in the northeast might work here. You’ve got to be open-minded and give it a try. The Stiles Farm is self-supported through sales of various commodities and livestock. We approach everything we do here as a commercial farmer and rancher seeking a return on investment. With new technology we ask ourselves ‘Can I get return from it?’”
Abrameit came to the Stiles Farm in 1997, taking over for longtime manager Calvin Rinn. Abrameit had previously spent 19 years leading the Luling Foundation farm. He said he has always enjoyed “growing things and working with animals” while growing up in Goliad County. He was one of eight children whose parents were children of the Great Depression.
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Chopped cotton to survive
Abrameit said he and his siblings “learned to chop cotton and survive. We didn’t have much, but neither did anybody else,” he said.
The family’s conservative values through the years helped mold Abrameit for many things he’s encountered in life. Abrameit was active in 4-H and FFA in high school and later earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education at Texas A&M University. He taught agriculture in the La Grange Independent School District for two years and another five years at Seguin. Along the way, he worked on his master’s degree at Texas A&M on a fellowship.
When he first took the job at the Stiles Farm, Abrameit identified some key areas that have helped both Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service educate Blacklands producers. In particular, he identified the need to switch from a stocker cattle operation to a cow-calf program, adding more profit to the farm.
The beginning of several drought years in Texas when he first came on board served as another impetus for the change.
“1998 was a dry year and we saw the opportunity to buy some cows really cheap,” he said.
A 50-cow Angus-Brangus purchase helped form the base herd for the Stiles Farm the next several years.
Drought also shifted focus from the farm’s commercial catfish operation. There was no irrigation to fill the ponds, and the only available water source was from a reservoir. Abrameit said drought depleted much of the water supplies, and good labor became hard to come by. That, coupled with the expansion of commercial fish operations in the Southwest, was another.
Later, conservation tillage became one of the farm’s signature research and Extension programs that continues to be on the annual field day agenda.
“We looked at the deep tillage operations to control cotton root rot,” Abrameit said. “It was really an intensive activity that took away much-needed soil moisture. We looked at no-till, strip-till practices and decided we should conduct some long-range studies. We have that luxury here to see how it compares to a commercial farm.”
The research and Extension conservation tillage activities have been well documented by farm publications across the country, and Blackland farmers have implemented them.
“Stiles Farm is one of the examples of public leadership in strip till,” he said. “We’ve developed some really good linkages with equipment companies in getting final runs on new tillage equipment and practices. For example, several years ago we worked with a company in Canada to try out some new grain drills because they were weathered in during the winter. We both benefited from this activity.”
Stiles Farm field Day
The annual field day is also one of the Stiles Farm signature activities. The field day draws as many as 400 producers from across the Texas Blacklands region and even out-of-state producers.
“We’ve always received good community support for the field day and activities in general here at the farm,” Abrameit said. “The people here recognize this as an agricultural community, and it’s one with a very good school system. It’s a small, community-oriented school system. The teachers are very interested in the students and a lot of kids that have come out of here have done very well in college and vocationally as well.”
Abrameit and his wife, Virginia, have lived on the Stiles Farm since he first took the job.
“My commute has been one of the best in the world,” said Archie, whose farm office is merely yards away from the manager’s house.
The couple plans to move back home where they grew up in South Texas. A historic 1800s farmhouse his wife’s great-grandfather owned is sitting on land at the juncture of Goliad, Victoria and DeWitt counties. There they will welcome visits from their three grown children, all Texas A&M graduates, and five grandchildren.
The Stiles Farm will still hold a special place in their hearts. “This is where things move on and you go to the next chapter in the book,” Abrameit said.