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Preparing for Takeoff

A young farmer builds his operation with help from flying, trucking and custom-farming jobs.

Landscapes Summer 2012
Jesse Shipman standing in front of a cropduster

Thank goodness for cell phones. Without one, it would be hard to track down North Texas young farmer Jesse Shipman. Depending on the season, he could be custom-combining wheat, trucking grain for a commodities broker, or flying his Cessna 188 Ag Truck to West Texas to defoliate cotton from the air.

But there’s a reason he’s often on the go.

Shipman’s custom-farming and agricultural services help to pay for his own farming operation near Honey Grove, Texas — a business he’s dreamed of owning since he was a youngster.

“I was 7 years old when I got my first chance at driving a tractor,” he says, sitting in the office of the farm shop that he shares with his father, Bruce Shipman, and uncle Rickey Shipman. “Even though I had a broken arm and was wearing a cast, my dad let me on the tractor and I got to bale hay that summer. I was hooked.”

After that first experience, he started plowing and doing other jobs around the family farm and became so enamored with the profession that he decided on a career in agriculture.

Shipman was just 15 when he started working his first farm, a 25-acre place that he acquired from his dad and uncle, who had agreed to help him get started farming.

The Shipmans on their farm with their baby

Casey and Jesse Shipman take a break from farm work to enjoy their son, Judd.

Photo by Russell Graves

Using borrowed equipment, he planted wheat, and because of record yields and commodity prices that year, he roared to a strong start in the farming business. With that first wheat crop in the elevator, he was able to buy his first pickup with the proceeds from the harvest.

That was 14 years ago, and he hasn’t looked back.

“After that first year, I guess farming got in my blood, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he explains.

During his teens, Shipman also received his commercial driver’s license and learned to fly an airplane — two accomplishments that would later serve him well as his farming operation grew.

Diversifying for Long-Term Viability

He was 19 and taking some college classes when he saw another opportunity: to start a small trucking company. He bought a semi-truck and began hauling Bermudagrass hay for a local grower to horse-farm clients in Central Texas. The business quickly grew as he started hauling grain to a railhead in Paris, Texas, filling a transportation void in a region where local rail service was unavailable.

Thanks in part to income from the trucking business, he was able to make his first land purchase in 2005 — a 46-acre tract that he financed with AgriLand Farm Credit. The trucking company has continued to grow and now accounts for one-third of his income, earned largely by hauling fertilizer from an Oklahoma plant to a local fertilizer dealer, as well as by hauling grain for a local commodities broker.

Putting his early pilot training to good use, Shipman also started doing aerial application work in 2007, logging nearly 500 hours in the cockpit for Knox Aerial Spraying of Paris, Texas, that first year. In fact, aerial spraying was his main occupation until 2009, when he acquired the bulk of the acreage he now farms.

“Trucking and flying have really helped keep the operation afloat,” he says. “If one part of the operation isn’t doing as well as I’d like, I have the other ventures to keep things going.”

When he first began farming, Shipman borrowed a tractor from his dad and uncle because he worked only 200 acres. But as he rented more farmland, his equipment needs increased, and that’s when he returned to AgriLand Farm Credit. In fact, he attributes his quick start in farming to the assistance that AgriLand has provided from the beginning, from real estate loans to equipment and operating loans.

“When I started, AgriLand was a big help. They financed the startup of my operation that first year,” Shipman says. “If it wouldn’t have been for them, I don’t know what I would have done. You just can’t put a crop in out of your own pocket.”

Left: Cropduster dusting crops Right: Shipman in the cockpit

Partners in Prosperity

In the past four years, life has accelerated for Shipman. He and his wife, Casey, were married in 2008, and in early 2011 they were blessed with the birth of their first child, Judd. Meanwhile, he acquired more acreage but continued to share labor and equipment with family members. Today he grows sunflowers, wheat and milo on 1,350 acres in eastern Fannin County. He also farms land in Delta County and would like to add another 500 acres to the operation eventually.

From AgriLand’s perspective, Shipman’s strategy of relying on outside income to gradually build his business is a good one.

“Jesse is a hard worker and careful risk manager, who is willing to do what it takes to accomplish his goals. It’s refreshing to see younger farmers like Jesse become successful working full time in agriculture,” says Troy Lopez, Shipman’s loan officer at AgriLand Farm Credit in Bonham. “I look forward to working with him and seeing him grow and diversify his operation further in the future.”

“When I started, AgriLand was a big help. They financed the startup of my operation that first year.”– Jesse Shipman

Investing Heart and Soul in Farming

Today, with almost half a lifetime of farming experience behind him, the 29-year-old Shipman says that if he could give other beginning farmers one piece of advice, he would tell them not to give up because of a bad year or two. “Farming is a business that you can heal up in one good year,” he says.

Shipman says, however, that he was blessed with a good crop last year. Despite the severe drought that plagued Texas, timely rains early in the season helped him achieve record yields. His 2011 wheat crop averaged 75 bushels per acre, and this year’s mild winter and ample rainfall set the stage for another wheat crop equal to or even better than last year’s.

But come what may, he has invested heart and soul in the farming operations that he started on his own as a teenager.

“Farming was bred into me,” he says. “My dad and my uncle farmed their whole lives, and I’ve been around farming my whole life, so I really don’t know much other than this life. I get up in the morning looking forward to my day because I can’t imagine doing anything else besides farming. It is in my blood.”

– Russell Graves

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