Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Wilders: A Texas Heritage

Providing For The World One Generation At A Time

⋅ BY CASSIDY NEMEC ⋅
ASSISTANT EDITOR

Joe Wilder (left), Jayce Wilder, Spencer Wilder and Jay Wilder in front of one of their planters.

Joe Wilder, a long-time farmer in Snook, Texas, likely never imagined the family farm he married into and joined back in 1964 would be what it is today.

In 1912, the Porter Farm began with Julius Porter and grew to include his son — Joe’s father-in-law, Holland Porter — and Joe Wilder. That is when the Wilder family name came in. After years of working on the farm, Jay Wilder — Joe’s son — and Jayce and Spencer Wilder — Jay’s two twin boys — came to be a part of the family farm.

“When I graduated from A&M in ’93, Dad and I soon formed our partnership in ’95,” Jay said. “Grandfather retired in ’98, and Dad and I started renting the land at that point.”

Family Land Heritage designation plaque provided by Commissioner Todd Staples of the Texas Department of Agriculture.

A Heritage Farm

The Wilders have a diversified farming operation that includes both dryland and irrigated cotton, soybeans, grain sorghum, wheat and sunflowers. They also run a cow-calf and a purebred Limousine operation. In addition, the Porter-Wilder Farm was granted the designation of Family Land Heritage Property in 2012 by the state of Texas for having 100 years of agriculture on that land running in the same family. This designation can continue to be granted by the Texas Department of Agriculture every 50 years the agricultural operation stays within the family.

“The boys are in charge of making sure it gets to 2062,” Jay said, laughing. “The land has just become so valuable along the way that generations who aren’t involved with the actual farming are selling the land, and that makes it [the Heritage Farm designation] harder and harder to hold together.”

Cotton, Cotton, Cotton

As for their irrigated cotton, the Wilders mainly use center pivots to get the crop the moisture it needs to make it through the season. In 1996, they bought their first center pivot and now have seven.

“That’s becoming more and more of a labor issue,” Jay said. “It’s a high cost per acre to put in initially, but when you eliminate labor issues and all the different kinds of costs that goes along with that, we save. For the most part, those have been really good, and with today’s technology, I can start one right now sitting right here with a phone.”

Joe Wilder, long-time farmer, in his Snook, Texas, office.

“Boy, we thought that was something else when they came up with those center pivots,” Joe added. 

Variety selection plays a significant role in the Wilders’ cotton crop each year. “Last year, we had Phytogen 400, Deltapine 2020 and NexGen 4936. This year we will have pretty much those same varieties … and we’ll try a new one with NexGen’s 4109 and a little bit of Deltapine 2012,” Jay said. He commented they turn to a crop advisor and data when it comes to selecting their varieties and chose these specific varieties based on previous experience with Deltapine and NexGen and wanting to utilize the technology in Phytogen. 

Control What Can Be Controlled

2021 brought a tough season for weed control to the Wilder Farm. “More so early, we couldn’t get things sprayed in a timely manner to help with weed control, and we couldn’t get things fertilized in a timely manner that we normally would try to do,” Jay said. “But once it did dry up to where we could do that, the crops really responded well, especially to the fertilizer.

“I think the dicamba and the Phytogen Enlist products have really helped in situations where you get late or you get behind, even more so the Enlist side of it.”

Jay then discussed the rocky start to the 2022 growing season. “Every year seems to be so different,” he said. “Last year was so wet; this year I think we’ve had ample amounts of moisture, but the wind has been relentless … and it’s hampering us on our weed control.” He attributed insect control on the farm to his consultant and suggested disease pressure is not normally an issue for them, emphasizing weed pressure is their biggest issue. 

“It seems like those things run in cycles; you get something under control, then in three or four years, it’s a whole different kind of animal,” Jay said.

The old family gin on the Wilder property. The gin was in use until the 1990s.

The History Of The Gin

The Wilders have ginned with Scarmardo Gin since the early 1990s when they shut down their own family gin still present on their property.

“Mr. Porter built it in the 1920s,” Joe said. “We primarily ginned just the family cotton then some for the tenants who lived on the farm … in the late 50s or early 60s, our gin caught fire and burned down.” The disassembled gin was hauled to Sherman, Texas, to be rebuilt before it was brought back.

“I think it had ginned about 300 bales when it caught fire, and they came back and ginned about 200 at the end of the season,” he said. “We couldn’t gin it fast enough.”

Joe said lots of work was done on the family gin in the 60s after the fire, and that gin carried them to the early 1990s. When insurance for the gin went up, it was no longer feasible to keep it running. “It had been a family gin, but with the state, a family gin is everybody that’s in the family — not kids who married into the family,” he said. “So, because of me, they kicked it out … our insurance was going to double or triple, and that’s about the time labor issues started to kick in, so we shut it down.”

