Small farmer determined to leave a legacy
Posted on Jan 26, 2023
Charlie Backey, a small farmer in Colquitt, Georgia, farms land inherited from her late husband.
Charlie Backey became the principal operator of her family’s farm when her husband of 50 years, Charles, died in 2020. Now age 70 and retired from a career in customer service, Backey considers farming the 72 acres of land her way of carrying on her late husband’s memory.
Backey’s late husband purchased most of the land she farms more than 30 years ago because he always wanted to own a farm. He worked on other farms most of his life but was adamant about owning and working his own land. Backey said her husband invested a lot of time in the property. As a result, what meant a lot to him also means a lot to her.
“It means a lot to me just to be able to work the soil, to be here and see the crops mature enough to harvest. You get excited,” she said with a chuckle. “Land is something we should all try to preserve.”
Backey encourages others to keep their land and try their best not to sell it, but instead, to educate themselves and discover options available.
“Plant some trees, or plant some grass,” she said. “Don’t let it go. Don’t sell it away.”
Backey is not alone in her farming endeavor.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service identified that 51 percent of farms in the U.S. had a least one-woman operator in 2019.
“It’s taken me some time to figure out what I want to do and how I want to expand, but that’s where I am right now, figuring things out,” the small farmer said.
Currently Backey is sticking with one crop.
“Right now, all I’m farming is peanuts,” she said.
Backey began farming peanuts on her own in 2021. Peanuts are typically planted during April or May and harvested in the late summer. In 2021, the peanut famer had a successful crop.
“Last year I did pretty well. I did about 2/3 quarter to an acre,” Backey said. “I give credit to the fact that we got a lot of rain last year and my peanuts did not suffer one bit.”
Eager to keep her land prospering, Backey said she is relying on her faith for guidance.
“I’ve been praying about it and asking God what He wants me to do with this property,” Backey said.
Peanut farmer Charlie Backey observes her soil before planting.
She said one of the biggest challenges encountered by small farmers is having money to maintain the farm. Backey also mentioned that small farmers and beginning farmers are often challenged with determining how much seed and chemicals to purchase per acre.
“I needed to know these things because I didn’t want to overspend my budget,” she said. To help her with this process, she had her brother assist as well as the seed company.
Likewise, Backey said some small farmers may face challenges when developing contracts with buyers. She mentioned how not having a contract with a grocery store or company can result in loss of profits when it’s time to harvest.
To encourage small and beginning farmers Backey says that she advises them to not be afraid.
“Start out small and work your way up, day-by -day, year-by-year,” she said. “You can improve each time.”
Backey also encourages women farmers to be confident. “People are surprised that I farm,” she said. “I feel that I have inspired some. Any time women go into something out of the ordinary, people will have their opinions, but women can do the things that men can do because there is so much equipment and training available.”
Some of that training is offered through land-grant universities such as Fort Valley State University (FVSU). Backey mentioned how FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program is helpful in exposing small farmers to information.
“The last training I went to was awesome,” Backey said, referring to a joint training held with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and FVSU Extension. “Fort Valley has been awesome in providing information for small farmers so they can improve their farm and finances.”
During the training Backey was able to learn more about her farm number and the access it provides to FSA grants and programs. In order to receive a farm number, farmers must make an appointment at a local FSA office and provide documentation to be placed in the system. Once a farmer secures a farm number, they are eligible to apply for loans, programs, assistance and insurance. Her late husband had secured the number years ago, and at the training she was informed about the benefits of having a farm number. Backey said she plans to apply to some of the FSA programs in the future, particularly ones that could help her to start growing fruit trees, strawberries and blueberries.
“I’m choosing crops that are up off the ground, things I can grow on a bush that are reachable from a standing position,” she said.
Backey explains that this is important to her because as she ages she is trying to avoid work that stresses her back and knees.
Continuing to look ahead, Backey said she hopes her son will one day take over the property and continue the legacy started by his father. She said her husband would be proud of her progress.
“He’d be happy that I was making it work,” she said with a smile.
- FVSU Agriculture College