At times, Harold Grall, owner and president of Hasta Farms (Hasta), was not certain his independent corn farming operation would survive with the steady competition for land, water and the general instability of the commodity market. However, after nearly 30 years, the Texas-based company is going steady and even moving toward diversification. “I’m proud of the fact that we’re still in business,” shares Harold. “There were times in the early ‘80s and ‘90s that I wasn’t so sure because the global demand for food was stagnant with over production and the competition for water was a huge reality.”
“American farmers are incredible at what they do,” continues Harold. “They have this great capability of overproducing, so all through the mid-80s and ‘90s we were in a constant over supply.”
Knowing full well the risks that come with farming, Harold still wanted to follow his passion. Originally from El Paso, Texas, Harold attended West Texas State where he picked up an early understanding of agriculture economics.
Shortly after graduation, Harold stepped into the farming world. “I knew I wanted to get into production agriculture,” he recalls. “Eventually, I came to work for an older family and their farming operation. They didn’t have any children, so I succeeded and took over the farm.”
After rolling up his sleeves and getting some firsthand experience, Harold launched his farming business 1986. “There were tough times at first, but finally around 2000, the agriculture industry began to stabilize and stand on its own,” recounts Harold. “The demand for corn ramped up and things started to take off. We’ve been able to earn some pretty good profits. Part of that is thanks to government subsidies and assistance, but since 2000, we’ve pretty much been on our own.”
At one point, Harold’s was one of the largest of its kind in the Panhandle region. “Now there are operations three-times our size as commodities prices rise and investment groups move in to set up large-scale farms,” Harold explains.
Today, Hasta owns and leases more than 8,500 acres in Hartley and Moore counties, where the company primarily grows corn. Situated in the heart of Texas cattle country, Hasta supplies feed lots throughout the region. “90 percent of our acreage is dedicated to corn production,” notes Harold. “We’re in a grain deficient area where most of the nation’s cattle are raised, so our location is just as strategic as having our own grain elevator and all of our commodities on-site.”
Protecting Valuable Resources
With an increasing amount of investment groups and large operations moving into the Panhandle, Harold says the competition for essential resources, such as water, is a real challenge. “This area is home to good, fertile ground for people to come in and start up larger operations, but the race for land and the demand on the Ogallala aquifer is an issue,” he explains.
In recent years, Hasta has made an effort to become more efficient, not only to ease operational costs, but also to also help preserve one of the largest and most crucial water sources in the country. “We irrigate our own fields using center-pivot irrigation,” reveals Harold. “This technology has come a long way since the mid-80s. We used to run water impacts across a mainline, but in an area with so much wind, we were only getting a 65 percent application rate.”
Hasta started dropping the water with hoses that could get down closer to the ground. “This was a huge step for us because it cut down on evaporation and wind loss,” explains Harold. “When your bottom line is affected that’s what prompts a technological change. We have implemented every new piece of technology and any possible tool we can to save on evaporation loss and have even tried new corn hybrids that use less water.”
The company is also implementing cutting-edge moisture monitoring and tracking. “We’re using satellites and ground monitors,” shares Harold. “I can check the moisture level in the field from my cellphone and adjust the speed and direction of our irrigators.”
Bottling up a New Niche
With the lack of water as such a prevalent issue, Harold saw an opportunity to diversify and ease the burden on the farm. “We decided to expand into the bottled water business in early 2000s,” he recalls. “Corn prices were low and energy prices were high so we were looking for an alternative and to add value for our customers.”
With the help of his wife, Stacey, Harold launched Pure Element Water in 2003. “The mineral content and taste of water in this area is exceptionally high,” he shares. “We’re well-positioned in one of the fastest growing beverage industries in the U.S. and the business is growing at a good clip.”
Harold goes on to explain that the company recently added five-gallon delivery service. “The bottling side of our business is the stronger right now, so we’re pooling resources into that,” he continues. “We have some great opportunities in 2014 with up and coming contracts.”
While Hasta continues to deal with the everyday struggles of the agriculture industry, Harold says there isn’t much the company hasn’t been able to overcome in the past 28 years. “Since 2011, this area has been in a drought so we have learned a lot out of necessity,” he adds. “Farming is, and will always be, my first passion and love but until the economy changes, along with land prices and competition, Hasta is limited in expansion so we’re focusing heavily on the bottling business.”
With a new direction and the second generation showing interest, Harold says there’s lots of promise in the bottling business. “Our sons are interested in growing the company,” he shares. After 28 years, Hasta Farms looks forward to growth in new avenues while remaining a steadfast competitor in the Panhandle agriculture industry.