Greg Sikes has always had an itch for agriculture, despite not coming from a long line of farmers. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a farmer as is his uncle, Solly Trapnell, but Greg Sikes pretty much developed the love of farming all on his own. Nowadays, he is a long way from where he started.
He and his sisters, Julie and Carol, were born to Penny and Joel Sikes, both Bulloch County natives. Penny was a math teacher and administrator for Bulloch County Schools for years while his dad, Joel, was a pharmacist in Brooklet. Greg started farming at age 14. He worked for different farmers around Bulloch, like the Will and Clark Groover, Hal and Chap Cromley, Phil Denmark and Chuck Lee and Jackie Brannen, where he was able to learn many of the basics.
Greg went to ABAC and returned to Statesboro to attend Georgia Southern. About 19 years ago, he started with a small farm with a gentleman named Andy Hart, who now manages at Bulloch Gin. They farmed about 70 acres, and Greg’s farm grew considerably and exponentially from there. Greg is now married to Jennifer and they have two children, Maddie Grace and Landon. His family, he says, wasn’t unenthusiastic about his desire to go into farming, but “nervous” would be a good way to describe it.
Sikes partnered with Chris Thompson to start a cotton operation almost two decades ago. Once they were comfortable doing that, both transitioned to include peanuts as well. Though they still farm together today, they split in 2005 to start their own separate entities.
Since then, Greg has developed quite the operation spanning across thousands of acres. The land he has acquired over the years is a result of other farmers retiring or leaving agriculture all together, something he says is important in order to protect the Bulloch agriculture community.
And protect it, he does. These days, Greg, now 43, farms about 5,000 acres and sharecrops another 1,500 acres – 50% of which is irrigated.
On that land he grows cotton, peanuts, wheat, corn, rye, and even a few Vidalia onions and watermelons here and there. He and his team also do custom work while helping other farmers plant and harvest. Safe to say they stay extremely busy.
He and Chris Thompson also own Southeast Oil together with the help of Luke Williams, and he’s partner in a peanut buying point operation with Will Anderson, Ricky Nevil, and Bo Patterson. They have a location in Metter, and lease one in Register. His trucking company also hauls farming products, like grain and fertilizer.
The diversification is necessary, though, to help make ends meet for everyone. Every year equipment prices go up at least 2%, but the prices of commodities stay the same, or worse – decline. It’s hard to stay afloat and you have to work together.
Another cost contributing to the high cost of doing business as a a farmer is Genetically Modified Organisms in seeds with companies like PhytoGen, Monsanto, Delta Pine. Greg says, “GMOs get a bad wrap, but if it weren’t the GMOs, I don’t know that any of us would be farming. America wouldn’t be fed. There’s just no way that farmers could produce what’s needed.” He says that if the farming community was reverted back to the way it was when he started, he’s not sure how many farmers would actually still be around. The need doesn’t help cut costs though, and seed is expensive.
So it is the chicken or the egg? Does seed technology drive up the prices of the equipment or is it the other way around? The equipment helps minimize error and wasted seed, but that has a cost associated as well. There’s also pressure to increase the yield per acre. It used to be a farmer need 700-800 pounds of cotton per acre to break even. Now that threshold is 1,000 pounds per acre.
There’s a huge learning curve with some of the technology, but Greg Sikes Farm grows experimental cotton and corn varieties for Delta Pine and Monsanto. With that comes territory representatives to help coach through the process of adjusting to the new varieties and needs of the crops. Essentially, they give a game plan for soil types, planting techniques, and even how aggressively the crop should be managed during the experimental phase. Arguably, Greg Sikes Farm is ahead of the game since the experimental plats are considered some of the large scale samples. Many experiments are only 5 or 6 rows in a field, but Greg will tend 8-10 acres to see the yields on a much bigger scale across different soil types, using his equipment, and have it processed at his local gin. That allows for a real life picture for the best performance.
Greg Sikes Farm has seem some tough years, like most farmers. He’s lost crops from over irrigation, he’s lost them from drought. 2011 was severely dry, 2012 was a good year, and 2013 was bad from too much rain. 2014 was a decent crop, but the prices were terrible. 2015, he
says, the crop was excellent, the prices were terrible, but the quality was horrible. There is so much unpredictability in every
aspect of the planting to selling. But farming isn’t a single year job. “If a farmer makes money in a year, it’s invested,” Greg says.
“It’s invested in equipment, the land, irrigation, back into the farm. It’s not a straight up process like other industries. I bought this basket for $10 and sold it for $15, so now I have $5 profit – that doesn’t apply here. Farming isn’t a finished transaction.”
It isn’t all physical hardship though. Greg says farming can be hard on the body, but mentally is where the weight of the world is on you. “We make hundreds of decisions every day, and they aren’t light decisions. What variety will we plant in this field? What are we going
to spray? What fertilizer will we use? Do I need to add more? Do I have time to add more?” And every decision affects the bottom line and the end result.
We talked at length about the perception of farming and how it can cost millions of dollars in inputs to farm every year and that skews the perception of farmers. He says the public often thinks farmers just have money to burn, drive fancy tractors, and spend lots of time
at the coast. But what they’re getting back after putting all the inputs in every year sometimes isn’t close to what they’re pulling out a the end of the year. Greg admits he has a nice truck, but the truck is bought for hard work – to pull tanks and trailers, to drive through fields in mud, to have something dependable for the late nights out in the fields checking pivots – not to cruise through town on a joy rides.
People also don’t understand the number of jobs that farming creates, he says. The peanut buying point, the oil business, the fertilizer companies, chemical companies, seed entities, equipment manufacturers and that’s just the folks on the harvesting side. In Bulloch County alone, so many people rely on farming for their business to operate and a lot of people don’t realize the magnitude of the process. It speaks to the notion that when farmers are doing well, so is everyone else. But even when he isn’t having the best of years, Greg wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“Today’s agriculture is in survival mode. You can’t slip. If you slip, it could be over. But I love it – it’s in my blood. I love being around the equipment and watching things grow. The work goes unnoticed when you love it. But if it weren’t for my faith, I wouldn’t do it.”
Certainly all of this couldn’t be done without the entire team at Greg Sikes Farm. Casey Lee, Greg’s farm manager, and Daly Glenn both play an active role in the managerial and day-to-day operations while tending their own farms at home. Greg is certainly the face of the operation but he is quick to dismiss the credit. He says he has always been blessed to have good help and he couldn’t do any of it without
the rest of the guys.
“We plant it. The good Lord takes care of it. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but God does.”
Greg Sikes, who was nominated for Farm of the Month by Ricky Nevil, selected Lee & Charlie Cromley for AllOnGeorgia – Bulloch’s June Farm of the Month.