Look North

By Jim Steadman

Jim (left) and JP Jansen

When all you’ve ever wanted to do is farm, it can get tough when nearby cities and communities start growing toward your end rows.

So, when development along the I-35 corridor south of Austin began making farm logistics and planning near their Kyle, TX, acreage more difficult, Jim and JP Jansen started looking for a way to feed their farming bug and keep the family tradition growing.

They found it 150 miles north in Mart, TX, just southeast of Waco.

The Jansens currently farm about 2,000 acres in and around Kyle, much of it now leased from developers waiting for the right opportunity. Four years ago, they bought 600 acres in the Mart area and have added another 200 acres there over the past few years.

Jim, JP’s father, grew up on a cotton farm in Williamson County, TX, and farmed with both his father and father-in-law around Kyle and Taylor, TX, for a number of years. JP joined the farming business in 2004 following graduation from Texas Tech and a stint on the Red Raiders football team.

“When we starting farming together, I gave JP half interest in the new corporation,” recalled Jim. “Fortunately, we were able to start leasing more land around Kyle and expanded by 100 to 200 acres a year over several years.”

Cotton farming has been in the Jansens’ blood for decades. From the mid-1980s, that’s JP on the left, his brother Blake in front, Jim in the middle, and Jim’s father, Ed, on the right.

The Jansens grow cotton on roughly half of their acres, with the rest split between rotational crops like grain sorghum and corn. They work closely with their cottonseed companies regarding varieties and on-farm trials such as Deltapine’s New Product Evaluator (NPE) program.

“We’re all dryland,” says JP. “Our typical weather pattern generally provides decent subsoil moisture over the winter. And, if spring rains hold through May, we can make a corn crop and get cotton off to a good start. The rotation works well, because we have root rot in the cotton and have to rotate it with something every year. This year, we’ll probably be a 60/40 split corn to cotton.”

Regardless of the crop mix, the logistics of farming in the face of increasing commercial and residential growth continues to be more and more challenging. The economic downturn in 2008 slowed the pace of development for a while, but, as Jim says, it’s now speeding up rapidly.

“We gave up about 200 acres this past year because it just became too hard to go through all of the subdivisions to get to our land,” he explains. “We now have to move a lot of our equipment at night, often using escorts from local constables or the sheriff’s department.”

“And when you’re spraying,” adds JP, “what used to be a farm field five years ago is now wall-to-wall houses. We have to be much more particular based on which way the wind is blowing or the time of day. And before we can get an airplane to spray anything, we have to send the pilot the latitude and longitude for all of the fields. He pulls them up on Google Earth and lets us know which fields he’ll treat and which ones he won’t.

“It’s different from what a traditional mainstream farmer may have to deal with. And it’s also tricky, not knowing if we’re going to have some of this land one more year or if it’s going to be available for another 10 years.”

Those challenges also forced other decisions for their operation. Following the 2015 season, the Jansens sold their new John Deere stripper baler and turned to custom harvesting services.

The next generation is already active on the farm – Elizabeth and Trace, children of JP and Dena Jansen.

“The baler stripper is the only way to go, but it is so expensive,” points out JP. “We found that we needed to run about 3,000 bales through it to really make it pay off. Between our acres and those that some of our neighbors were planting, it was hard to justify it.

“Plus, not custom harvesting on our own for a month and a half makes life a whole lot easier.”

Easier, perhaps. But not less complicated. Despite successful side careers (Jim operates a successful CPA business in the Kyle area, and JP is an independent crop insurance agent for a sixcounty area around Austin), neither plans to stop farming. That’s what led them to look for alternatives outside their home base.

“We realized several years ago that our options around Kyle were going to be limited,” says Jim. “In fact, we had a standing joke that JP, his cousin and another young farmer from Lockhart were going to end up fighting over 600 acres. We looked at adding land in Taylor a few years ago, but the price was just too high. We couldn’t afford it and make the numbers work. That’s when we decided to buy land in Mart.”

This year will be the Jansens’ fourth growing season with the new property – mixing their current farming operation with what essentially amounts to a startup venture several hours away (153.1 miles to be exact, quips Jim). According to JP, property prices in rural Mart were much more favorable. And there’s a bit more annual rainfall in the area – a nice bonus for dryland farming.

“We had a couple of years when commodity prices were good, and we were able to invest some of those profits to purchase the property,” says JP. “The land already had a very nice shed, and we’re starting to add to the infrastructure there. We also want to continue to add acres there. I have a good friend who has been successful in construction, and he likes to invest in land. He says he’ll buy it if we farm it. I told him he has a deal.

“We picked up a couple hundred acres there that have a very nice waterhemp issue,” he laughs. “We’ll probably have to put some dicamba cotton on it.”