Understanding Strengths And Weaknesses

When asked how they split up their responsibilities every day, laughter filled the room. “I don’t want to do it, and he doesn’t want to do it, so it just keeps going down the line,” Jay said. “Spencer’s the youngest, so he’s probably going to end up with it.” Joking then aside, Jay said it depends on what the task is. “We all get in and go … Dad will be on choppers, Spencer and Jayce will be planting, and then I’ll be trying to spray it if the wind will let me … everybody kind of has their niche, and we go from there. We divide and conquer.”

“It’s amazing because with the old rig we had, nobody wanted to drive it, but then we got a new one with air conditioning, and all of a sudden everyone wants to drive it,” Joe joked.

Understanding one another’s strengths and weaknesses plays a role in how the Wilders run their operation. Jay said they rely on his dad for all the experience he’s acquired over the years and discussed how Jayce and Spencer, growing up in a world of new technology, contribute with their ability to understand those new techniques.

“Take the boys, for example,” Jay said. “They learned how to weld really well through FFA, and they aren’t scared to try something.” He said he attributes a lot of that to the resources available on phones now through YouTube and other ag forums. 

Joe reflected on his prior experience on the farm before technology became a major player. “We didn’t have that 20 or 30 years ago. We weren’t scared to try something, but we did mess up a bunch.” He said with the current technology, “It’s just unbelievable what you can do.”

“I’ll ask if they know what they’re doing, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, we watched a video on it,’ so that is good … if something breaks down, they’re not afraid to look something up and tackle it,” Jay said.

From The Ground Up

Thinking back to how they got to where they are today, the Wilders discussed their involvement in organizations growing up that assisted them in getting to where they are today and helping for a better future.

Joe was involved in 4H growing up, both Jayce and Spencer were active in FFA and Jay engaged with the Young Farmers & Ranchers group through Texas Farm Bureau. Jayce and Spencer both went to Poland through a program through Texas A&M where they stayed with host families and learned about the agrarian landscape over in Eastern Europe. 

Jay currently participates in a myriad of local, state and national agricultural organizations. On the local level this includes the county Farm Bureau board and the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District Board. At the state and national levels, he is on the Texas and National Grain Sorghum Board, as well as the Texas Limousine Association and North American Limousine Board. In addition, Jay was a member of the eighth TALL (Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership) class 18 years ago and was given the opportunity over the span of the two-year program to travel across the country and globe to see, learn about and speak on agricultural topics and issues.

The Porter/Wilder Farm office based in Snook, Texas.

“There’s all kinds of things you can be involved in when you have the time,” he said.

In regard to getting involved on the local level, Jay said it’s important to what they’re doing. “It starts at the county level and works its way to the top.” Even with boards not exclusively in ag like the groundwater conservation board, he said there should be someone in agriculture actively involved to help people better understand the details that correlate back to ag and the impact it all has. 

Challenge To Triumph

Without hesitation, Jay had a two-word response for their biggest challenge of the 2022 growing season: “input costs.”

“I’ve never even seen fertilizer costs anywhere close to where they are now,” Joe said. “That’s going to be a challenge. My father-in-law would have the soil sample guy come back and say we only needed to put out 30 units of P, but he would say, no we’ve always put out 60 units, so we’re putting out 60 units.” He commented that learning how to cut those input costs at the beginning by understanding what they already have under the ground is going to be crucial this year.

“I think I went to work here in ’64, and I’ve seen a lot of changes since then,” Joe said. “Before I started fooling with it, agriculture seemed kind of set, but since then, it’s been like a rollercoaster.”

Jay said their goal with the record commodity prices the way they are is to make “an average to above-average yield to try and capture some of those record prices to combat record input prices.”

Image showing (left to right): Joe Wilder, Mr. Holland Porter and Jay Wilder in the back, and Jayce and Spencer Wilder in front.

Motivation Is Key

What inspires the Wilders to get up and keep farming every day? “It’s a challenge, but somebody’s got to feed and clothe the world … it doesn’t just show up magically at the stores,” Jay said.

He said there are very few government individuals who are involved in agriculture — especially with row crops — at the state level and even less on the national level. “We’ve got those people making decisions that will affect us in the long term … we need the representation to represent ag.”

Jay said his favorite part of his job is “being able to work with the family … most days. The boys are fifth generation, so we’re hoping to keep it going and even pass it on to another one.”

Joe recounted his journey to ag from being raised in town. One summer in the late ‘50s, he went and picked cotton for the first time. “My mother told me when I started, ‘If you start, you’re going to finish.’ … after the first week, when I’d made about $16 or $17, I told her I wasn’t going to go back, and she said ‘No, you’re going to go back; you’re going to finish.’” He said he grew to love ag and knew he wanted to stay involved in it.

“It was a good lesson to start with that got me into agriculture, and I never regretted it.”

The Wilders reflect their Family Land Heritage Property designation by proving their family itself to be its own kind of Texas heritage… one of continued dedication to their craft and the overall future of agriculture. 

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