Leaving his Wakefield, Va., family and farm for a stint in Afghanistan tugged at both the heartstrings and purse strings of Lt. Colonel Henry Goodrich.

The long-time U.S. Army citizen soldier couldn’t avoid some of the heartaches of leaving his wife and two sons, but he had no worries about leaving his 480 acre farm in the hands of neighbors Paul Rogers Jr. and Paul Rogers III.

“We didn’t count on the drought last year or Hurricane Irene this year, but other than that farming Henry’s land was good for our farming operation. And, I think it worked out well for Henry, too,” says Paul Rogers Jr.

“When Henry found out for sure he was going to Afghanistan, he approached me and my son about farming his land for two cropping seasons while he was gone. Henry has farmed by himself for the past few years, and I know it was a hard decision to turn his farm over to someone else,” Rogers adds.

Though he left his farm to the Rogers father and son team, Goodrich didn’t exactly leave farming. He went to Afghanistan as part of an agriculture team sent there to help the Afghans become better acquainted with modern agriculture.

Everyone on the team returned home safely and by all accounts it was a success story bound to pay dividends in future years.

Likewise, leaving his farm to the Rogers for a couple of growing seasons is likely to pay dividends in future years. They planted cotton on most of the land — a crop that is not a part of Goodrich’s normal rotation.

Goodrich has for years been a top peanut producer in Virginia. Putting two years of cotton in his rotation is an ideal one for cleaning up nematodes and other pests that can build up over the years in a peanut-grain rotation.

“Henry has irrigation on about 75 percent of his farm, so it worked out really well for us last year in the drought — some of our best cotton was on his land. I don’t think Henry will start growing cotton,” Rogers says.

“With his irrigation and corn at $7 a bushel and peanuts over $800 a ton, I don’t think he could justify getting into the cotton business,” the Virginia grower adds.

Farming in partnership was not a new thing for the Rogers. In addition to their farming operation, they farm in partnership with Brent Lowe. “Our arrangement with Brent has worked out well for both of us. It’s a give and take lifestyle, and for those wanting to try it, they better pick their partners well,” the elder Rogers says.

“When you get in a situation when a weather front is coming and you have your crop to pick, he has his crop to pick and you have your partnership crop to pick, it’s a tough situation. But, you just put your friendship and your partnership first and do the right thing,” he adds.

Different kind of give, take

“He says the arrangement with Henry Goodrich was a different kind of give and take. He wanted us to do some things one way and we wanted to do them a different way, but there was never any problem of any kind in working those issue out,” Rogers recalls.

“We knew we would put cotton on most of the land and that was okay with Henry. He wanted us to leave his peanut rotation in place, and that fit well into our plans, so we just worked out what we needed to and everything just kind of fell into place,” Rogers explains.

The Virginia farmer says farming Goodrich’s land didn’t require them to buy any new equipment or really change much of anything they were already doing. The farms are fairly close together, so they had few logistic problems.

“Trust is always an issue in any relationship or partnership. When you agree to a farming partnership, like I said, you better pick your partners well,” Rogers says.

With Goodrich, Rogers says trust was never an issue.  Rogers and Goodrich’s father were long-time friends, having co-owned a tractor and participated in tractor pulls, when such events were just getting started. Family and farming obligations took Rogers away from the tractor-pull arena, but he and Goodrich’s father remained close friends, until Mr. Goodrich’s death.

The Rogers and Goodrich did have a formal legal document, but it was more of a legal safety net in case something unexpected happened to any of the parties involved.

“If we had known my son and I would remain healthy and active and Henry would have come home safe and sound and be ready to farm after two cropping seasons, a formal hand-shake would have been fine,” Rogers says.

“I think Henry had a strong sense of duty — he felt like he needed to go to Afghanistan and help with the farming unit there. It was a hardship on his family, as it is with any soldier who has to go overseas, and my son and I are proud we could help him leave without too much worry about his farming operation.

“Financially, I think it worked out fine for Henry and it certainly worked well for us. Farming his land gave us more land and gave us some flexibility to do some things on our farm and in our farming partnership with Brent,”, Rogers concludes.

“I’m turning more and more of the operation of our farm over to my son (Paul Rogers III), and he did most of the farming on Henry’s land. Another benefit from our agreement is that my son and Henry became much closer, and that will be important once Henry starts farming again next spring,” he adds.

In the mid-1990s, Rogers went into a partnership with Brent Lowe in large part to be able to justify large capital expenses on equipment that it took to get into the cotton business. They farm two farms together, roughly 700 acres.

A few years later Roger’s son joined the farming operation as did Lowe’s son Clay. Farming together allows them to share equipment, especially in their cotton operation. It also allows them to share labor, which is becoming both extremely expensive and difficult to find in southeast Virginia.

“Finding a good partner has allowed both of us to expand our overall farming operation. It allows us to take advantage of scale of operation. In the farming business today, a small family farm competing with larger, diversified farms is like a mom and pop grocery story competing with one of the big grocery store chains, Rogers says.

“It takes a special situation, like Henry and his military situation, to farm 400 acres and make a living for a family. It’s sad, but it seems like the days of small, one-person farming operations are numbered,” he adds.

rroberson@farmpress.com