Glenn and Casey Cox introduce the Flint River like it’s a member of their family. And, in many ways, it is. The river has been the heritage for the many generations of Coxes who’ve farmed and lived along its southwest Georgia banks.
Glenn, 60, is a fifth generation farmer. Casey, 24, is the daughter and only child of Glenn and wife, Tina. And Casey is becoming the sixth generation to farm their branch of the family’s land in Mitchell County, Ga. Right now, the transition is in place. And Glenn says he couldn’t be happier.
“We were not going to make her come home,” says Glenn. “That was first and foremost, but we were always hoping she would. Told her to do whatever she wanted to do. And she has. She went to college, but she knew she could always come back home. She’s done a lot and accomplished a lot more than I had by the time I was her age – a lot more.”
“They really encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do and never pressured me to come home, but after a couple of months off at college, I realized I had such a special background and place to return to. I didn’t originally plan to farm but just to come back to southwest Georgia,” says Casey, who got her degree in natural resources conservation, a topic dear to both Glenn and Casey.
As she neared the end of her college time, she began to think about farming as a long-term plan and to farm her family land. The local and regional ag community has embraced her decision with encouragement, she said, particularly the local Georgia Farm Bureau.
Glenn says the only time he has really questioned Casey’s decision-making skills is when she chose to get her college degree from the University of Florida over going to his preferred University of Georgia. (But, hey, nobody’s perfect wherever you fall on that slippery Deep South Divide.)
Casey is already a spokesperson for agriculture in the region. She is the executive director of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District and manages the Flint River Partnership, an agricultural water conservation initiative formed by the Flint River SWCD, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and The Nature Conservancy.
After an unexpected administrative change at the Flint River Partnership, Casey took the lead and is now spearheading a USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program targeted at the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin with 30 partners across Alabama, Florida and Georgia. With the program, USDA will kick in $4 million over the next five years to provide financial and technical assistance to producers and landowners in the ACFR Basin. The goal will be to promote NRCS programs and address water quality and water quantity in the region.
In the Flint River region particularly, the project will focus on increasing agricultural-water-use efficiency on irrigated land with conservation practices and use of precision irrigation methods.
“Like I said, she’s way smarter than I was at her age and smarter than me now,” Glenn said.
Whenever they are given the chance, Glenn and Casey champion agriculture in the region and, especially, the conservation efforts taking place in agriculture, efforts that have been taking place for many years that the general public doesn’t understand about farming.
“Like I’ve said many times, ‘If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you,’ and it has taken care of us for many years. That’s my attitude toward it, and I know it is Casey’s attitude, too,” Glenn said.
The Cox’s farm is called Longleaf Ridge Farms, and gets the name from the 200-plus acres of natural-growth longleaf pines that grow on the property along a ridge overlooking the river. That much natural-growth longleaf pines in one place is rare now, compared to the millions of acres of longleaf pines that once grew throughout the South.
Glenn’s father, C.B. Cox, founded the nearby River Run Plantation in the mid-1950s. Glenn’s operation split from the plantation more than a decade ago, and his brother, Cader, now runs and manages the nationally-recognized quail plantation with his family.
Doing a little backseat farming
Longleaf Ridge Farm grows sweet corn, field corn, peanuts and soybeans, and all of it is done with commercial profits as the goal but with conservation practices as the means.
“Farming with conservation in mind as much as possible is the way to go and works and is the right thing to do, but it can cost (financially). We have a situation maybe some others do not where we can be a bit more conservation-minded in our approach, but I think that also means we have the responsibility to do so,” Glenn said.
“My father and mother instilled in me stewardship of the land, and my father has farmed his whole life. So, I know you can be both: a good farmer and conservationist. And most farmers are both,” Casey said.
“She’ll guide the operation to where it needs to go, and she has the opportunity to make it more profitable or even turn it in another direction,” Glenn said.
“I’m learning right now a lot about what goes into to making and growing the crops, the inputs and the technology side of it, and the business side, too,” Casey said.
Casey has financial interest in the operation. “And I know, we’ll always make decisions as a family when it comes to the land,” she said.
Riding around the farm earlier this summer, Casey was driving, and Glenn was sitting in the back seat of the king-cab truck.
“I have full confidence she will be able to handle it, and not just handle it, but make it better,” Glenn said. “In the not-so-distant future, she’ll be in charge. I have no doubt it will be in good hands. It will be her thing and her decisions to make....
“Watch out! Casey, don’t go down that way. Pull along the side here.”
Behind the wheel, Casey rolls her eyes a bit at her father’s sudden advice on driving routes on the farm and approaches. “Is that how you’re going to hand over the responsibilities for the farm? Like your back-seat driving now?”
“Well, I’m always going to have some advice for her,” Glenn said, with a sheepish grin.