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Belue in Spartanburg, South Carolina

Spartanburg Family Farm Spans the Generations

By: Amy O. Maxwell, State Public Affairs Specialist

 

The Belue's sell fresh produce at their roadside store, including these beautiful, ripe peaches. “Mr. Jimmy” Belue of Spartanburg, South Carolina, can honestly say that farming is a family tradition at his 2,000-acre operation. That’s because his wife (Betty) and his son and daughter (Mike and Harriett) still work together everyday to manage the farm. For over fifty years, they have worked as a family unit to grow everything from small grains and other silage crops, to brood cows, peaches, and even daylilies.

    Daughter Harriet left the farm to work in private industry for a time, but soon realized that she missed farming. “I discovered that I could use the marketing techniques I practiced in private industry here on the farm, and at the same time, I could spend more time with my family, including my son.” Harriet’s marketing experience has been useful as the Belue’s try to respond and keep up with customer demand. “We thought it was important to diversify our operation,” explained Harriet, who manages the farm’s finances. Their roadside store boasts beautiful fruits and vegetables, homemade preserves and sauces, and even sweet breads. On a warm and muggy August morning, the store is busy with local shoppers stocking up for the last time this year as Belue’s will close shop until next spring.

    The Belue’s are also dedicated conservationists who want to protect and improve the soil and water resources that sustain their business. That’s one of the reasons that they converted their operation to one-hundred percent no-till. Mike Belue is a firm believer in conservation tillage, not only the environmental benefits, but also the cost and timesavings. “Switching to no-till helped save our family farm, because otherwise, we were lacking the manpower and energy costs that tilling required.” He also said that the equipment and chemicals available today for a no-till operation have come a long way.

    “The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) helped us get started with no-till, and now, I can’t imagine farming any other way.” EQIP is a voluntary conservation program of USDA-NRCS. It supports production agriculture and environmental quality as compatible goals. Through EQIP, farmers may receive financial and technical help with structural and management conservation practices on agricultural land.

    NRCS District Conservationist Charles Banks has worked with the Belue’s for several years. “The Belue’s switched to no-till about five years ago, and since that time, there has been a significant decrease in soil erosion around their crops,” said Banks. “No-till planting minimizes erosion because seeds are planted directly through the plant residue left from the previous crop, without plowing the field.” While no-till farming may take years to illustrate significant benefits, once they do, farmers are sold on the idea. “No-till changed the way that I look at farming,” explained Mike. “It requires me to think ahead, and do a little planning, but in the end, it really saves me time and money, so it’s a win-win situation.”

    The Belue family farm is a great example of several generations coming together to carry on a tradition. And, according to the family, it’s a tradition that they all love. “I can remember my father telling me, even when farming wasn’t profitable, that he wouldn’t do anything differently,” remembers Harriett. “He taught us that farmers are risk-takers, and we’ve had to make some changes throughout the years in order to survive as a family farm, but it’s been worth it and we are still here.”

    For more information on conservation assistance available through Farm Bill programs, or for details on the 2007 EQIP sign up, visit www.sc.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.