This is a story about two brothers who started out with a 75 cent goat and parlayed this humble beginning into one of the most successful farming and cattle operations to be found throughout the United States. The brothers played together, worked together and demonstrated how important family can be in achieving success. Bubba Ross told me recently "he has a long trail behind him." Join me as we navigate down this trail. You will be surprised how two brothers Bubba and Bill Ross remained so close and carried on their father’s passion for agriculture. Bubba says, "Bill and I have always conducted our farming and livestock operations based on it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep and it has always worked for us.”

Their dad, Hansel Ross moved from Georgia to Suwannee County and bought the farm in 1918. He grew cotton, vegetables and hogs. He and his family were the first to bring tobacco to Florida. Bubba's mother was from South Carolina and her family farmed tobacco. This was the link the senior Ross needed to get his Florida tobacco business going. Since there were no warehouse facilities or other methods of selling the tobacco, he would ship it back to South Carolina in hogshead barrels, where it could be sold. Just for information, if you don't know what hogshead barrels are they are wooden barrels used in the production of French wines, but in this case tobacco shipping containers.

Bubba's dad also worked for the U.S. government in what was then known as the Farm Security Administration. It was to become the FHA in more modern times. He was a lending officer. His job required him to not only make the loan, but to help folks that borrowed from the government be successful in their farming operations, especially tobacco production since he had been instrumental in bringing tobacco to Florida.

His two young sons were the acorns that didn't fall far from the tree, when it came to the love of farming and family. Bubba being 25 months older than Bill seemed to administer the normal amount of influence of an older brother, but both seemed to enjoy doing the things that young boys do, including being mischievous from time to time, according to Bubba.

It was a part of his dad’s job to provide mules to area farmers; therefore there were always a stable of mules on the Ross Farm. Bubba and Bill, Bubba says it was mostly Bill, decided to see what would happen if somehow a good application of Highlife was to be applied down the back of one of those mules. Again, Bubba says, Bill eased out to the pen and commenced to apply a streak of Highlife along the back of one of the mules. It wasn't long before the magic of Highlife began to work. Bubba said, "That mule began to kick, buck and perform all sorts of tricks, resulting in almost kicking the barn down." He explained that when their mother came running from the house alarmed by the antics of the mule and asked what happened. Bill told her he thought the best explanation for the behavior was the mule was having a fit.

Both of the Ross brothers demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit at an early age, hence the 75 cent goat. When Bubba was 9 and his brother 7, they pooled their money (allowance for helping dad on the farm) and purchased the goat. This made them an owner of livestock of which they were extremely proud; however this particular specimen of livestock proved to be a bit more than they wanted to try to control, so their dad traded them a gilt for the goat. They were now in the swine business.

It was only a few months later the boys were able to buy themselves a beautiful pinto Shetland pony. Their uncle sold them the horse for $37.50. There was a problem in that the boys didn't have the money. Their uncle drew up a note having each to sign for the loan. Mr. Ross says this was the first note of many he and his brother signed in their long farming career and one of the hardest to pay back.

Mr. Ross explained that his father always borrowed from Farm Credit and the sons have always done business with Farm Credit. Mr. Ross says, "Farm Credit has always been there when we need them, especially when we started our farming operation."

The Ross brothers farmed with their dad until his retirement in 1965. Since that time they have farmed a variety of crops. They grew tobacco for 65 years counting the years with their father. The brothers produced corn for 15 years and in the 1970s grew watermelons. In 1978 they began growing peanuts and opened a commercial drying business that same year. They stopped in 1996, due to the things that were going on in the industry and a concern for reduction in price, according to Mr. Ross.

The brothers developed a herd of commercial cattle in the early 1950s that continued until in 1969, when they converted to purebred Santa Gerturdas. The brothers once again worked their magic and demand for their cattle skyrocketed due to the high quality produced by the Ross brothers. They developed a show string and for several years traveled far and wide showing and winning. They not only covered most of the show venues in Florida, but often traveled to Alabama, Louisiana, Kansas City and Texas to name a few places they visited with their cattle.

The brothers were so successful that in the early 1970s they produced the premier bull in the state of Florida 10 out of 13 years. They were the first to premier a yearling bull in the state. Mr. Ross said, "It was important to show the cattle because it was a good way to sell them."

But as all good things must come to an end Bubba and Bill were thinking of selling the herd in 1985. Bubba explained, as luck would have it their plans were moved along when Mr. Harry Hysinger called and ultimately purchased the Ross herd.

Over the years there was a lot of hard work, but Mr. Ross also felt a commitment to serve his community and the others involved in the agricultural community. He served two terms on the Florida Peanut Advisory Board and has been on the Board of Directors at Farm Credit of North Florida since April 1993. He served as a Suwannee County Commissioner from 1976 through 1984. He made an unsuccessful run for the commission in 2004. While on the commission he served two terms on the State Association of Florida Counties.

During his political exploits he became very popular portraying Boss Hogg, a character from the popular television series of the time "Dukes of Hazard." He was encouraged and supported in this role by then Suwannee County Clerk of the Court Jerry Scarborough, who is currently serving as the director of the Suwannee River Water Management District. The two combined to develop a character almost as popular as the original. Boss Hogg Ross was in demand for parades all over. He would put on his snow white suit, big white hat, grab his cane, and climb in his long white Cadillac with huge steer horns on the hood, many times accompanied by a Daisy Mae and parade down Main Street just like he owned it.

The brothers continued to grow peanuts and operate their drying service until 1996. In 1997 they planted most of their land in pines and became foresters. This has allowed them to start a new era in their lives called retirement. Word has circulated that they are excelling in this endeavor just as they did in the farming/livestock business. Bubba says it's up in the morning, a short trip to Nell's Restaurant for breakfast with his colleagues, then a decision as to what to do the rest of the day. Will it be fishing, hunting or just hanging out watching those pines grow?

Only in America will you find two brothers working together and raising their families on the same farm that was established by their father in 1918. Bill has never left the farm and Bubba only left for two years when drafted into the US Army. He served in Korea then returned to the Suwannee County farm, both love. That 75 cent goat surely paid off for these two great Americans and for the many Americans they helped feed over the years.

Reprinted by permission from Tori Hardee, marketing assistant, Farm Credit of North Florida, 12300 NW US Highway 441, Alachua, Florida 32615

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