Larry Hector: Helping Growers Meet the Challenges of Dryland Farming

May 1, 2012 -- Adversity is a theme all too common in the world of farming. Growers are constantly faced with difficult challenges and must adapt to harsh Mother Nature. The Inland Pacific Northwest area is no exception. Conditions are volatile, and growers must be agile and quick to act. CCA Larry Hector assists with these challenges on a daily basis, relying on his experience and expertise to guide his clients in the right direction.

Hector grew up in Eureka, WA, where his parents owned a dryland wheat farm. Being raised on a farm left an impression on Hector, who moved to San Luis Obispo, CA in 1966 to attend Cal Poly. The Washington native graduated in 1970 with a major in agricultural economics and a minor in soil science. After graduation, he returned to Washington and began working for K2H Farms, an irrigated farm developed in the late 1960s using water from the Snake River. Hector would eventually manage the farm for eight years before leaving the company in 1988 to begin working with the McGregor Company.

After nearly 25 years, Hector is still with the McGregor Company, serving as an account manager for growers in the Touchet and Wallula areas. “Basically, I go out in the field and make recommendations regarding soil fertility, crop rotations, and herbicide and pesticide application,” says Hector, who serves more than 40,000 diverse acres of land in southeastern Washington.

Unusual conditions are the usual in this region, where decisiveness and experience are necessary in effectively helping farmers manage their crops. “Some of the growers Larry serves raise wheat on lands as arid as 6 to 10 inches of annual rainfall,” says James Fitzgerald, executive director of the Far West Agribusiness Association (FWAA). “Timing, careful stewardship of scarce moisture, cautious expense management, and budgeting— Larry does it all.”

A high-end fieldsman

Fitzgerald first noticed Hector after he was selected by the Northwest Certified Crop Adviser Regional Board as the 2010 Northwest Regional CCA of the Year. “As part of that process, I was able to review his credentials and then meet Larry at the ceremony,” Fitzgerald says. “His mannerisms are exactly what you’d expect from a high-end fieldsman.”

Fitzgerald was so impressed with Hector that he recommended that the FWAA president appoint him to serve as the chair of the FWAA Washington Committee, which he did. The position involves leading a team that reviews, recommends, and contacts speakers and presenters for FWAA conferences. As a result of his preparation and efficiency, Fitzgerald says they had a record number of attendees at last December’s conference.

Hector’s professionalism and preparation extend from the office to the field. On average, he serves approximately 25,000 ac of dryland farms and 15,000 ac of irrigated farms annually. Juggling these diverse farming conditions is a difficult task, but Hector has shown he’s up to the challenge. He credits the CCA program for helping him become the crop adviser he is today.

After passing the national CCA exam in 1993, Hector became certified in 1994 by passing his state’s exam. He says he has seen the program constantly evolve since he joined nearly 20 years ago. “It’s taken on more of a professional tone. I think the standards have been improved since the beginning.”

Some of the program’s improvement can be credited to Hector himself, who served on the CCA National Committee for four years. “The exam questions have been refined and have really begun to test a person’s in-field knowledge, rather than just academic, book-type information,” Hector says. “I think the program feels like it’s becoming self-regulated, and a lot of pride is taken in the standards associated with becoming a CCA.”

While Hector is happy with the direction of the CCA program, he says that inspiring youth to consider a career in agriculture has become an increasingly difficult challenge. “I think we’ve seen the young generation shy away from farming,” Hector says. “A lot of areas don’t have anyone coming up to take over what is the heritage of the land.”

Still, he says that many of the young farmers that do stick around to take over their family’s land are in tune with modern technology, bringing a real advantage to the future of agriculture.

After more than 30 years of crop advising experience, Hector has seen agriculture evolve through technological advancements and a better understanding of the environment. Yet some aspects of the industry have remained constant. “If you’re going to be a CCA and work with growers, you must be ethical and honest,” he says. “Your word has to be worth something, and you better be able to stand behind it.”