To understand the Brannen family farm operation, you would have to travel back several generations.
Doc Brannen originated from North Carolina, but settled on Harville Road many, many years ago. Rufus Brannen was the 11th child of Doc and he had one son, Jack Brannen. Jack had Wayne and Jack Jr (Jackie). Nowadays, Wayne and Jackie work the farm with help of Jamie and Ryne Brannen, both sons of Jackie.
What does Brannen Family Farms look like? Much different than when it began. When Doc settled in Bulloch County, each of his children received an inheritance of land totaling nearly 1,500 acres. Much of that land has been lost or sold over the years, but the Brannen family still owns around 500 acres of the original land. Additional land has been purchased over generations and the Brannen Family Farms operation now spans nearly 4,000 acres -including rented land- of cotton and peanuts, mostly in Bulloch County.
Wayne also has a livestock operation with chicken houses contracted with Claxton Poultry, hogs with Cactus Family Farms in Texas, some sheep, and he and Jackie partner in a commercial beef cattle operation.
Wayne will tell you he never intended to be a farmer. He left for school with no intention of ever returning to Bulloch County for agriculture purposes, but as time passed, it became more and more evident that home was where he needed to be. Opposite of that mindset, his nephews Jamie and Ryne always knew they wanted to farm and work in agriculture. College was just what needed to be done in the meantime.
Much like land make up, the crops look much different than they used to on Brannen Family Farms as well. Like many farmers, in the 1980’s the farm was sprawling with soybeans and corn, but only 5% of Brannen land is irrigated, which means corn is not nearly as profitable for them. With land that isn’t irrigated, the cost of growing corn increases substantially. Couple that with the strong possibility of only making back costs one of every ten years when growing corn, it is understandable that corn is no longer their prime product.
Additionally, over time much of the land in Bulloch County was exhausted from growing soybeans over and over and crop rotation was needed. Cotton was more drought resistant and the boll weevil problem in cotton was essentially eradicated, which caused a boom for the crop. But that doesn’t mean if you grow cotton you will be rich…
The economics of cotton have changed tremendously over the years making it less and less profitable. China has dominated a substantial corner of market in recent years, and after Brazil sued the United Stated under regulations of the World Trade Organization, cotton is no longer a supported commodity in the farm bill for farm subsidies from the federal government. The WTO ruled that providing subsidies puts the U.S. at an unfair advantage in the marketplace. It’s a true testament to the effect of globalization on our local farmers. It’s also illustrative of the fact that farming is the only industry where the producer cannot even negotiate the price of the good they sell – prices are fixed, so bottom lines are always determined by someone else.
It may seem like the Brannen’s are just a wealth of information on cotton. That’s because Ryne serves as an alternate on the board for Cotton, Inc. Jamie, Jackie, and Wayne are also deeply entrenched in the community and take full advantage of their resources from the county extension agent and the Farm Bureau. Without them, they say they wouldn’t see much of the success that they do.
It’s interesting to hear the different generations explain the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ years. Jamie and Ryne will tell you that 2012 was the best – the “perfect storm,” if you will. A good crop, a good yield, and sufficient prices were a blessing following what they consider to be the worst year in 2011. Of course Jamie and Ryne weren’t around to farm during the 1980’s, which Jackie and Wayne say is when they took a significant hit with no crop insurance and poor crop yields. On the heels of the embargo in the 1970’s that prohibited any sales overseas, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the Brannen’s truly bounced back. Before all of this, Jack Sr. faced an exceptionally hard year in 1954. With all three generations having seen both good times and bad, the cyclical nature of agriculture is evident in the Brannens’ experience.
Understanding why anyone would continue to farm in the volatile, unstable environment that often exists with little community support is always interesting, but even more so when you stand before more than one generation of the same family. It’s no coincidence that all the answers sound very much alike.
Jamie will tell you it’s as simple as the fact that he loves it. It’s what he was born to do.
Jackie says farming is in your blood. “It’s our culture and who we are. We were blessed to have Godly parents and grandparents and God has protected us time and time again.”
Wayne explains that it’s his heritage and he’s invested in it for reasons that are hard to put into words, but it’s a reflection of personal values. “It becomes a part of you and you only retire because you cannot physically do it anymore.”
Ryne says that God makes people to do certain things in life and you cannot explain farming without God and faith.
The family operation is an inspiring one and it’s inspiring because it is a family operation. Each of the Brannen’s will tell you the three most important things necessary to be a farmer are 1) Faith, 2) Family, and 3) Persistence. But “family” for the Brannen’s goes far beyond blood lines – it’s the agriculture community and the agriculture businesses that make it all go ’round for one reason: In this line of work, when one suffers, everyone suffers. They know that, and that’s why they’re still here.
Brannen Farms was nominated by Kevin Deal, who was All On Georgia – Bulloch’s August ‘Farm of the Month.’
The Brannen Family has nominated Chris Thompson for the All On Georgia – Bulloch’s October ‘Farm of the Month.’