By Jayci Bishop
Not many people can turn a weekend hobby into a career, but Idalou’s Mac Becton did. He spent 30 years working in the agricultural chemical business, only to move back to the Lubbock area in 2005 and began hobby farming on the side in 2008. Little did he know that hobby would become his career, passion, and livelihood in 2010.
“My father owned an 80-acre drip field that I started farming on the weekends,” Becton said. “One thing led to another, and it just started to domino, adding more acres. Then I kind of got out of the chemical business and into the farming business.”
Unlike most people, Becton did not return to join the family farming operation – he started from scratch. He bought tractors and other equipment on his own to get his start in the industry.
“That is kind of unheard of. I bought a little here and there as I was hobby farming and still had a full-time job,” Becton said. “It was a little easier that way, and then before I knew it, I was 100% in and it got a bit more expensive.”
Becton said the expenses are heftier today than when he got into farming. He said managing the finances of farming is still one of his biggest challenges.
“It is having enough capital at a price that we can afford,” Becton said. “The cost of equipment and inputs have gone through the roof. Just the financial squeeze on farming today is really, really tough.”
Becton said he tries to shop around to mitigate high production costs in his farming operation. He also said this is the best advice he would give his fellow farmers.
“Shop around, but don’t give up on the people that helped or supplied you,” Becton said. “Just manage it as best you can. It is not always the cheapest. Sometimes it is a little bit more expen- sive to get the best net result. So, it is not all about the bottom line.”
Beyond the farm gate, the agriculture industry is facing significant challenges. Becton said new legislation is pushing to take tools away from farmers faster than new innovations are adapting – from different regulations to the push for electric equipment.
“I think that is one of the biggest challenges we are going to have out there. The push to innovate is outpacing the ability for us to change and adapt to it either because it is not available or the costs are going through the roof,” Becton said. “Every time we get hit with something that is a dollar out of our back pocket. We do not set our prices. We take what the market gives us.”
Today, he farms roughly 1,400 acres of land and operates a rotation of sorghum, corn, and cotton on dryland and irrigated land. Becton said he enjoys being outside in mother nature and the sunshine. Watching the growing season is one of the most rewarding parts of farming for him.
“From planting to harvest and everything in between, you get the opportunity to see what could or should be changed in the next growing season, whether it is a cotton, sorghum or corn plant,” Becton said. “We get one shot at farming for the year. So, every year we learn more. That’s the rewarding part to me. Learning what works and what needs to be added, changed or removed.”
Becton knows the value of serving the cotton industry beyond his farm. He is a member of Idalou Co-op Gin and serves on its Board of Directors. Becton also serves as a PCCA Dele- gate and on the Marketing Pool Committee. While he is active in cooperatives now, that has not always been the case. He spent his time early in his career on the independent side of the business.
“I think it is educating and making sure we are bringing the message back to the young producers of what co-ops mean and what cotton means to this area,” Becton said. “I made the transition to cooperatives in Nebraska and Iowa in my career and learned about cooperatives from there. In a cooperative, I think it is important that we share and help each other out.”
The cooperative business model is one way to help ensure the infrastructure is here for generations to come.
“Cooperative assets like the gin or grain elevator, are always going to be there. They are not owned by individuals just wanting to make as much money as they can and then sell to the next business or shut it down.” Becton said. “We know that the cooperative is going to be there for the long haul for the producer. I think that’s something we can teach the next generation so they under- stand the importance of a cooperative.”
The same goes for regional cooperatives like PCCA. Becton explained how PCCA helps him in his farming operation. He also said he enjoys being on PCCA’s Delegate Body and Marketing Pool Committee because it helps him understand markets and what is at play in the cooperative.
“PCCA helps everybody on their operation more than they know, from being able to tag modules in from your phone, to selling your cotton, and understanding the markets. There is a wealth of knowledge and tools that you can tap into if you are willing to,” Becton said. “By serving on the gin board, I found out all the things that our gin gets or pays for as a service from PCCA. I don’t think we could do it as a group out here if we had each individual go out and buy those services à la carte from somebody else. It is an important, key part of the cotton industry.”
Becton said farmers are 100% about sustainability and caring for the future of the land. There also are many lessons to be learned from previous generations. Becton said it is not always about repeating what they did, but taking what they taught you and applying it to your current situation.
“We don’t spend a dime more on chemicals than we need to,” Becton said. “We don’t put an ounce more out there than we have to. We don’t put any more fertilizer out there than we have to, because it is all about our bottom line. We have always practiced sustainability through our programs. I plant a cover crop on everything to keep the erosion down.”
Learning from other generations can go both ways. Becton offered this advice for farmers just getting started in their career.
“One of the big things that I have learned from the previous generation is it is going to change and you better adapt and change with it,” Becton said. “Hang on, it is a ride. There are good times and bad, enjoy them both. If you learn from the good and bad, you will be okay. Be willing to change how you farm the next year, as the years are never going to be the same.”