By Justen Ollendick, Arizona Farm Bureau Communication Intern: This week we have the great honor of displaying the story of a third-generation farmer, father of two, husband, former Arizona Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Member, current Arizona Farm Bureau member and Chandler Compadres member…did I miss anything? Let me tell you, he didn’t leave anything out, and his words of wisdom speak great lengths!
An interview with Todd Thelander of Thelander Farms, and his daughter Tatum
Part of an ongoing series about Arizona’s farmers and ranchers.
Talk about your farm: Our farm comprises 3 different farms in Maricopa, Stanfield, and our newest farm is in Hidden Valley, consisting of approximately 4,500 acres. In the past we’ve been mostly cotton farmers, however within the past three years we have turned to mostly alfalfa. All our alfalfa is going straight to the local dairy market.
THE THELANDER FAMILY (L to R): Jensen, Tatum, Todd and Pam.
What changes have you seen in your lifetime as it relates to farming and/or ranching? First and foremost, I have noticed an extreme price change of almost everything needed to farm. For example, fuel, fertilizer, equipment, and labor. I have also noticed how important it is to understand technology while farming. We used to list up our rows with row markers, now we use a GPS system in a tractor and it drives itself. In the cotton industry, we used to haul the cotton to the gin in cotton trailers, and then we packed them in modules, now there are cotton pickers that convert them to round bales.
Why did you choose to go into agriculture? Farming has been my love since I was a young man. I love planting a seed and seeing the earth, with a little bit of help, produce a wonderful plant that we can use to do so many things.
What generation of farming/ranching are you? I am the third generation in Arizona. My grandfather came to Arizona from Missouri where his father farmed and ran cattle, but was killed by a bull. He moved to Arizona and began working for a farmer and eventually worked his way up to get some of his own farmland thus starting and passing down the Thelander Farming operation. He passed the farm down to his three sons, Rick, Ted, and Dan, and I followed my father, Rick’s, footsteps and now partner in the farm with my Uncle Dan.
Will anyone in your family...younger generation...pursue farming and/or ranching? My son, Jensen (18) is looking to pursue farming. He is planning on attending the University of Arizona’s School of Agriculture. Both my kids work on the farm during the summer. My daughter, Tatum (19) drives tractors, and my son picks petioles for some neighboring farmers and me. Tatum is also attending U of A in Tucson.
Would you ever consider growing an emerging crop or changing your farm or ranch model? Yes, we love trying new things to keep up with the changes in our industry. About 10 years ago we converted to subsurface drip irrigation. Recently, we have tied in with a company called Yulex, growing guayule used as hypoallergenic, natural latex. About twenty years ago, we grew sesame seed, however it didn’t work out so well.
If not different model, how about different type of market for your product? Explain. We would certainly look into anything that would be profitable for the farm.
What are your community activities? Why are you involved? I was a part of Arizona Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher Program about 10-15 years ago to learn more about agriculture and financing. I am a member of the Chandler Compadres for 20+ years, helping give back the community and help better the youth.
My wife, Pam, has been involved in Gilbert Days for the last 20 years including being Gilbert Days Rodeo royalty chairman, herself a Gilbert Days Rodeo Queen. Currently, she is helping with Arizona National Livestock Show’s new event they’re calling Farm to Fork. She also is involved in Chandler Service Club, having started their children’s Weekender Program for kids not eating on weekends. My wife always says, “I love supporting the western way of life from farming to ranching to the entertainment of rodeo.”
I like that my wife and myself are so involved in the community. We want to make a difference. We’re grateful for the life we lead.
What is one fact/experience/achievement no one knows about you? My proudest achievement in agriculture is when I was able to grow a couple of fields of cotton that reached, and surpassed, 6 bails per acre. The usual is about 3.5 bails an acre, the year we were able to produce 6 bails is my proudest year.
My wife was Gilbert Days Rodeo Queen in 1987.
MEET SUSTAINABILITY: Three generations of Thelanders. Starting with the farmer in the yellow shirt, Rick Thelander (Todd's dad), Dan Thelander (an uncle), Ted Thelander and Wally Thelander. The little boy at the very end is Todd. The location was what is now a Circle K at 56th Street and Chandler Boulevard.
What do you think you do really well? Explain. The one thing I pride myself on is being able to grow cotton pretty well, while still loving my job. It has its moments of difficulty, but I always come back loving and wanting more. I also have a hobby of hunting. I like to think I’m pretty good at it, but the real fact is that it’s my passion and that’s what helps keep me sane.
Why are you a farm bureau member? Farm Bureau fights for Arizona Agriculture. They fight for our property rights, our water rights, and helping move agriculture forward. It means so much to me that agriculture is around for the generations to follow and Farm Bureau is assisting the farmers and ranchers in keeping agriculture around, and a thriving industry.
How will the next generation of farmers have to operate? The next generation of famers is going to have to, in my opinion, add an old school, ‘put your shadow on the crop’ farming with the new technology that is already assisting farmers now. It is important for the next generation to remember farming is a hands-on job, and we can’t completely rely on technology.
Intern’s Note: I must give credit where credit is due. After making the initial contact with Todd, it was about a week before I got an answer. Actually, the answer came from his daughter, Tatum. She said, “He’s just an old-man famer!” Later on in the conversation she tells me, “He is so giddy about this article!” It really is rewarding to hear that our farming and ranching members love to share their stories with us, for Farm Bureau to share with the public. So if you are a member of Arizona Farm Bureau, and we haven’t had the wonderful opportunity to share your farming and/or ranching story, shoot me and email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will connect and get your story told!