Looking Back. Growing Forward.
In August, the Noble Research Institute selected Collier to receive the 2013 Leonard Wyatt Memorial Outstanding Cooperator Award, which honors a farmer or rancher who works with the organization. Criteria for the Leonard Wyatt Memorial Outstanding Cooperator Award are based on accomplishments within the farmer's or rancher's operation, community service and willingness to assist other producers.
Visiting Carroll Collier's ranch is a journey into the past and a look into the future.
The healthy pastures flanking the roads leading to Collier Farms still spring from the same Wise County soil plowed by Collier's grandfather, but their vitality stands as a testament to today's newest technologies and farming practices.
Rustic cedar fences from yesteryear and this season's pink Knock Out® roses line the drive to a simple house with a small front porch and a white, wood-framed screen door. The thumping bass of Elvis' "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog" comes pouring through, only slightly muffled by the rustle of a breeze through the trees.
Then there's Collier - a model of the modern rancher, so willing to try new ideas, so proud of the history that has brought him to this point. "My grandfather did a wonderful job with what he had to work with. He didn't have anything really - no resources to speak of - compared to what we have today," Collier said. "We have worked hard to continue his legacy and keep this land going, to improve it. This place is a part of our past, and it's our future."
1965 was a good year
Collier's grandfather, Guy Collier, founded the family farm in the early 1920s. He produced peanuts and cotton before shifting the operation to hog and beef production. Guy purchased additional land through the decades, piecing together acreage until it reached the current 318-acre homestead.
Collier bought the farm from his grandfather's estate in 1965, the same year he married his wife, Jean, whom he credits with years of co-stewardship. "After we married, he started making improvements on this place every year, and he still is," Jean said, with a proud smile. "I've been there every step of the way. I am just as proud of this place as he is."
Collier Farms has changed with the times, from growing various crops to now strictly being a beef cattle operation. Through the years, Collier has maintained other jobs to help keep the ranch growing. He has run a retail supply store, a peanut buying point and a dairy. But today, with a little help from the Noble Research Institute, Collier only needs to worry about his cattle.
The Noble-Collier relationship began in 2005 as Collier transitioned full-time to the beef cattle business. He needed a little help and discovered the Noble Research Institute. Collier had "known about the Noble Research Institute for years," but became actively involved with the organization after attending seminars in his home county.
The Noble Research Institute's no-cost consultation program has offered Collier, along with thousands of other farmers, ranchers and land stewards, a unique resource that provides counsel and education to help producers be successful and sustainable.
"Working with the Noble Research Institute changes everything," Collier said. "If you have a question about any topic, you just call them and they'll help you figure out an answer. It's like having a best friend whom you trust and is an expert in agriculture."
100 percent, absolutely 100 percent
Collier's relationship with the Noble Research Institute has impacted almost every aspect of his operation, from the cattle he selects to the grass they graze.
These days, Collier runs three cow-calf herds on several pastures of bermudagrass, rye and native grasses, a system carefully discussed with Noble Research Institute consultants. "We took a hard look at how we manage our pastures, especially during this latest drought," he said. "Years like that make you work a little harder, but we made it through with some help from Noble."
One of his primary goals is to maintain not just quality pastures, but to stock hay to reduce expenditures. Inside his barn are nearly 20 bales of hay from last year, still as good as the day he stored them, another product of Collier's dedication and Noble's resources.
"Over the years, we have worked hard to find ways to stockpile and maintain the quality of our grass so we can keep our hay feeding costs to a minimum," Collier said.
Through the years, Noble Research Institute agricultural consultants have assisted Collier with soil samples, forage samples, proper feeding management and expense tracking. He now uses cattle record keeping software to improve the business and cattle management aspects of his ranch.
"Our relationship with Carroll has been just tweaking the operation," said Robert Wells, Ph.D., Noble Research Institute livestock consultant. "He has a great deal of experience and knowledge. He was doing everything right. We're just helping him get there. It has been fun to work with somebody as business-minded and progressive as Carroll."
"Tweaking" is not the word Collier would use to describe his relationship with the Noble Research Institute. He credits the organization's support and expertise with "100 percent, absolutely 100 percent" of his operation's success. "Oh, I think there is no way to set a value on working with the Noble Research Institute," Collier said matter-of-factly. "It's just everything about the relationship. From helping us manage the land to buying machinery, they are truly there to help."
Despite his extensive personal knowledge base, Collier still attends Noble Research Institute workshops and seminars to brush up on new techniques and technologies. "I enjoy going to the seminars very much," he said. "Every time we go, we learn something new. You can always pick out something that works to your advantage."
Collier Farms is now hosting Noble Research Institute field days designed to help other agricultural producers see a progressive, properly managed operation. "If you want to see a great farming operation that just does everything right," Wells said, "go visit Collier Farms."
During the tour of his farm, Collier spoke specifically about two tractors - one reclaimed from the past, one armed with futuristic technology.
Collier recently purchased a GPS system for his tractor. The GPS unit allows precision spraying so he can accurately apply fertilizer and insecticides. The technology helps reduce usage, save money and better manage pastures. "It's amazing how you can set the GPS and it will just carry you in a straight line," he said. "Every once in a while I think this thing can't be right. I get off the tractor and walk out there next to the tracks, and it is right on target. It makes the job a whole lot easier." Of course, there is one more tractor that doesn't quite have all the modern bells and whistles, but holds great sentimental value. Collier takes a detour into his barn to discuss a particular family heirloom. There amongst the workbench and hay is a fire engine red 1947 Farmall tractor. His grandfather purchased the tractor for $600 on July 7, 1947, to replace the team of horses used to plow the fields. Collier recently had the tractor restored to its original glory.
The tractor stands as a testament to the Collier family, linking progress of the past with the potential of the future. And the future seems to be on Collier's mind more and more.
After almost half a century, Collier is pondering retirement. "Your mind wants to do a lot, but your body won't let you," he said. He admits to slowing down during the heat of the day when the temperature soars. However, there are two parts of the day he never misses. "I like to see the sun going down, and I like to see it come up. Those are the most beautiful times of day."
Seems fitting - one sun fading into the past, one announcing the future.