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Passing The Baton

carroll smith

Carroll Smith

Looking back on the history of a farming operation can sometimes involve measuring the growth in acreage, comparing yield results from one year to another, and calculating the return on investment for improvements made. Another aspect worthy of contemplation is the human element.

Most of today’s farmers enjoy talking about the generations that came before and the inspiration they still provide today. And more than a few farm office walls are adorned with paintings, old photos and other memorabilia that feature significant people and places from the past. All of the stories are interesting, whether grand or small.

Rann Williams’ grandfather, W.W. “Luck” Williams, was a small-time farmer who traveled with his family in a covered wagon from Texas to settle in southwest Oklahoma. (“Big Boots To Fill”) Luck’s son, Murray, started farming on halves with his father right after high school and went on to serve in numerous leadership positions to help further the cotton industry. He also loved farming and took great pride in keeping his fields weed free. Murray instilled those same values of service to the industry and working hard on the farm in his sons, Rann and Eddie, who are carrying on his legacy today.

“Dad was a pioneer and an innovator,” Rann says. “He was a deacon in the church, but out here on the farm, he pushed us. He expected a lot out of us. It’s an honor for both my brother and me to try to follow in his footsteps.”

Missouri Bootheel cotton farmer Patrick Turnage was also influenced by his ancestors. His great grandfather, John Willis, moved the family’s farming operation from Tennessee to the Missouri Bootheel in 1933. Even as a young boy, Patrick wanted to be a farmer more than anything. He spent countless hours following his grandfather and father around asking questions nonstop.

His daddy turned him loose on a combine when he was 10 years old, which — to Patrick — was monumental. “I felt like I became a real farmer that day,” he says. Patrick recounts other childhood memories related to farming in this month’s My Turn column. They run the gamut from getting his very own Motorola handheld two-way radio for Christmas one year to growing cotton in 8-ounce Styrofoam cups in the windowsill of his fourth grade class.

In the end, though, he is putting childhood things behind and shouldering the responsibilities of an adult.

“Like Papaw used to say, ‘The only thing that stays the same is change,’ and sometimes it weighs on you,” he says. “But, that’s farming. And I hope it all works out.”