Diversification has been an integral part of Pat Woods’ life and business acumen for decades. A seventh generation farmer in Marshall County, Miss., Woods has expanded his farm and ag-related interests over the years from the Watson community, just south of Byhalia, since 1975.
When Woods’ ancestors moved from Charleston, S. C., to Marshall County in 1811, they began what would become a legacy of agricultural diversification etched in generations of family members, all with arduous work ethics, and most with God-given musical abilities.
In 1953, Pat’s grandfather, J.P. Woods, was plowing the Vicksburg soils of Marshall County with a mule and coulter plow when he was approached by the president of the local bank and the owner of Watson Gin Company.
They wanted him to purchase the local gin, but Woods expressed concern about financing, to which the banker calmly replied, “J.P., that’s all been handled and based on your work ethic, we’re not worried,” remembers Tommy Woods, Pat’s father, summarizing the long ago conversation.
The gin was eventually handed down to Tommy, who ran it for a number of years before running for the state legislature — winning, and representing Marshall and DeSoto counties for six terms.
“Dad authored our state’s seat belt law and was nearing the start of his seventh term when he had a stroke,” says Pat Woods. “Then he decided to retire.”
Tommy had one of the region’s first “John Blue” module builders and, before that, used a “cotton ricker” that compressed long modules in his Marshall County cotton fields.
“I remember those two pieces of equipment drew a lot of stares,” says Tommy Woods, pushing his Mississippi State baseball cap back on his head and laughing.
One morning at the breakfast table in 1975, Pat’s mom, Jan, said, “We should start selling feed at the gin.”
Her off-the-cuff comment was a turning point for the family business. By the mid-1980s when farm financing turned south, the Woods family, with little in their coffers, faced open hands of creditors.
“Farmers in our area were declaring bankruptcy, and we didn’t know where to turn for help except to our faith in God on which we have always leaned,” says Woods.
It is said the Lord works in mysterious ways and, after a heartfelt family prayer one morning, the office phone rang. It was a Memphis fertilizer plant owner looking for someone to supply bagged fertilizer to one of his accounts — K-Mart.
The Woods family constructed a bagging production line and the business was off and running again.
Woods soon diversified further, and started farming cotton, corn and soybeans with his other brother, Ray, who eventually started an erosion-control business with his son.
Pat Woods will farm around 1,600 acres of non-irrigated cotton and corn this year — monitoring the markets and his overall operation from the same office where his mom, Jan, kept the business’ books for over 25 years.
Woods’ multi-faceted operation today includes a wholesale fertilizer bagging line that cranks out up to 800 pallets of product a week, a retail farm supply store, a hardware store and a 300-head cow/calf operation overseen by Randy Curtis, the 2001 Brangus Herdsman of the year.
His sons, Patrick and Philip, handle everything from inventory and human resources to logistics and quality control. “If there’s an immediate need, someone steps in and fills it,” adds Woods.
Then there is music
The family’s diversity in business mirrors their diversity in music. Tommy Woods has two gospel albums to his credit and learned to sing sitting between his grandparents as they rode to Memphis in a 1942 Ford pickup truck. One trip he distinctly remembers was to buy an M-Farmall tractor that still runs today. Pat’s mom, Jan, who was a church organist, accompanied Tommy on his first album.
Pat plays guitar and bass, his wife, Gracie, is an accomplished pianist, and his daughter, Jessica, and two sons also play guitar. Jeana, Pat’s sister, and an accomplished vocalist in her own right, has a son who made it to the finals of American Idol and just returned from a 12-stop youth crusade through Columbia.
“My brother, Prentis, is a songwriter and handled transportation for several movie productions including ‘Beer For My Horses’ and ‘Longmire.’ He became friends with Johnny Cash, Patrick Swayze, Waylon Jennings and even once drove Audrey Hepburn,” remembers Woods.
Prentis hates to admit it, but after taking his first guitar lesson, he came home and showed Pat what the instructor tried to teach him. “Pat picked it up immediately, and it made Prentis so mad,” laughs Tommy Woods, slapping his knee.
Prentis’ oldest son, Richard, plays, sings and composed a very emotional song called “Overalls” when Tommy’s dad passed away in 2004.
When asked where he sees his operation in 20 years, Pat Woods envisions even more diversification. “I think there’s potential for us to sell our bagged fertilizer line to the lawn care industry within a 250-mile radius, especially with the housing market starting to come back,” he says.
Whether that happens or not, you can bet he’ll keep his eyes open for any opportunity to continue the family legacy of success through diversification that started over two centuries ago.