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15 Minutes With Chris Soules, Post ‘The Bachelor’
Chris Soules, a well-known Iowa farmer who took turns on “The Bachelor” and “Dancing with the Stars,” recently attended the Land Investment Expo, a gathering of 900 farmers, bankers, land brokers, and others to network and hear from speakers about the state of agriculture. Successful Farming caught up with his latest ventures.
Editor’s Note: Soules would not talk about his current legal issues in this interview. He is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to an aggravated misdemeanor, leaving the scene of a personal injury accident, in a 2017 incident in which his vehicle struck a tractor and killed its 66-year-old driver.
Soules did make his first public appearance, since the legal troubles, last week at the 2019 Land Investment Expo in Des Moines, and Successful Farming asked Soules a few questions.
SF: What do you get out of the Land Expo?
CS: I’ve been coming the Land Expo since the first Land Expo, and it’s always been a great opportunity to learn. I think more importantly for me it’s to network with old friends, old colleagues, new friends, new people to do business with, people who are passionate about agriculture. Whether they’re from Iowa or all across the country and even, in some cases, other countries, they’re here to learn about what’s happening, what’s new, what’s innovative, and where things are headed.
SF: I know you can’t talk about your legal issues, but how are you?
CS: Good. All right. Yeah, I’ve been focusing on work and agriculture and farming and my family’s business, my business. I am doing some neat things, in a lot of different opportunities. I’m dabbling in the organic field, actually. I actually started looking at some stuff in Arkansas, Mississippi. I found a neat opportunity to get into organic production and take on a new venture, diversify a little bit. The ground is already certified organic. So we’re kind of jumping in head first on this deal. We’re in the process of planning and, God willing, we’ll hopefully plant some organic corn and soybeans in the spring – roughly 1,000 acres. So, it’s a scary and exciting opportunity. But we’ll learn a lot and, hopefully, not lose a lot of money.
SF: What makes you nervous about organic?
CS: It comes from never growing organic before, and I know how much work it will involve. I remember pulling weeds when I was 10 years old, and I don’t really want to go back to that. Roundup and other chemicals and modern technology have changed the way we farm and made it a lot easier. To do that on such a large scale is scary and it’s a long ways away, 700 miles from my home. There are just a lot of things that are scary about it. But, you know, I’m an entrepreneur at heart and a farmer at heart. So growing things and doing different stuff is exciting. But the scary part is maybe failing, and I don’t want to fail, so we’re going to work hard and try not to do that. We’re using it as an opportunity to learn more. And, eventually, make some money. So it’s an exciting, scary opportunity.
SF: How did harvest 2018 go for you?
CS: We had a great year actually, yield-wise. We had a really nice growing season, timely rains. We had some fields that didn’t do as well, some poor fields, and still had some of the best yields in certain areas – they were way above average. So, all in all, it was a solid year.
SF: What are you going to do differently in 2019?
CS: Soybeans have taken a pretty solid hit price-wise because of the trade war with China and the lack of exports, which seems to be coming around. In lieu of and not knowing what the outcome of that is going to be, we’ve worked really hard to plan a lot of corn, because it seems to have it held its own. We are able to process things to ethanol and demand has kept prices solid, where you can actually have a chance to make money. So we’re prepared to be pretty heavy on corn on our operation.
SF: Are you looking at buying more land?
CS: Always, always. But for steady growth and steady, responsible growth. Land prices seem to be actually coming down. So it’s a little scary now, you know. They’re struggling, and we’re not far from that. Given a bad year, we could be right there, too. We’re just trying to weather the storm. We really seem to.
We’re waiting for things to kind of straighten out, and the trade wars haven’t helped. We’ve been fortunate to have good production to keep us in the business. It’s kind of what we live for. I think farmers, generally speaking, are happy when they can grow a real crop. When we can have a successful crop, it feels good. But we’re one year, one drought away from disaster really, and I think everybody’s on the edge.
Still supporting the president?
CS: Yeah, yeah. I think he’s done some great things. He’s a game changer. He’s taking some risks to do things that nobody else has ever had the will to do. I can’t say that I’ve agreed with every single thing that has happened – I wouldn’t say that about any president. But I do think that somebody eventually has to put their foot down and take risks, and the trade war is a perfect example. He’s doing things that could change our world forever and we’ve sort of been taking the back seat and not really standing up for ourselves. He’s finally trying to do that and I respect that. I think he’s a smart guy and every negotiation ends when both parties probably aren’t going to be happy, and I think we’ll fall into that place at some point. We gotta do something, we can’t just get pushed around.
SF: It does seem that agriculture is the “tip of the spear."
CS: Of course we are. We are taking one for the team. We could easily be protesting, we could be going to the White House and raising a lot of commotion. But we’re not, we get it. We really get it. We’ve seen the manipulation that’s happened for years and years and years. And uh, you know, we’re tired of it and I think as a whole, farmers are smart businessmen and they’re proud of what they do and, and we don’t like getting taken advantage of.
We just like fair trade and I think that’s all we’re asking for. I think that’s what the president is asking for. And we have to have a long view, as farmers. It’s no different than looking at going down South to do some organic production. I mean, it may take three years to make a penny, but the vision that I have is, this is where consumers want us to go. So I’ve got to figure out a way to adapt. The president is looking at the future and we’re looking at the future of our country. It’s going to take a toll on us periodically. Nothing happens overnight. It didn’t take six months to create unfair trade. So it’s probably going to take some time to get things worked out. But being strong is important.
SF: When will we see the next Chris Soules, version 2.0?
CS: Oh, you know, there’s not much that's going to change about myself. I’m just going to continue on doing things that I’m passionate about, which is agriculture and working with people I love to work with. It’s been kind of a wild four or five years. It actually has been good just to focus on the family business and look at new opportunities such as organic and value-added things and just focusing on that.