Raising corn, peanuts, soybeans and children keeps Stephen and Tracie Fulford plenty busy. With a thousand acres to plant, tend and harvest, and three sons and a daughter to nurture, teach, and enjoy, there is never a dull moment on their family farm in Monticello, Fla.
Some days, Stephen takes on the role of welder, mechanic, inventor or semi-truck driver, along with his responsibilities of managing the farmland. Tracie manages the household, but also does all the bookkeeping for Fulford 6 Farming Company and writes a blog on family farming. In addition to everything they do, both also actively advocate for and provide leadership within the northwest Florida agriculture community.
Their children – Esther, 13, Gannett, 10, Thomas, 6, and Jesse, 4 – are partners in the process, too. The two oldest children spend a lot of time with their dad learning what it truly takes to run a family farm. They share that knowledge with their Tallahassee classmates – most are unfamiliar with life on the farm. The Fulfords often host tours of their operation for school groups.
“Since we moved back to Florida in 2004, we’ve spent a great deal of time trying to raise awareness about the importance of agriculture in American culture and of keeping the family farm alive,” Tracie says. “The focus of the family farmer is to provide a safe, affordable and abundant food supply, and through our work on the farm and in the broader agriculture community, we are able to share that focus with others who just haven’t been exposed to life on the farm.”
For Stephen, agriculture is in his blood. He grew up on a family farm and earned his bachelor’s degree in ag operations management and his master’s in agronomy, both from the University of Florida. He was an extension agent with North Carolina State University before returning to Florida more than a decade ago. Those experiences heightened his commitment to conservation farming.
“Environmental stewardship is the focus of our operation,” Stephen says. “Here in the Red Hills of northern Florida, a large percentage of the land is highly erodible and heavily terraced. Erosion is destructive and creates tremendous challenges we have to manage.”
The couple’s efforts in employing precision farming techniques and establishing a conservation tillage system for their operation earned them recognition as the 2013 Northwest Florida Agriculture Innovator of the Year.
They aren’t afraid to try new practices and are happy to share the results of those initiatives with others in the ag community. Stephen serves on the advisory board for the North Florida Research and Education Center. He enjoys the opportunity to collaborate with researchers to determine what is environmentally beneficial as well as operationally efficient.
“All the best intentions are great, but ultimately the practices you employ have to be done at a profit,” Stephen says. “After two years of moving to no-till soybeans and peanuts, I have kept the same yields and save a tremendous amount of fuel and time.”
A Voice for Agriculture
While the work is challenging, the rewards are great.
“I especially enjoy the ever-changing cycle of the farming profession,” Stephen says. “There’s a constant opportunity to try something different, shift gears, employ technology and innovate.”
Tracie agrees, saying farming is not just a job – it’s a profession with a worldwide impact.
“We know that on the family farm we are part of the bigger picture of contributing to the global food supply and the conversation about how best to make that happen from an environmental perspective. We’re proud to have the opportunity to make that kind of contribution and provide a voice for agriculture in our community.”