Deep family roots sustain farming

Matthew Mitchell is living proof that young farmers can succeed. He had options but all he ever wanted to do was farm.

Just a year ago he decided to spurn college in favor of following his dream. He had planned to attend Tarleton State University, in Stephenville, Texas, and major in agricultural education.

That didn’t happen.

“I decided not to go to school because I realized I still wanted to farm,” says Mitchell. Today he’s a graduate of Tarrant County College Fire Academy, continuing to farm and loving it.

He’s worked on Mitchell Farms in Justin, Texas, (a small town near the Dallas/Forth Worth area) for 12 years, more than half his life.

“I can farm and fight fire, the two things I love.”

His father Bill is not as enthused about the fire fighting. “I’m a little heartbroken that he wants to be a fireman; it might take time away from farming,” he says, “but I want him to do what he wants. He’ll do well with whatever he decides.”

“Dad would rather me be a farmer 365 days a year, and if it comes right down to it I’ll quit fire-fighting to take care of the farm,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell Farms has been family-run since 1959. Matthew, his father, an uncle, Pete, and brother Travis now operate the 6,395-acre farm, including 2,700 acres of milo, 2,500 acres of wheat, 435 acres of coastal, 160 acres of corn, and 90 acres of sudan. They also run 140 commercial cows and 27 registered Charolais.

Matthew expects to maintain productivity on the family farm. This year wheat yields reached 37 bushels per acre and he expects 2,000 to 2,500 pounds of milo per acre.

To maintain yields they stick with traditional production practices. In the fall they apply Roundup on land that will be planted in milo the following year. In December they break land with a chisel plow and apply atrazine for winter weed control.

The Mitchells haven’t cut back on fertility, in spite of higher prices. “We can’t cut corners; if you’re going to do it, you got to do it right,” says Matthew.

Cotton was a key crop until 1998 and averaged one-half to three-quarters of a bale per acre. “We quit farming cotton when the gin closed in Prosper; the next closest gin was in Farmersville and it was just too far,” says Bill.

Matthew’s feelings weren’t hurt by the choice.

“I’m glad we don’t grow cotton anymore,” he said. “If you don’t get a lot of rain cotton will drain nutrients and water, which messes up our land for next year. With dryland farming it’s a gamble because you have to take what Mother Nature gives you.” Some years she’s more generous than others. “This year is a 180 from last. In 2004 we prayed for a day of sunshine and this year we can’t get rain at all,” says Matthew.

The family still farms the old homestead, which stays much the same except for views of urban sprawl creeping from Dallas and Fort Worth. “This is where it started for me,” says Matthew, “I would come out in these fields to play and Grandma would leave a section in her flowerbed for me to grow my crops.”

The skyline around the farm has changed significantly since Matthew was a boy. Now he can see the Texas Motor Speedway from all sides of the farm and the area continues to grow profusely.

He misses the small-town he grew up in. “Justin isn’t what it used to be,” he says. “I’d like to raise my family where I was raised, but the city just keeps getting closer. A smaller town would be nice.”

He still has time to think about his future but for now he’s just trying to balance farming, paramedic school, serving as fire captain for the Justin Volunteer Fire Department and saving time for a girlfriend.

He’s used to being busy. “I never was just a kid,” he says. “I always had responsibilities and sometimes took on too much. Maybe staying busy kept me out of trouble. “It’s been a little hard on my girlfriend and me with all the things I have going, but she’s always supportive.”

Because of Matthew’s decision to change career directions a year ago, a three-generation tradition of family farmers, dating back to his great-grandfather, likely will continue.

Matthew and Travis will manage Mitchell Farms when their uncle and father retire. And he hopes to continue improving the operation.

“Every family farm has to create land worth farming, and the family can only hope their kids will carry on the name and business,” says Mitchell. “I’m thankful for what Dad and Pete worked for and I want to carry it on.”

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