Connor Wilmeth is finishing up the first cotton crop he’s ever made on his own.
Wilmeth, 20, is a junior plant and soil sciences major at Texas Tech University with “a passion to farm.” He secured a loan on his own this year and is growing cotton on 134 acres of leased land. He also helps his father, Matt, with 1,500 acres of mostly cotton near Ralls, Texas.
Matt, who also works at bank in Idalou, says he had Connor get his own loan so he would learn the process.
“Connor has insisted on coming back to farm,” he says. “In fact, he wanted to start his farming career as soon as he graduated from high school. I tried to talk him out of it, but I told him I would help him if he got a degree.”
Connor says he’s glad he’s in school and has learned a lot that will help him in farming, and Matt says a college education will give Connor options.
“I’ll be happy with whatever he wants to do,” Matt says. “But, he needs the options he gets with a degree, and he’s learning some useful things in school.”
Connor says most of his high school friends never expected him to come back to the farm. “I wasn’t the typical farm kid,” he says. “But, it’s so much a family thing.” Their family has farmed in this area for more than 100 years, Matt says. His great grandfather moved from Arkansas and began farming here in 1892.
“I have a passion to farm,” Connor says. “I guess when you start dreaming about something, you know it’s your passion. I like the hard work and self-determination involved in farming. I like the struggle — and it is a struggle.”
He experienced hard work and struggle with his first crop. “I’ve learned a lot this last year,” he says, noting that experience has been an effective teacher. “You just don’t know some things until you know,” he says.
He’s working toward becoming self-financed. “I want to cut production costs as much as possible. I also want to reach a size where I can see less risk, then get up every day and do what I want to do — farm.”
All 134 of Connor’s cotton acres are on drip irrigation, and Matt says he let him lease the acreage with the best water. In mid-September, his cotton showed excellent yield prospects, three bales per acre or better.
“I planted FiberMax 2484 on all 134 acres,” Connor says. “It has good yield potential.”
He says his biggest goal — and perhaps his greatest challenge — for the future is to accumulate “enough working capital to invest in machinery. It will take five to seven years before I can even think about buying equipment.”
He shares some of his father’s ideas about equipment, and says some farmers get so caught up with the appeal of fresh paint that they lose sight of the bottom line and become machinery poor.
Matt says Connor has been a tremendous help on the family farm. With his duties at the bank, Matt doesn’t get into the fields as often as he would like, and Connor picks up some of the slack. He even arranged his fall academic schedule so he attends classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and can use the other days to focus on the farm. During harvest, that will be a significant benefit, Matt says.
“He might need another year to graduate, but that’s okay.”
Connor Wilmeth may be one of a relatively few young people from farm backgrounds interested in returning to a life they know will bring struggle, ups and downs with weather and markets and long days of hard work. He says he knows of only a few farmers in the county who are 35 years of age or younger.
But, perhaps he’s a harbinger of a new generation of farm family young folk who see more than the hard work and uncertainty. Perhaps the opportunity for self-determination and the chance to raise a family steeped in the traditions of rural America will bring more back home.