Chuck Provance was schooled early in life on the mentality, mechanics and math necessary to run a profitable farming operation. His father, Charles, who recently retired from the operation, made sure of that.
When his father started farming on his own in 1972, “He bought a John Deere 70 and a Ford 4000,” Chuck recalled. “I got on the 4000 and he got on the 70, and we started breaking cotton ground, which was what they were doing back then. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I was getting to drive the tractor. That was a big thing for a 12-year-old.
The two became 50-50 partners in 1981, and formed C and C Farms. “He always took me to the bank, the equipment dealers, the ASCS office. I'd sit there and squirm in the chair. But part of his philosophy was that I had to learn to do everything that he had to do, in case something happened.”
Charles was equipped with a 10-grade education, but was a skilled debater. “That was our management style for 25 years. We talked on every side of an issue. We'd take opposing viewpoints, then shift sides. By the time we decided on an agricultural practice change, an equipment purchase or whatever, we had looked at it thoroughly. That had a lot to do with our ability to control costs. We would do the math and discuss it back and forth.”
For the motivation behind Charles' determined mentorship, we have to go back in time to the 1940s and 1950s, when Mid-South agriculture was going through major changes.
“My dad's father farmed, but he died when my father was just 10 years old. So my dad didn't have a chance to continue in agriculture. Then, in the early 1950s, the whole rural South emptied out. Kids his age were going to Chicago, Detroit or St. Louis to get the higher paying jobs.”
Charles headed to Michigan to work in the automobile manufacturing plants. “He was making 75 cents an hour here and they were paying $1.35 up there in Michigan. Of course, that's family story No. 165.”
But Charles never really felt comfortable up north. He came back home in the 1960s, and worked for various farmers until he had the opportunity to buy out an uncle's 200-acre operation. Chuck's intensive education began soon thereafter. “I always thought that had something to do with his father's death when he was 10. He wanted me to be able to take over if something ever happened to him.”