OALP XIX Seminar 2
Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program met for the second time in Southwest Oklahoma.
Wednesday, September 26
The first day started off rainy and cold. Some of us met in Stillwater at the Stored Products Research and Education Center and the rest of us met at the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives in Oklahoma City. From there we traveled in two vans across the state to Hobart. The first official stop to this action packed day started at 10:15am at Sesaco Corporation, the sesame seed processing facility. We were greeted by Baldemar Hernandez and Joe Guzman but unfortunately one of them was wearing a Texas Tech hat and the wound was still fresh from the loss OSU suffered from Tech a week earlier. The meeting started in the front offices where we had a lengthy Q&A session. We then walked over to the warehouse facility and they walked us through the entire sesame process. We all met in the front office again after the tour and presented our hosts with their OALP Class XIX coins and we were on our way.
The next stop on our trip was an hour away in Altus at the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association where we were served lunch. The lunch was provided by some OALP alumni and the speaker was Jerry Goodson, the Extension Assistant from Southwest Research and Extension Center. His talk consisted of the troubles they have faced with growing cotton in the past with an emphasis on 2011-12 with drought issues. He spoke about how cotton is king right now and it has been on a steady rise these past couple of years. After lunch we walked across the street with Jay Cowart, Vice President of Warehouse Operations and Randy Squires, Warehouse Coordinator, to where they house all the cotton and how they use tracking to locate where every single bale can be accounted. One of the warehouses can fit 12 football fields inside of it. That’s huge!
Soon after departing the PCCA, we landed at Martha Valley Farms and were greeted by fellow alumnus Matt and his wife Kellie Muller. It was very impressive to see the effort they put in making a display of the different crops they grow and the lifespan of a cotton seed. We were able to hear about their life of being a family-owned farm. Matt also had a huge combine in their barn which he gave us an up close and personal lesson on how the front end works to harvest the cotton and the thousands of spindles, gears, and pickers. After the show-and-tell, we headed down the road to one of his cotton fields to see us how he runs his irrigation systems – both flood and drip.
The time is now 3:45pm and we head on out to the Cotton Growers Cooperative and huddle into a lounge area at the front office. OALP alumnus Keeff Felty told us how the cotton coop works and the buy in and all the benefits that come with joining. He also gave us some handouts that showed the interesting products made using cotton. We then toured the gin. It was very intricate from receiving and shipping the cotton, to the byproducts, to how to prevent fires with their water suppressant systems. The plant wasn’t ready for production yet but the tour itself was enough to get a good idea of how everything worked.
After about an hour, we left one coop to go to another coop. This one was Eldorado Farmers Cooperative and it was huge and very impressive. The General Manager, Rusty Reese, showed us around and schooled us on all things wheat. They can store 1 million bushels of wheat in two steel bins. The system can load a 110-car train with wheat in about 8-9 hours.
We had two stops left and this next one was at Rio Rojo Outfitters. The owners, Tanner and Tara Holder, and their son hosted this tour. We met in the impressive main lodge to hear how and what they have to offer for hunters and enthusiasts. We heard funny stories about hunters and admired the history on the walls from previous hunts and trophies as well.
Lastly we headed over to Stockman’s Bank in Altus where the host, fellow alumnus Mark Holder and his family provided us a delicious meal. The steaks, baked potatoes, and cobbler was a very pleasant surprise. We all sat at round tables and were able to hear from Brent Howard, a fellow alumnus, who is in the middle of a campaign running for state senate. He told us about his time being raised on a farm and about his time in OALP where he met his wife Jennifer. He answered a lot of questions from guests and from us and did really good, I might add. The second speaker was very funny and even more passionate about irrigation. Tom Buchanan is the Manager of Altus-Lugert Irrigation District. I think we were all very tired from a long day but Tom woke everyone up with his jokes and his opinions about water issues and politics. At around 9:00 p.m. we adjourned to the Microtel in Altus.
Thursday, September 27
Click the video below to hear about day two!
Friday, September 28
On the last day of Seminar 2, we began at Entz Auction & Realty with Allen Entz. Each quarter they hold equipment auctions and are also involved in real estate brokerage throughout the year selling mostly farm and pastureland. The Entzs also farm southeast of Hydro.
Class XIX loaded onto a school bus for the day’s tour. Dean Smith, who farms 24 center pivots south of Hydro, provided us with an overview of the Weatherford/Hydro area history. We learned that Route 66 opened in 1928 and was the first paved road in this area. Later in the 1960s Interstate 40 was opened, running parallel to Rt. 66. Before paved roads, this area was part of the California Trail. The trail ran on the ridge between the Washita and Canadian rivers. The land in this area is located over the Rush Springs aquifer, which has been a very stable aquifer for producers in this area. It provides citizens with good drinking water as well as water for agricultural and industrial purposes. The water is managed by the water district that starts near Carnegie. On average wells are 300 feet deep and supply water at a rate of 400-500 gallons per minute. Historically, there were a lot of peanuts produced in this area. Roughly ten years ago, there were 35,000 acres of peanuts produced, but that is down to 6,000-7,000 acres now in Caddo County.
