The Cromley Family has a long history in Bulloch County. After coming from Saluda, South Carolina by mule and wagon, Hal and Chap’s great-grandaddy built a house on the land their family still lives on today. When the Cromleys first arrived in Bulloch County, they settled in the Nellwood community just outside what many now know as Brooklet, although there was not yet a City of Brooklet.
The property was not far from two railroad routes, which meant the Cromley farm was the hub for others in the community. From their home, the Cromley family hosted the Post Office and sold milk, cheese, and insurance. Both their granddaddy and great-grandaddy were responsible for getting the mail off the train for the entire Nellwood community. The original Cromley home outlasted Nellwood as a community as the City of Brooklet was incorporated and their sister LuAnne still lives there today.
The fifth generation of Cromleys, Chap and Hal, are often confused with their cousins Lee and Charlie Cromley who operate as Cromley Farms in Brooklet. While they share a great-grandaddy and common heritage, their farming operations are separate.
Both Chap and Hal are blessed to farm with their respective sons David and Colby. Colby and his wife, Savanna, have a six-month-old baby Cole while David and his wife, Jamie, are expecting a little girl in April, both of whom will mark the seventh generation along with several cousins, nieces and nephews.
Chap graduated from college in 1974 and Hal joined him back on the farm full-time in 1975. They were no strangers to farming, having grown up doing chores and farming on their own during the summers. Whether it was helping their dad with their 105 acres of tobacco or driving tractors and cultivating land, every activity just seemed to solidify the desire to go into farming, following in the footsteps of every generation before them.
And they have. Nellwood Farms today is a flourishing family farm on much of the original acreage plus additional land purchased and rented over six generations. Chap, Hal, David, and Colby focus mainly on cotton and peanut rotations alongside their cattle operation. They sometimes cycle in irrigated corn and wheat when the market is favorable as well. The Cromleys plant annual rye and clover for the cows in the winter to give the cattle something fresh to graze year round, and to decrease the amount of hay needed to carry them through the winter months. The Cromleys work hard to ensure they’re good stewards of the land and make the most of what they have. They used to plant a considerable amount of soybeans and corn, but cotton has taken precedent in recent years.
The cow-calf operation of Nellwood Farms has two directions: 1. to produce heifers that will go back into the herd as replacement females and, 2. to sell high-quality cattle to be processed for beef. And of course, the occasional sale of heifers to other farmers as replacements.
It’s certainly enough to keep everyone working hard and working to improve.
All these generations in, but Chap says they haven’t mastered the art of farming. “We tweak it every year,” he said, “Anyone who is still farming today has to be able to roll with the punches because you can’t keep doing things like you did yesterday.” There’s a pressure to keep up with the ever-changing technology, seed, and diversification. Hal added that “if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind.”
Modern day farming is about efficiency. As crop prices continue to fluctuate, mostly downward, farmers have to be as efficient as possible and Nellwood Farms is no different. Whether it’s with water, fertilizer, or seed, they partner with advisors from the UGA Extension Service as well as the Natural Resources Conservation Service to implement best-practices on their farm. Additionally, the Bulloch County farming community in and of itself is very interconnected, which is a blessing all on its own.
And while they say farming itself isn’t ‘political,’ politics has a tremendous bearing on agriculture. The Georgia Cotton Commission, Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Bureau, the Peanut Commission and other similar organizations are becoming more and more important for a voice and representation as the number of farmers continues to decline. The Cromleys are actively involved in many of these organizations.
2016 was a tough year for south Georgia farmers, the Cromleys included. Two hurricanes, two floods, and a drought all in the same year and none of them were at the right time, Hal said. It was reminiscent of the struggles of 1998, as well as other hard years.
The Cromleys are blessed to have brothers Tim and Jimmy Aldrich, lifelong farmers, working alongside them. Nearly 20 years makes the Cromley-Aldrich relationship a familial one.
As for their personal lives, Chap, married to Barbara, has four children: two daughters, Christy and Keri, and Will and David. Hal is married to Terri, a school teacher, and they have 4 children, Colby and Haley Cromley and Haley and Hunter Harvard.
Chap lamented what a tremendous supporter his wife has been to him over the course of his agricultural career, a blessing they all say they have. Being a farmer’s wife isn’t easy. Whether you’ve been married 40 years or 4 years, the days are long and the hours are often late. The income is staggered and it all depends on weather, but none would change it for the world. “I’m sorry, but I’m not quitting,” Chap said seriously.
It’s a lifestyle and the Cromleys all appreciate how close they are to one another because of farming.
All four Cromley’s work very closely together which Chap said made losing their father at an earlier age all the more difficult. When you’re sharing duties and depending on each other on a daily basis, the absence is in crisp view. The family effort allows each to become a jack of all trades. Mechanic, accountant, electrician, plumber, agronomist, and vet: farming forces you to learn it all, but they each bring something different to the table.
“To follow in the footsteps of our fathers is really awesome. It makes it that much more special and meaningful to do what we love,” Colby said. Both David and Colby say the mantra of “never giving up” regardless of how tough it is to keep going is one of most important things their dads have instilled in them, second only to the necessity to lean on The Lord.
Faith, thick skin, and humility – those are the foundations the Cromleys can agree a farmer must embrace. Just when you think you’ve figured something out, be ready to be humbled, they say. It’s a continuous learning cycle over the course of a lifetime. But it’s all so rewarding for each of them.
Seeing how God has provided every step of the way and knowing that the love of farming will continue on to the next generation, that there is a future for Nellwood Farms, is just what Chap and Hal have prayed for.
And there’s no better place to raise a family than right where they are, all four agree. Bulloch County is a very blessed place to live.