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Oustanding Young Farm Family: Cotton Division

Oustanding Young Farm Family: Cotton Division
November 2, 2005 |

Like the 1972 Chevy Nova inside the garage at Chad and Marie Henderson’s Limestone County home, the farming awards on the shelves inside their living room tell the story of a farm family that likes a challenge.Whether it’s trying to turn a profit on 50-cent cotton or grabbing the checkered flag in an eighth-mile drag race, the Hendersons have grown accustomed to winning.That’s why the Hendersons, along with their son and daughter, 7-year-old Jackson and 8-year-old Savannah, were selected earlier this year as the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in the Cotton Division.Again.Actually, it marks the fourth time that they’ve won OYFF awards, capturing the Cotton Division in 1998, the Soybean Division in 2000 and the Wheat & Feed Grains in 2003.”We set out to win every division that we had commodities in,” said Chad. “The first time we entered, we didn’t win anything.””Chad keeps joking, ‘How many times do we have to win this thing before we go out?'” said Marie. “He says we’re going to go out as the family who won the competition the most times but not the title.”Chad will have to wait until the Federation’s 84th Annual Meeting in Mobile Dec. 4-5 to learn whether he’s won the overall OYFF title. If he doesn’t, that’s OK too.”That recognition is nice and the plaques are really nice,” said Chad. “But now, to tell you the truth, what I like most is going down there to see my friends. We’ve met a lot of nice people through this, and it (the annual meeting) is about the only time we get to see them.”Marie agrees. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve stuck with it,” she said. “A lot of the people that we started out with in Young Farmers are starting to go out (due to the 17-to-35 age bracket), but this is what we look forward to every year in OYFF. … It’s like a catch-up time.”Next to the OYFF awards sit four more awards the Hendersons have garnered in corn-growing contests sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association and the seed company, Pioneer Hi-Bred International. Last year’s second-place finish, with 198 bushels per acre, marked the fourth-straight year Chad’s placed. He won the state title in 2002 with 242 bushels per acre.”It’s no big deal,” he says humbly while shrugging his shoulders. “I just like competing.”Farming is the only job he’s ever had since graduating from Tanner High School 13 years ago. After two years as a farm hand, he worked his way into a quarter ownership with his father, Mike Henderson, grandfather G.W. Henderson, and cousin Stuart Sanderson in the family’s farming operations, which now cover 3,400 acres. They have 1,600 acres in cotton, 650 in corn, 250 in wheat and 650 in soybeans. “I don’t own anything but what I’m sitting on,” Chad says modestly, referring to the family’s 425 aces. “G.W. is the one who started this. I don’t know if it’s anything I could do. Doing what has already been done is no accomplishment. If you take nothing and make something out of it the way he did, then you’ve done something.”Chad says it was his grandfather who initiated the farm’s relationship many years ago with the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide food and habitat for waterfowl in the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. It’s a relationship that continues today as Henderson Farms leases about 1,000 acres of the refuge, raising grain, wheat, soybeans and corn.Like most farmers, Chad knows that making a living from the ground requires more than sun and rain — it also sometimes requires trial and error.”You can try a lot of different things, but it always comes back to how you farm,” he said. “You have to be cost-conscious with diesel prices and chemicals and fertilizers the way they are now. Everything is higher.”Chad remembers 1992, ’94 and ’96 as good crop years. “You can remember the good years,” he says.Marie, a nurse for a group of physicians in Decatur, measures good times a bit differently. She counts, instead, their many dates on the cotton picker under the light of the harvest moon. “If we wanted to see one another, it was on a combine or a cotton picker,” she said. “I knew what I was getting into.”She also counts 11 years of marriage and the excitement in her children’s eyes whenever they come home from school, soccer or cheerleading to go visit or help their father in the field. “The kids love it,” Marie said. “The kids can’t wait to go to the field. “We help mostly during harvesting season,” she added. “We’ll go put the tarps on the modules, run the module builders, whatever he needs us to do with the soybeans, move trucks, take dinner every night. We stay in the field as much as we can during harvesting season — as much as time allows it.”But when the Hendersons aren’t farming, they’re racing. In mid-September, Chad had driven his ’72 Nova (a 602-cubic-inch engine with 1,014 horsepower) to fourth in points in the Outlaw Racing Street Car Association. And 8-year-old Savannah is literally gearing up to compete. Right now, she drives a 16-foot junior rail dragster, powered by a 5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine, at speeds up to 50 mph. She’ll have to get it up to 75 mph before she can compete in the junior divisions.Marie, who used to street race with Chad before they married, now accompanies him to eighth-mile match races in Illinois, the Carolinas, Atlanta, Memphis and Huntsville.”I am his pit crew,” she says. “I work on that car as much as he does. If he’s in that garage, I’m in there too. In fact, we’ve got to tear the motor down this week — he blew it up last week. So, between picking cotton and everything else, we’ve got a motor to build this week.”

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