Our first stop was at Schantz Farms. Merlin is a fourth generation farmer. In the 1980s they began growing peppers. The oil resin from their peppers is predominately used in pharmaceuticals. They are competitive in the pharmaceutical area because they can provide trace back to their operation as compared to their international competitors. The peppers they grow were developed at Oklahoma State University and are significantly hotter than jalapenos. Merlin Schantz credits OSU as being instrumental in his success with peppers. The peppers are very labor intensive and high maintenance, but a significant income on a small amount of acres can be generated. They contract with a greenhouse in Florida to get the peppers started for them each year in February as the plants won’t tolerate a freeze. The pepper plants are transplanted to Oklahoma in mid-April. The planting process requires 17 people and they can plant 20 acres per day. Their biggest challenges include weed management and finding labor. The fields must be hoed by hand. The plants also have no tap root, so nitrogen must be applied throughout the season. Spray drift is also a challenge as the peppers are to be pesticide free. There are no commercial harvesters for the peppers, so they have worked to develop their own over the years. They have a one-time destructive harvest after frost when the plants reach 20-25% moisture level. Harvest starts around Thanksgiving and they finish with processing in February, typically. Nearly half of Class XIX tried the peppers in the field and quickly learned just how hot they were!!!
The next stop was at Triple S Farms. Triple S Farms is owned and operated by brothers Dennis and Virgil Slagell. Together, they started farming in the 1970s and quickly moved into vegetable production. They grow watermelons, sweet potatoes, cotton, peanuts and wheat. The watermelons they produce are sold in Walmart. Thus, they have a very stringent food safety policy. They are third-party audited each year. The packing shed as well as fields are audited. They use Granular for their record keeping and to push work jobs out to employees. Along with food safety, traceability is critical. They have an in depth food safety and traceability plan in place. Employees are trained to ensure that they are filling their critical roles in the food safety and traceability process. Additionally, they complete a sustainability audit each year as well. To harvest watermelons, it requires 30 people in the field and 20 in the packing shed. Crews are contracted for both watermelons and sweet potatoes. The products they produce are distributed across the United States and Canada. Like the peppers we saw at Schantz Farms, the sweet potatoes grown at Triple S Farms are also transplanted. The sweet potatoes are started in Arkansas and then come to Oklahoma. Twenty-four people are required for sweet potato planting, which is a slow process. The sweet potato plant is a very hardy plant, so they do not have many problems with them. They have no fungal diseases or nematode problems. The sweet potatoes are easy growing. At harvest, sweet potatoes are selected for size. They must be larger than 1 7/8” and less than 3½” to go to Walmart. The other potatoes, #2s, go to freezing or canning. The #2s are often used to make sweet potato fries as well. A good yield is approximately 30,000 pounds per acre, split evenly between #1s and #2s. Generally, they are paid $0.37 per pound for #1s and $0.12-$0.15 per pound for #2s. The class was able to visit the field and see the sweet potato harvest in action.
The third and final stop of the day was back to Schantz Farm’s headquarters where we joined in lunch and fellowship with several area alumni as well as other folks in the agricultural industry. Dr. Lynn Brandenburger of Oklahoma State University was our first lunch speaker. He spoke to the audience about the critical role of the land grant university system, made possible by the Morrill, Smith-Lever, and Hatch acts for the research, teaching, and extension areas. Dr. Brandenburger also shared how agriculture stimulates small and rural communities, building them up. Their funding is predominately from the state and has been drastically cut (near 30%). These cuts have been handled through attrition, but leaves them unable to provide extension services in many areas. He challenged this class to help them get the legislative funding they need to keep supporting the state.
The second lunch speakers were Tony Lugafet and Bart Strubel with GRO. They spoke to us about industrial hemp production. Industrial hemp has a 9 foot tap root and loves nitrogen. However, it does leave some nitrogen in the soil. The industrial hemp can be planted three times per year, back to back for four years without rotation. It has a 120-day cycle from planting to harvest. Hemp fiber is used to make over 35,000 different products
To close out the day, Senator Darcy Jech spoke to us. He is the senator for Beckham, Blaine, Caddo, Custer, Kingfisher, and Roger Mills counties. Sen. Jech has served in the senate for four years and is currently running unopposed. He was raised on a farm in Kingfisher. Today, he has an insurance business and still runs cattle and wheat with his brother. Sen. Jech currently serves on the agriculture, transportation, and public safety and health committees, as well as on the natural resources subcommittee. He shared that the state financial situation is improving and that we should have approximately a $300 million dollar surplus this year.
The second seminar allowed Class XIX to learn more about different types of agriculture in Oklahoma. We anticipate more adventures at the next seminar!
Lindsay Henricks, Class XIX