Homage to Heritage with the Hursts
How does a northwest Missouri farm boy become an avid St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan when Busch Stadium is nearly 400 miles from home?
“My loyalty goes all the way back to my great-grandmother,” explains Charles Brooks Hurst, an Atchison County row-crop producer and member of the Missouri Soybean Association Board of Directors. “She was a big baseball fan, and in those days, the only team west of the Mississippi River was the St. Louis Cardinals. She could get the games on KMOX radio because it broadcast all over the Midwest. I get a lot of grief around here for being a Cardinals fan. Most of my friends are Royals fans.”
His baseball team allegiance is just one example of how family tradition has shaped nearly all aspects of this fifth-generation farmer’s life. Brooks’ name, his profession and his service to the agricultural industry are all an homage to his heritage.
His first name was handed down from his great-grandfather, Charles, a moniker that Brooks’ grandfather and uncle also share. The eldest Hurst lost his Nodaway County farm during the Great Depression and moved his family west to share-crop near Tarkio. That’s where Brooks, his two younger brothers and their father, Kevin, farm today, raising 6,000 acres of corn and soybean.
Encouraged by his father to go to college, Brooks attended the University of Missouri, earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education with an emphasis on business in 2002. He knew exactly where his path would lead.
“I came right back home and farmed,” Brooks says. “It’s basically the only thing I’ve ever known, and I knew it very well, so it’s what I decided to do.”
In the 15 years he’s been farming full time, the 38-year-old says he’s seen equipment and technology help producers get bigger and more efficient.
“We’ve added a lot of acres, but we can now do more work with fewer people,” Brooks says. “We don’t have to work from can’t-see to can’t-see every day to get the same job done. When Dad and I plant now, we get all our acres done in less time than Grandpa could plant his acres 20 years ago.”
With his role on the MSA board, Brooks also is following a family legacy of service to the industry. His uncle, Blake Hurst, who partners in the family operation, is president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. Brooks’ dad and grandfather previously served on the Missouri Corn Growers Association. Another uncle, Brooks, served on the MSA board and convinced his nephew to run for the position after his term ended.
The younger Brooks was elected in 2010 and now serves as MSA vice president and District 1 director. He has also served on the American Soybean Association board of directors since 2014.
“My family has been involved, so I always assumed I would do it, too,” Brooks says. “It came with the territory.”
Next in line to be MSA president, Brooks says he is excited about the opportunity to lead the organization that has served his family for generations. Boosting biofuel demand and expanding and promoting soybean specialty markets are among his first concerns.
“Missouri has always been right up front in biodiesel, and I’m really looking forward to continuing that fight to make sure we have that market for soybean growers,” Brooks says. “The high-oleic market is another exciting opportunity that I want to keep pursuing. I’m just trying not to fumble the football that my predecessors have carried so successfully. I want to move forward.”
He also is keeping a close eye on progress of the upcoming Farm Bill, especially its crop insurance provisions.
“If I don’t get a crop because of the weather or something I can’t control, then my family doesn’t eat,” Brooks says. “So crop insurance is a big, big deal, and I’d like the people in Washington and Jeff City to understand that we need that safety net to continue farming and feeding people.”
Like most Missouri soybean growers, Brooks anticipates dicamba to be a big issue during the 2018 growing season, and he’s advocating for judicious stewardship of the technology.
“You have to look at what’s best for the majority of soybean growers, no matter what decisions you make,” Brooks says. “I hate to lose this technology because we have so few options to control weeds anymore. This one does a good job when used properly, so we’ve got to be really careful to keep it, and I think that comes down to education.”
Building demand for soybeans—both domestically and internationally—is also an ongoing priority for the association, he emphasizes.
“We’re always looking out for ways to open up more markets in other countries,” Brooks says. “For example, India has a huge population with a growing middle class, and they want choices in their food. They may not buy soybeans straight out, but they want beef or they want chicken, and that helps create demand for our product.”
Farming, board responsibilities and family life keep Brooks busy with little time to spare for hobbies. He and his wife, Amy, have four children—Finn, 8; Tucker, 6; Landry, 5; and Elliott, 1. And while Brooks says he remains loyal to his Cardinals, he spends more time coaching baseball than watching it these days.
“My oldest son is a huge baseball fan, and he loves playing the game,” Brooks says. “As soon as I get done planting, I start coaching. That takes up a lot of my time. With four little ones, we don’t do much else but raise kids. Crops and kids. It’s a full-time job.”