For six generations, the Cox family’s farming operations have shared a relationship with their plantation’s resident wildlife.
Quail particularly love their plantation, though it’s no surprise, considering they farm in southwest Georgia, known as the Quail Hunting Capital of the World. These creatures love the plantation’s fencerows, treelines and crop fields. The family provides the upland birds some food plots. They also establish conservation plans to enhance their habitat.
“Quail and agriculture work real, real well together,” says Cader Cox, who represents the fifth generation at Riverview Plantation, a farm and commercial hunting business in Camilla.
During Georgia’s warmest months, the family grows peanuts, soybeans, cotton, grain sorghum and sweet corn. When the crisp fall air arrives, they provide food, lodging, dogs, a bountiful hunt and Southern hospitality to corporate executives from throughout the United States. The Cox family opened their plantation to hunting in 1957 to supplement their farm income. They were the first for-profit, commercial hunting plantation in Georgia, Cox says.
In 2012, more than 150 commercial hunting plantations operated in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Most were quail plantations, though some offered ducks and pheasants. The state also has 35 fox hunting preserves.
Hunting and agriculture have coexisted for a long time. Cox tells stories of his family’s earliest generations farming with mules and hunting for recreation.
“You were a farmer, and because you were a farmer, you had a good quail population. Every farmer had dogs and would hunt with family or neighbors,” Cox recalls. “Hunting plantations have been an evolution from a mindset that we come from a hunting background, and we know hunting. We’ve decided to expose the public for a fee.”
The value of wildlife recreation and agriculture provides a tremendous boost to rural areas.
Georgians and non-residents spent $4.6 billion on hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching in 2011, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The expenditures equal the value of Georgia broilers and cotton, the state’s top commodities, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
More specifically, residents and non-residents spent a total of $965 million on hunting-related items in 2011, the survey reports. Half of those expenditures included trip-related expenses, such as food, lodging and transportation.
“When Mom and Dad first started, our business included more individuals or two friends coming down to hunt,” Cox says. “Our original accommodations looked like an old Holiday Inn. As our business evolved it became more corporate, where people would come down and bring their best clients.”
It’s not uncommon to see clients fly to the state on private jets, he adds.
The family constructed private cottages and recently built larger eight-guest cottages because private jet capacities have also increased. They added individual dining rooms, and each party also has a separate lounge with fireplace, card table and leather sofas. Hunts are assigned and private, too, with 10,000 acres available.
“They can stay completely to themselves,” Cox says. “It’s much more exclusive, more private and more corporate than it was in the old days.”
Likewise, the farm business has changed. The family grows most of the same crops as their ancestors, but today the farm is more high-tech. Satellite-guidance technology allows variable -rate application of lime and fertilizer, tractor cabs resemble cockpits of airplanes, and smartphones keep them in touch with markets.
“It’s our heritage. We’re a farm family. We’re stewards of the earth,” Cox says. “God owns the land; he gave us the stewardship of it. It’s not an easy way to make a living, but it’s sure a great place to raise a family.”