From the Field: How Lucas Farms Rely on Geringhoff
Posted by: Joel Dennis on Mar 16, 2017 8:12:40 AM
Henry Lucas and his daughter Bridget have been farming together near Turkey, North Carolina since she was five years old. Even though the odds were stacked against them at times, they relied on each other and received the support they needed from a caring dealer to get them through tough times.
Tobacco, Tough Times, and Hard Work
Once Henry Lucas gets an idea in his head, he is bound and determined to make that idea a reality. When Henry was 13, he decided that he wanted to be a successful farmer. The best way he could do that was to start farming and owning his own land, so that’s just what he did. Henry said, “I started with an acre and a half the first year, then I had four and a half, the next year 12, the next year 24.” While he couldn’t quite keep that pace up with land acquisition, at the age of 66, he owns quite a bit more land than when he started out at age 13. When Henry began farming his few acres, the first crop he started out with was tobacco. Tobacco grosses anywhere between $3,500 - $4,000 per acre, so it’s quite a difference between that and corn or soybeans. One advantage is that you don't need as much machinery for it if you're doing the work by hand.
The difficult part of growing tobacco without much machinery, however, is that it is very labor intensive. Henry said, “I cropped it by hand when I was 13 years old and put it all in the tobacco barn by hand. Back then you could cut around 2,000 pounds in a day. That is about all you were going to crop in a day unless you had a huge amount of people. Now you can probably barn 4,000 pounds in an hour with machinery. I was determined because that’s what I liked to do. My dad had a dairy and I didn’t like the cows. That’s a full-time job every day twice a day. I worked there until I got big enough to say that’s enough."
Tobacco is a labor-intensive crop, but nobody in the Lucas family is afraid of a little work. Bridget said, “I’m in charge of the plants, and give them what they need to be disease free. If I have to pick through every single plant I do, and I get out to the field to make sure everything is just right.” While Bridget handles that, Henry’s wife takes care of their 14 hog houses with Murphy Brown. She also takes care of the books for their farm and does whatever else she needs to in order to make their business successful. Henry handles the bigger picture decisions around the farm, and also runs one of the combines.
“I love my Geringhoff head. This is the third Geringhoff head that I’ve run. It’s tough and will go through the morning glory. When you’ve got a perfect product, leave it perfect.” Bridget Lucas
Growing His Business
When Henry’s daughter Bridget turned five, she thought it was time to start riding around with her dad in the combine so that she could learn about farming. They had always been very close, and they both appreciated this opportunity to spend some quality time together. Henry also liked the fact that his daughter was that interested in the family business at such a young age. The learning for Bridget didn’t stop with just riding in the combine, though, “He taught me how to drive a truck when I was five years old,” said Bridget.
As the years went by, Henry acquired more acres and began to grow a wider variety of crops. Labor for tobacco grew to be too expensive, so they took a break from the tobacco industry. They did end up returning to growing the crop several years later, once they could figure out how to lower labor costs. They bought a chopper to clean the fields, and have done well by putting good employees in charge of important areas of the farm. They also grow corn, soybeans, and wheat, depending on where the market is for each crop. A few years back, when corn prices were low, Henry only planted 157 acres of corn. He has gone back up to 550 acres now that the prices are better. Farming in North Carolina where the growing season is longer than most, they take advantage of this by double cropping.
They are in a bit of a corn deficit area because of how popular hogs and livestock have become to local growers. In this region, they feed more corn than they grow, so Henry has no problem selling his corn. Murphy Brown is a well-known company around the area, and the Lucas Farm grows over 4,800 acres for that entity. Alongside that farmland, they also farm over 3,000 acres for others in the area.
Loyalty & Leaning on the Right People
Henry and Bridget have been loyal to their dealer, Clinton Tractor, and the owner Ronnie Jackson. They have always driven red machinery, but their loyalty to Clinton Tractor runs deeper than just machinery. When times were tough in the earlier days for the Lucas farm, Henry was able to lean on Ronnie to help him through the tough times. Henry had a 1440 combine that he ran back in the early ‘80s. When interest rates were very high back then, it was tough to make ends meet. Henry talked to Ronnie at Clinton Tractor and asked him if he could carry his bills for a little while until he could pay him. Henry recalls, “He carried my bills and never asked me for one check in my life. He never asked me for one, but I did pay him. That takes quite a bit of trust to do that for a customer,” Ronnie recalls, “You couldn’t do that with everybody but with people you know and trust, you feel like they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do, so you go out on a limb for those folks.”
Henry and Bridget used to run red corn heads as well, but they ran into too many issues with them. They were looking for a new corn head and came across a Geringhoff owned by one of their friends in Raleigh, NC. Henry said, “I noticed how easy it is to slap those gathering chains on them. He showed me how easy it was and I said that’s what I need. All Geringhoff corn heads come with a gathering chain removal and installation tool. This makes getting your gathering chains on and off a breeze and has proven to be a great time saver."
Ronnie sold him two 12-row folding Geringhoff NorthStar heads and they’ve never looked back. “The Geringhoff heads run great. When you change a guy over to a Geringhoff head, it’s hard to change him back,” said Ronnie. Bridget likes her 12-row folding because it can get between fields quickly, rather than having to worry about a header cart. More than just convenience, she likes the heads because they are extremely durable in the tough conditions they put them through. “I love my Geringhoff head. This is the third Geringhoff head that I’ve run. It’s tough and will go through the morning glory. When you’ve got a perfect product, leave it perfect.”