Full circle: Life's unexpected turns can be the most rewarding
Terry Brandvik never thought she would come back to the family farm she grew up on near Stratford, Texas and learn to farm. From a big business career in telecommunications to the big business of farming, she says farming has ended up being the best fit in her life.
By Quenna Terry, Public Affairs Specialist, Lubbock, TX
Terry Brandvik grew up on her family farm near Stratford, Texas and although she admired it, she really didn’t want to be a part of it. However, she did grow up learning the values of hard work and integrity that her family shared. While she didn’t feel cut out for farm life, her background served her well as she pursued a career in the corporate world in the telecommunications industry. A creative problem-solver with an uncanny ability to bridge communication gaps, Brandvik quickly rose to be a respected leader in her field. With such a rewarding career, Brandvik never imagined she would return to her family’s farm.
Life has a funny way of coming full circle though, and much to her surprise she is now a fifth-generation farmer and part owner of Brandvik Farm Partnership, which she shares with her mother Christine Brandvik, youngest brother Ben Brandvik, and his wife Sherry Brandvik. In fact, she loves it so much and sees the value of wise use of the land and resources, she serves as a board member of the Sherman County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).
Growing up on the farm
While she appreciated it, Brandvik didn’t feel she had any connection to the land when she left to pursue her dreams after high school. The history of the farm dates back to 1902, when her great, great grandparents on her mother’s side started the farm.
The oldest sibling, Brandvik says she didn’t participate in farming business growing up. She tells the story of her dad kindly letting her know she didn’t have the skills for farming he needed. At that time, her ambitions were beyond the farm, and she left to attend college at West Texas A&M University. Bolstered by a degree in sociology, she spent 30 years in the business world in Dallas, United Kingdom and Columbus, Ohio.
In that era, Brandvik Farms was irrigated corn, grain sorghum and wheat on 1,720 acres.
Coming back to the farm
In 2010, Brandvik was unexpectedly laid off from her job and didn't know what she was going to do next. It was during this time that her father became ill and couldn't find suitable farm labor. He called to ask if she would consider coming home to work on the farm. She also remembers receiving a magnet in the mail from her mother that read “Sometimes the right man for the job is a woman.” She packed up and moved back to the farm within one week.
By this time the water table had declined significantly over the years and her dad had started dryland farming growing wheat, grain sorghum and cotton.
She remembers the first time she planted wheat and her rows were not very straight. She describes her mindset at the time as planning to only help her parents get through the crop year and leave if it didn't work out.
"There is a lot that goes into being a successful farmer and you have to wear many hats in making daily decisions," says Brandvik. "Farming isn't what most people start at age 55 and I was getting a late start."
As Brandvik recalls, coming back to the farm was anything but easy. Her knowledge was limited, and she says she was thankful her father was there to teach and guide her until his death in 2020.
She was fortunate her youngest brother retired a couple of years ago and wanted to come back to the farm to help after their father's passing.
Feeling more like a farmer
Brandvik’s father guided her in many aspects of the business, including fence building. She earned her private applicators license and learned the fundamentals of being a farmer.
She says, “Once I saw the results of my first planting, and the process from seed to harvest, I was hooked. I realized then I had a strong connection to the land, and I was where I was meant to be.”
She said she got involved in the community to reconnect with the people she knew as a young person, and to meet others she didn’t know.
In 2018, a fellow farmer she grew up with and who is her neighbor, talked to her about serving on the local soil and water conservation board. This opportunity helped advance her interest and knowledge of conservation.
“I wanted to serve on the SWCD board and help where I could. I knew it would be a great networking opportunity where I would gain practical knowledge and I could bounce ideas off others,” she says.
What I’ve learned about NRCS and the SWCD
Brandvik admits she is always learning more. Her family has been a cooperator with the local SWCD since the late 1980s. Through her involvement as an SWCD board member, she has helped direct technical and financial assistance provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for fellow agriculture producers in Sherman County. She believes the NRCS and SWCD are extremely important to farmers and ranchers to plan and implement conservation practices they probably wouldn’t have the resources to do without the help.
“We can do a better job helping all farmers understand and engage in the process working with the NRCS and the SWCD,” says Brandvik. “I think the agencies need more resources, employees and publications, all of which impact outward facing abilities.”
In the future, Brandvik Farms Partnership is planning to incorporate cover crops into their crop rotation and use minimal and no-tillage farming. She says they also intend to put a greater focus on wildlife to address pheasant and quail habitat by establishing a shelterbelt.