Hitchcock stretched himself farther out on to a thin financial limb … and it snapped from underneath him, a tough combination of the weight of the operation, coupled with some tough circumstances.

Adverse weather in 1997 crippled crops and pastures in Georgia, commodity prices tanked and he got a hold of some bad cottonseed that made a stand, but failed to make good cotton, he said.

At its best, Hitchcock’s operation was grossing a couple million a year. By the late 1990s, he was losing and the interest on his loans, the ones he got to start rolling big, “just started to eat me up,” Hitchcock said.

By 2002, to make a long story short, he had to sell out. He owed money. He went to the bank with three plans of action to get things right. “When I went in, they said ‘You’re just bound and determined to beat us,’” he said. “That kind of made me mad. No, I was just trying to figure a way to get the bills paid.”

He’s paid them, still paying a few to this day. It took longer than some wanted to get their money.

But back to 2002. The farm door was sold. All he had left were the keys: 200 acres and a handful of cows.

He opened an auction barn and had weekly sales, including horses, cows and goats, along with starting a feed store. The heartache was high but profitable. At one point, buyers from all over the South were coming to him to buy thousands of goats a month.

He also started a scrap metal business, doing work all over Georgia. It too became profitable, but long days and extreme manual labor were the keys. And the sale barn soon became a scrap yard, looking a lot like something from the old TV show “Sanford and Son.”

At this time, it was clear James didn’t want the academic life and wanted to farm. Jonathan, too. They were both helping to manage a local farm. But the boys were a little gun shy on getting started out on their own. Hitchcock saw this and thought again of the family farm he wanted. And in 2008, he saw the group of Chinese standing in the field.

For several years, a Chinese-based group was investing in acreage in and around Washington County. Three years ago, Hitchcock drove by and saw them eyeing a field he used to own, 475 acres he had to sell when the table turned on his farming operation. “And that dirt was some of the best I had. Some of the best within 25 miles of here,” he said.

He knew the real estate agent talking with the group, and Hitchcock had a “!@#$-or-get-off-the-pot” moment. He called the agent that day and told him he wanted to buy the field, but the agent was set to make the deal the next day with the Chinese group.

“I told him I wasn’t talking about the next day or tomorrow. I was talking about today,” Hitchcock said and to prove it he immediately sent $50,000 to the lawyer who could start the deal. He closed on the land a few months later.

Why?

“The scrap metal was making good money and I wanted the boys to come in and work it with me. It would have made them some good money, too. But they didn’t want that. They wanted to farm, and I’d been after them to get some money and get some land and start really doing it,” he said.