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Bulloch Local Spotlight

Farm of the Month: Lehman Brannen Family Farms

Jason and Josh are sons of Mr. Lehman Brannen of Register, Georgia. While they each have their own farm entity, they don’t consider themselves to each be working an individual operation. Everything is shared and worked on together with this branch of the Brannen family.


Their family roots of farming goes back as far as they can calculate, all in Bulloch County. Like something straight out of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ Mr. Lehman’s granddaddy, Alec Brannen, walked back from the North Carolina after the Civil War.

Mr. Lehman grew up on the family farm and as soon as he got out of high school, he took to agriculture. He’s been farming now for over 50 years, but he remembers the days of growing tobacco like it was just yesterday. Likely because it almost was just ‘yesterday.’

The Brannen’s held onto the tobacco crops much longer than most farmers in Bulloch County, and they did it without all the fancy equipment. Though they added cotton and peanuts over time, tobacco remained the main crop to tend. It wasn’t until 2004 that the Brannen’s got out of tobacco all together. Both Jason and Josh are old enough to remember picking some of the over 100 acres by hand. Mr. Lehman says they chose to continue to do it the “old school” way because it was “prettier and better quality.” It also made for heavier quantities if picked by hand. When stemmed, the weight was greatly reduced and farmers didn’t make as much.

Tobacco may have been the cash crop, but the Brannen’s took on cotton in 1995 when the market shifted for the better. But that market has been one that is up and down. The Brannen’s, like most farmers, sold cotton in 1997 for more than the price it’s being sold at now. It wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the input costs had not changed exponentially. But Mr. Lehman, in his humility, is quick to redirect the conversation after reminding that most farmers have stumbled with the changes and it isn’t just the Brannen’s that have seen tough days.

Jason and Josh weren’t pressured to take on agriculture, but Mr. Lehman certainly welcomed it. Both Jason and Josh left for a brief period of time, but returned to their farming roots. Jason says that even if he was unable to farm, he would still want to work in farming in some capacity – but he was quick to mention the circular logic: If a farmer is doing well, the agriculture industry as a whole is doing well. If economic concerns pushed him out of farming, the rest of the agriculture industry would be suffering as well.

That said, the hardest thing about farming, according to the Brannen’s, is that you can’t control anything. It’s not knowing what to do – that’s routine and planning. The uncontrollable input costs, the production costs, the non-negotiable market prices, and of course, the weather make the Brannen’s a special kind of gamblers.

That gambling made for the toughest year for Mr. Lehman in 1980. The drought led to over $100,000 in losses in a time without crop insurance meaning the hole to dig out of was years deep.

It’s not easy being a farmer. So what does it take? The Brannen’s say it’s a combination of:

  1. determination
  2. well-rounded and willing to accept change
  3. faith in The Lord

Jason says farming is changing. It will never go away, but farms are growing and consolidating as older farmers phase out. Fewer people are entering agriculture which could hurt the diversity of farming. Worst of all, some farmers may grow too big too fast and end up in a tough position. Either way, he says, the number of family farms is dwindling.

Something all three repeatedly mentioned is the necessity of a love of farming in order to do it well. It isn’t exactly and industry for fakers or fifty-percent.

None of the Brannen’s feel pressured to have the most up-to-date farm equipment. They’re moderate approach to stay in line with what’s out there while continuing to advance is the approach that’s helped them succeed thus far.

For Mr. Lehman, aside from the technology, it’s the land that’s changed the most since he started. He noted that when he got into farming, farmers tried to take on as much land as possible through renting. Now, farmers try to maintain what they have and keep everything afloat. Josh says he feels like he’s in a holding pattern with the amount of land he owns himself, and for now, that’s just the right amount. But like anything, Josh says when the price of commodities soar, so does the price of land – to rent or to buy. If cotton skyrockets, too many people scurry to soak up more land. And the cycle repeats.

These days, Lehman, Jason and Josh grow cotton and peanuts, but will throw corn or soybeans in the mix every now and again for rotation purposes. Their peanuts are processed at Tillman & Deal.

So why do they love it?

Jason says he loves continuing to improve and while it’s up to The Man Upstairs to decide what successes they see, he loves being outside and working with his family. “There’s not another job I could do where I could see my family all the time,” he said.

Josh said he just fell in love with it. He never thought about doing much else. He feels like he has to be attached to [farming]. “It’s not just a service you’re providing. You’re providing sustainability for the world.”

Mr. Lehman, though, had the best response, “I could have quit a long time ago, but I’m still at it. I don’t want to think about having to do anything else. Dirty hands make for a clean heart.”

Lehman is married to Sharon Brannen. Jason,39, is married to Haley Brannen and Josh, 26, to Kelly Brannen.


 

Lehman, Jason, and Josh were nominated by Will & Reid Anderson from the December ‘Farm of the Month.’  They have nominated Michael Smith for the February AllOnGeorgia – Bulloch ‘Farm of the Month.’

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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