Life-Long Learning Essential to Success in Agriculture

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Meet farmer Allen Hensley. In his 20s, Allen Hensley was managing restaurants in Oklahoma, but when he drove by farms similar to those that shaped his youth, he knew he was missing his calling. 

“One of the hardest things for me was driving by the fields being harvested.  I could just smell it, the memories of growing up and the corn and sorghum harvest,” he recalled.  “It would make me homesick.” 

Hensley was born in Alice, Texas, just 10 miles from the farm where he resides today with his wife, Svetlana, and children – Miryk, Kirym, and Maverik.  During his formative years, the family moved around a lot, and he spent a lot of time in San Antonio and later in Indianapolis, “Then we came back, and I finished school here in Texas.  When I was about 20, I met my wife.  She is originally from Ukraine and had moved to Oklahoma when she was five years old.” 

Today the Hensleys live near Agua Dulce, Texas 30 miles west of Corpus Christi, on the landscape that shaped his passion for agriculture, “As a kid, I would work on the farm with my family in the summer, helping with tillage and driving the grain cart.  I started that when I was nine years old on my grandfather’s farm.  I just did what they told me back then, knowing little to nothing about the production aspect of agriculture.  Then, in 2010, my grandfather passed away, and I came back to help my uncle and cousin with the family farm.”

Hensley said the farm that shaped his youth fluctuates in size between 7,000 and 8,000 acres, growing grain sorghum, corn, cotton, and some sesame, “I worked for them seven years and then I found myself up against a wall.”

“Agriculture can sometimes be like royalty,” he said.  “If you’re not born in the lineage of the king, you’re probably never going to be the king.  I was on the other side of the family, so I was never going to be an owner of the farm.  Making the decision to walk away was extremely hard.  Change is hard because I was walking away from my grandfather’s farm.”  

Hensley wasn’t walking away from the farming business he loves deeply to this day though.  Instead, he was walking towards an opportunity that would allow him to continue to grow crops and grow as a person.  Hensley started working as a farm manager for a gentleman who wanted to back off the day-to-day oversight of his operation, which would soon merge with another farm to become 12,000 acres under his management. 

“All along the way, I was gaining more knowledge about agriculture in general.  I always wanted to understand agriculture at its roots.  I knew there was far more than dirt and plants going on,” he admitted.  “In the off season when I was doing tillage work, I had a lot of time in the tractor.  I would download articles, read agronomy handbooks, and started teaching myself the basics from Texas A&M, Kansas State, and the University of Nebraska.  I was researching tons about crops and soil.”  

“I started learning about soil and plant interactions, fertilizer, and the effects on microbial life in the soil and availability of nutrients to plants,” he went on.  “I spent years reading about these subjects.  Now I feel like I have a good, basic grasp on what occurs with all these interactions.  I also started working with other farmers and made very good friendships.  Through conversations with them, testing things, changing our planting populations, our fertility approach, and what we do in-season with the crops has been very helpful.  It’s all about experimenting.” 

All his researching and farm management skills have paid off through the years. Today, Hensley serves as Meristem’s sales and dealer development operative in Central Texas. Meristem is an agricultural input company focused on soil health and farm profitability. A perfect fit for Hensley who is so passionate about the success of farmers and ranchers. 

Another perfect fit for Hensley is serving as a promoter for Agoro Carbon. He believes there’s a place for carbon credit investments in the future of an agriculture dedicated to building and regenerating soil and natural systems, “I had a friend of mine sign up his acres into Agoro Carbon because he is wanting to transition to a minimum tillage approach with a focus on soil health and carbon sequestration.  It’s all about reducing tillage, bringing biologicals into the system and other nutritional products to stimulate the plants to produce more chlorophyll.  In doing so, you will bring more energy into the system and pump more through the root system.” 

“We still do a lot of tillage here because in the hot, dry climate it gets very tough to establish a crop at times,” he admitted.  “But we really work hard to have a quality plant growing in the system at all times.  We’re always learning.”

Hensley also farms 350 acres of his mom’s land, “I use equipment from the gentleman I am a farm manager for.  Farming 350 acres in this yield environment doesn’t support equipment purchases.  I only make two or three passes of conventional tillage on my land while a lot of guys in my area are on a five or six pass system. In the past couple years, I really have been inspired again to dig deeper into the soil health space.  I am talking a lot to my friend Del Ficke, co-founder of the Graze Master Group, and he always gets me thinking.  I am starting to think even more outside the box again.”

“I am also thinking there is a way to get cattle integrated back into the system by running some hot wire and either running my own cattle or working with a neighbor who has cattle that can graze during the off-season,” he added.  “I am inching every year or every few years to different practices that build soil health and resiliency for the future.”  

Hensley also thoroughly enjoys watching his kids literally playing and learning alongside him on the farm, “The little ones love the tractors and being outside in the field.  If I go out soil sampling, they want to go with me and will ask me questions about what I am doing.  They are at the point of not being afraid to get their hands dirty and play in the mud.  That is one of the rare things happening anymore, kids going outside to play.”

His oldest son is focused on his studies and has his sights on a college baseball career.  He is also looking into the medical field.  From a soil health to human health focus, the family is well represented in contributing positively to a better world.  The most important thing is being a life-long learner Hensley said adamantly, “One of the biggest opportunities we have in agriculture is realizing we don’t know it all and we don’t understand it all.  The percentage of things we actually understand in agriculture today is probably around 10 percent, if that.  Mother Nature is always there too, reminding us we don’t really know anything.”  

“I don’t know how it can hurt anybody to get input, feedback, and have someone share knowledge with them,” he said confidently.  “Why would anyone want to walk away from learning something?  Otherwise, we stop dead in our tracks and say we know it all.  What does that do for the next generation?  You have to get away from the status quo if you want to move forward.”  

Life-Long Learning Essential to Success in Agriculture

'I had a friend of mine sign up his acres into Agoro Carbon because he is wanting to transition to a minimum tillage approach with a focus on soil health and carbon sequestration."

Kerry Hoffschneider
Kerry Hoffschneider
Graze Master Group - Founder
Hoffschneider has more than two decades of communication, journalism, marketing, and public relations experience. She has both global corporate and non-profit experience in a host of areas, especially focusing on agriculture and rural community building. Hoffschneider has served as a corporate communications person for the western half of the United States as well as a development/public relations professional in the non-profit realm. She also has a background in news reporting and currently is a newspaper columnist. Hoffschneider excels at helping clients articulate their dreams with effective words that help bring goals to fruition. Solving problems and building bridges through the science of impactful, results-driven communication is her passion.
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