By BRAD KEITH
STPEHENVILLE (January 25, 2015) — Joe Bob Huddleston has more than three decades of experience helping local agriculture producers through Ag Texas Farm Credit Services, which will soon serve Erath and six other counties from a new location on US Highway 377 South just outside Stephenville.
Huddleston took part in a Q&A with The Flash Today, discussing the new location, his vast experience and the ever-changing climate of the agriculture industry.
1. How long have you been with Ag Texas?
2. Where are you from originally?
3. How excited are you about your new location and how do you feel it will benefit the Ag Texas team in serving residents of Erath County?
The AgTexas directors, management team and all the employees are very excited about our new building project in Stephenville. It has been a personal dream of mine for over 10 years, and we hope to move in by next spring.
AgTexas has been servicing this community and the Cross Timbers region for many, many years. This branch office currently serves Erath County and 6 other surrounding counties giving us a number of communities to support in addition to Stephenville. Our city has become a regional hub and AgTexas is very proud to be a part of this community. With our new office, we plan to continue serving and meeting the needs of our stockholders and keep growing our customer base for many years to come.
4. Most people know Ag Texas is a lender for those in agriculture, but what other services do you offer local residents?
AgTexas does have a rich heritage in serving the needs of production agriculture. We continue to grow our core business, having reached an all-time high in 2014. We also have a strong emphasis in other types of lending and business services. This includes financing real estate, agribusinesses and recreational property. We also offer appraisal services, equipment financing and leasing programs, crop and livestock insurance and term life insurance. We have a number of products for our borrowers to utilize to assist them with their loans and manage their cash, including our AgriLine checking program and our AgSweep product.
5. How have you seen the challenges facing the agriculture industry change through the years, and how are they changing now?
During my career in Farm Credit, agriculture has changed significantly. The number of farms and farm operators has declined, but we have seen the number of part-time operators grow in number. Our borrowers constantly strive to maximize their returns thru technology and efficiency. This has been a constant for ag producers nationwide in an effort to combat rising production costs. Risk management tools, including many that AgTexas has to offer, are essential to ride out agriculture’s cyclical nature. Adverse weather conditions, specifically this prevailing drought, and changing weather patterns have caused significant concerns not only for ag industry, but for the general public as well. Our customers have experienced just about everything imaginable.
Looking back, the loss of the peanut program in the Cross Timbers region in 1996, due to changes in farm bill legislation, was a significant loss to this area. The industry moved to other parts of Texas and the U.S. and hit our local economy very hard.
The dairy industry has always been a constant for AgTexas’ loan portfolio. Erath County had over 200 dairy operations going back to the 1980’s, however, that number has declined to around 60 left in the county. Many of those operations have grown in size, but the difference in the number of operators who have either retired or exited the business during my career has had an impact on our local economy.
Even though approximately 25% or our loan portfolio is to young and beginning farmers and ranchers, the number of ag producers and the number of farms has continued to decline over the years.
Efficiency, risk management and sound financial management have never been more important than they are today. Technology has provided many tools for producers to utilize and assist them in managing their operations, however, that does come with a price and commitment to implement. As sophisticated operations continue to evolve, education and the use of all available resources is essential to keep up with this challenging industry.
6. What are the biggest changes you have seen in Stephenville, at Tarleton State University and throughout Erath County in your time with Ag Texas?
No. 1 has been the growth in the number of businesses that Stephenville has attracted. No. 2 has been to watch the amazing growth at Tarleton State University.
No. 3 is that I have a good feel that our city, county and the university are working together better than ever before to make Erath county a better and more attractive place to live, work and raise a family.
7. How has ever-evolving technology changed agriculture and the needs of those who make their living in ag-related industries?
Advancements in technology within the ag industry have been amazing. Congressman Charlie Stenholm always promoted U.S. agriculture as a country that produces the most abundant and safest food and fiber in the world at the least expense to the American consumer. However, to utilize technology to increase production yields is expensive and our ag producers must have the knowledge and resources to implement this new technology.
8. What one piece of advice would you most like to offer today’s youth, even college students, looking to make a profession in agriculture?
Agriculture is a very capital intense business to enter. Real estate and farm equipment are huge investments and operating costs continue to increase. In many situations, some young producers come from being raised on their own family farms that have been or soon will be passed down to them. We also see some young producers marry into a farm family. Both scenarios help mitigate some of the upfront costs to enter the industry. Understanding that a profession in agriculture is a chosen way of life, gaining practical experience on the farm and thru formal education is a great start. The commitment and sacrifice one has to make to be successful in the ag industry is endless, but the rewards of a successful career in agriculture are second to none.