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Gambles pay off for Robert Taylor

Master Farmers: Robert Taylor farms more than 1,900 acres, and he runs a farm market and restaurant.

Chris Torres, Editor, American Agriculturist

June 1, 2023

7 Slides

Robert Taylor’s farming philosophy is simple: “We really, really try to do what we say what we’re going to do. That’s our reputation on the line.”

And reputation is one of the reasons he has been able to grow his farming operation to what it is today. Taylor farms 1,938 acres of corn, soybeans, apples and small fruit in and around Inwood, W.Va.

He will admit that he is not the most outgoing person. In fact, he would consider himself even a little bit shy.

But when it comes to farming, and even some of his other businesses, when opportunity knocks, Taylor is there.

Winding road to farming

Taylor was a member of 4-H and FFA in high school and graduated from Musselman High School in 1968. He was recruited into the West Virginia Air National Guard in 1969 and served six years.

A career in farming was always in the back of his mind. He remembers his childhood spending many hours on his sister’s farm, watching his sister and brother-in-law as farmers.

“That’s where I learned a great deal about the business,” he says.

But it was his brother — now dead — who took him under his wing into an early career in retail. At 16, he got a job at a local JCPenney’s store, and in 1971, he was transferred to manage a JCPenney’s store in Frederick, Md.

Farming was just a hobby of his back then.

But “I knew that [retail] was not what I wanted to do,” Taylor says. “Farming was in my life.”

With his experience in retail and his already established love for farming, Taylor quit JCPenney’s and started an International Harvester dealership in 1973 at age 24. It was a dealership he ran from 1973 to 1987.

“My brother-in-law had all International Harvester equipment, and he farmed hundreds of acres with those tractors. So, it made sense to me,” Taylor says.

“That worked out really well,” he adds. “We won several awards for selling Cub Cadets, and we were a small dealership. And I enjoyed it.”

In the late 1970s, Taylor started farming on a small scale. His first orchard, he notes, was only 10 acres. But other growers who were getting out the business, or retiring, noticed that he did a good job managing his acres.

Eventually, he was asked to buy other farms in the area, and this is where he started growing his farming business.

Changing the focus

But in the early 1980s, with high interest rates and a farm economy that was struggling, Taylor started looking for a way out of his dealership.

“International Harvester got in financial trouble,” he says. “The writing on the wall was, they were going out of business.”

Tenneco bought out International Harvester in 1984. Taylor hung on as a dealer for three more years before selling out in 1987.

At the same time, he kept growing his farm business and did other things on the side, including driving school buses for 11 years.

He also started a water-hauling business, picking up water from local municipalities and delivering it to end customers. Swimming pool operators, he says, are his biggest customers.

“The water-hauling business has been very good for us,” he says.

But his farmed acreage continued growing along the way. It now includes more than 1,900 acres split among tree fruits — mostly apples — corn and soybeans.

Most of his plots are small, averaging about 60 acres. But Taylor has kept farming alive in an area that is seeing rapid development, especially along the Interstate 81 corridor, a major north-south interstate.

“To build it today, I’ve had to take those small acreages as big fields are very hard to come by,” he says.

Taylor grows 800 acres of corn and 400 acres of soybeans per year. His corn yields average 160 bushels per acre, while his soybeans average about 60 bushels per acre.

He farms limestone-heavy soils with lots of rocks, and much of his plots are along fencerows.

“I can’t get 200-bushel corn on the ground we farm,” he says.

His on-farm storage totals 75,000 bushels. Most of his corn gets shipped to Virginia to feed turkeys, while the soybeans go to Risser Grain in Pennsylvania.

He grows 500 acres of apples with an average yield of 525 bushels per acre. His highest yields have come in about 750 bushels per acre.

Taylor plants all his corn and soybeans. He has transformed many of his orchards to high-density plantings on spindle.

No-till, cover crops and some contour tilling are methods he uses to grow his crops. Land stewardship, he says, is important.

“I think that’s another reason I got what I got, because they [landowners] see how I take care of my land,” Taylor says. “I don’t hold back. When we go into an orchard, I treat that orchard just like it’s mine. I think it’s very important.”

Taylor has recently upgraded his equipment to take advantage of the latest technology available to growers and to reduce his field passes. He recently bought a 12-row John Deere 1775 planter pulled by a John Deere 6215 tractor.

He also has two combines and an 11-row soybean planter. All his machines are hooked up for precision ag applications.

Connecting to consumers

Operating a farm market is challenging for any grower, especially if they have sizable acres to farm.

In 2014, Taylor started his own farm market in a building that was once a cold storage fruit facility owned by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. He always wanted to have a farm market for his fruit and to market other locally grown farm goods.

“We’re getting so heavily populated in this area that it made sense for me to buy the building and sell stuff from the farm and other local farms,” he says.

But he was not done. Two years later, he and his son, Ryan, opened a restaurant behind the farm market, The Cider Press, that has become known for its crab cakes and sandwiches. Much of the seating and equipment used in the restaurant came from a nearby Shoney’s restaurant that closed.

In 2017, the restaurant was recognized as one of the “101 Unique Places to Dine in West Virginia” and is currently Inwood's top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.

Taylor, 72, says having his son, Ryan, who is set to take over the farm and other businesses in the future, has been crucial for him to run the entire operation.

“I couldn’t do it without him. None of these would have been possible without having Ryan there,” he says.

Labor and land availability are his biggest challenges. He relies on the federal H2A program to fill his labor needs in spring and fall in the orchards, but much of the other farm work he does on his own with very little help.

He has a total of six farm employees, full and part time, and more than 30 people work for Taylor in the farm market and restaurant.

Still, Taylor says he has no regrets. He knows farming is a gamble, and at least so far, he has beaten the house.

“You have to live each day; you have to have a lot of faith,” he says. “I’m not a gambler per say, but farming is the biggest gamble out there. You can’t give up.”

Robert Taylor at a glance

Operation: Taylor Farms Inc., Inwood, W.Va., 1,938 acres of corn, soybeans, apples, small fruit. Owner of Taylor’s Farm Market, owner of The Cider Press restaurant.

Family: wife, Beth; children, Ryan and Trebor Taylor, Dr. Janna Brown, Megan Michael.

Ag and community involvement: Member of First Baptist Church of Inwood; 2022 Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival Honored West Virginian award.

Read more about:

Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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