Learning Along the Way
November 5, 2019
Written By Adam Buckallew
In October, MFA Oil delegate Mart Thaxton wrapped up his 42nd harvest on his farm in central Arkansas. Not bad for a guy who began his farming career without any agricultural experience.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got out of school and jumped in without knowing much about it,” Thaxton recalls. “I had never sat on a tractor until I left the University of Arkansas.”
After spending a summer working on a friend’s farm in eastern Arkansas where he learned the basics, Thaxton traveled to Lonoke County in 1977. There Thaxton began to develop his crop management practices through trial and error on land that was purchased by his great-great-grandfather in 1885.
“I made plenty of mistakes, but always tried to learn as I went,” he says. “There have been lots of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Friendly support from a more experienced neighboring farmer helped put Thaxton on course for success.
“I was fortunate that my neighbor Bernie Swears would let me bother him a couple of times a day for advice,” Thaxton says. “He taught me how to do mechanical repairs and straightened me out when necessary. Bernie wouldn’t do the work for me, but he’d watch over my shoulder and tell me how to do it. I don’t think I would have made it if it wasn’t for Bernie.”
Thaxton quickly discovered he would need to be efficient if he wanted to keep farming. He learned to minimize the number of trips he would make across his fields and turned to no-till and other cost-effective practices to weather the rough times of the 1980s farm crisis.
“Becoming more efficient is what kept us in business,” he says. “Those who couldn’t adapt are no longer in business.”
As Thaxton, 64, approaches the tail end of his farming career, he’s poised to hand the reins of the family farm to his sons, Keaton and Clayton.
“Keaton and Clayton both have their own land, but we also work together,” Thaxton says. “They have helped push me to evolve. Old guys like me like to do things the same old way we have always. My sons have brought fresh ideas to our operation.”
The Thaxtons raise a combined 4,200 acres of corn, soybean and rice with the help of three full-time employees and some part-time help during harvest. Mart’s wife and partner of 40 years, Cindy, is also actively involved in the operation and serves as the farm’s bookkeeper.
Throughout his more than four decades of row-crop production, Thaxton has made many changes to the way he runs his farm, and he encourages his sons to follow his lead in experimenting as they go.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been farming for 10 years or 40 years, you can still learn something new every day,” Thaxton says.