Bob Helms and his wife Sonja were guests of the Enterprise Lions Club at its most recent meeting. Helms, who is also a member of the Enterprise Rotary Club, spoke to the Lions about his nearly 50 years in the agricultural industry. Helms thanked the Lions for their service to the community and expressed hope that both clubs could continue to work together for the betterment of the Enterprise community.
Helms grew up in Coffee County and graduated from Enterprise High School before heading off to Auburn University. He started farming with his father on the family farm, building and repairing fences before the farm began raising cattle. Over the decades since, the Helms family farm has raised cattle, peanuts and cotton. Eventually, he and his father formed a partnership and he has been farming ever since.
Farmers are at the mercy of the weather, and over the last 50 years, his farm has had to deal with hurricanes and droughts. Some years they had record crops, and some years they lost much of their crops – all due to the vagaries of the weather. Installing irrigation systems helped them get through droughts, but they have also dealt with rising and falling prices, government regulations and changes in technology and farming techniques. Helms noted that crop insurance helped them to cover their losses when they had a bad year.
The Helms farm grew in the 1990s, and in 1995, they began planting cotton. Harvesting this crop has a lot of manpower in the past, but new balers allow for a smaller crew to help bring in the crop. Most of us have seen the large rectangular bales of cotton heading to the mill, but the new baler will roll the cotton into a large round ball.
New technology has also come about in the tractors used on the farm. Now, farmers can employ “self-driving” tractors that can cover the fields in grids after proper programming by the farmer. Helms stated that he still has to be there to make sure the tractor goes where it is supposed to go, but this technology has helped considerably.
Over the years, he has been a member of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, the Auburn Agricultural Alumni Association and a participant in the Alabama Agricultural and Farming Leaders program.
Many changes have taken place in the last 50 years with the advent of genetically modified products as well as changes in technology and management of weeds and insects. One of the most challenging aspects of operating a farm today is finding good employees, those who have some experience on farms and are willing to work long hours in all kinds of weather. He estimates that only about 2 percent of the American population engages in farming today.
Now, after so many years of work, Helms says he is trying to figure out how to “slow down.”
Following his presentation, Lions President Warren Bowron presented Helms with a Lions challenge coin and thanked him for sharing his experiences in the agricultural business.