Keeping Up With Custom Farming
Massey Ferguson equipment—and a great relationship with his MF dealer—helped this farm kid build a career with custom work.
By Jamie Cole
Jared Parham and his parents lived “in town,” in Stockton, California, but the time spent on his grandfather’s farm is so vivid that he can still claim the title of “farm kid.”
“I grew up on that farm,” he says of the small row crop and hay operation that so influenced his childhood. From early on, he says, “I knew I wanted to do that as a career.” His grandfather’s farm was too small to take on an employee, but Jared, just out of high school, discovered the world of vocational agriculture—the business behind the business.
“I went to a junior college locally, and took classes to qualify for the PCA (pest control advisor) exam,” he says. “Once you pass that test, you’re certified to write recommendations and operate as a crop consultant.” That led to an internship with an ag chem company whose products he remembered his grandfather using. And, he says, “I was doing a little farming on the side.”
Parham says his farming enterprise was big enough to need a tractor, but still too small to be full-time. He worked through peddlers—crews that would come out and pick fresh-to-market crops like tomatoes—and pay the farmer for them, then sell them to fruit stands, farmers’ markets and even grocery stores. But the second year, disease struck… and Jared had a tractor on the way. “So I looked around at maybe doing some custom work to actually pay for this tractor I just bought,” he laughs.
What started as some local weed abatement grew within a few months to having “so much work lined up that I didn’t think I could keep up,” he says. A side business became a day job, a new business called Copper Ag. Jared even parlayed his PCA license into even more work as a custom sprayer. In short time, he needed to add to his tractor fleet, with equipment that was more efficient, and more versatile.
Enter Jeff Dill at Holt Ag Solutions, who introduced Parham to Massey Ferguson tractors. “Switching to Massey Ferguson actually helped me grow the ag side of the business, through Jeff,” he says.
Dill, a salesperson at Holt, recognized Parham’s work ethic, as well as a unique ability to build relationships. “I met Jared five, six years ago,” he says. “Just out cold-calling.” Jared had two John Deere tractors, but was looking for something different. “Needed bigger tractors, to handle bigger acreage,” Parham says. “We switched to Massey for better service, and also just the options at the same price point that we could get in the Massey over the Deere.”
“He had an idea of what he wanted, the 8730S,” says Dill, “and found out it fit all of his needs.” Turns out, though, that the sale led to a friendship, and Dill recognized that Parham’s business could fit the needs of some of the farmers he’d met through his work.
“I’ve introduced him to several different farmers that have needs I knew Jared could fulfill,” says Dill. “And he’s gone in there and done just a fantastic job. And he’s built as good, if not better, relationships with those farmers.”
And as the ag business has grown, Parham still keeps abatement clients happy. That work is important to the business, and Parham certainly earned it. “I had to get creative early on,” he laughs, recalling a marketing plan that involved calling “every city and county to get on their list,” he says. He even combined old-school moxie with new-school technology to build that client list. “I went through the whole valley, city by city, and looked for vacant lots,” he says. Using an app that showed him the property owner and the address, “I made postcards and sent them out,” he laughs. “I don’t know, hundreds of them.” He says he didn’t get a ton of work from it, but he did get a few clients that he still services today.
“It was just word of mouth from there,” says Parham, whose Copper Ag grew to a year-round enterprise and even requires two other full-time employees. “We do hundreds of acres of ground prep, disking… We do marking and berming with precision GPS, we put in new fields of tomato beds, row crop beds. We mow orchards, spray alfalfa.”
Parham says it was a “big step to invest in a big tractor,” but the MF 8730S fit in with Parham’s growing business, with efficiency, and ease of use and reliable uptime. “I wanted that CVT transmission,” says Parham. “That was number one. That’s my favorite thing about the Massey.
“It’s smooth, it’s easy to operate, and super efficient,” says Parham. “The machine just matches the load that it’s pulling with the RPM of the tractor … (even) without having to teach a guy the perfect way to drive it. The tractor knows how to do it.”“The tractor knows how to do it.”Click To Tweet
Parham admits he doesn’t think he’s “ever messed with the throttle manually on this tractor,” he laughs, and that translates to ease of use for employees, too. “It takes a little bit of the training side out of the operator,” he says. “It’s easy to teach operators to drive this machine.”
What that means for Parham is optimum efficiency, no matter who’s running the tractor or in what condition; that’s crucial to a small business. “When you come to the end of a field and turn the disk, you’re not pulling as hard… you’re picking up a little bit of efficiency at every turn, every minute really. We burn a lot of fuel, so those savings are going to add up a lot by the end of the year,” Parham says.
Custom operators also have to be ready to go when their clients need them. “When a farmer makes a decision (that) he wants something done, he wants it done now,” says Dill. “Jared’s pretty good at getting there when the guy needs him. And these Masseys have been right there for him the entire time.”
Dill can say “Masseys”—plural—because Parham is now a repeat customer. “The reliability (of the 8730S) has led to several more purchases, all Masseys,” says Dill. Besides the 8730S, “we have a Massey 7720S, that’s the row crop tractor. And then a 4710. That’s the orchard and utility tractor.”
That diverse fleet helps Parham meet the needs of diverse clients, important in his region of California. “He’s got a tractor for almost any job, any application,” says Dill. “That helps him as a custom guy.”
But it’s still a “people” business. “You try to maintain a good reputation of being there when you say you’re gonna be there. You answer your phone and people can rely on you,” Parham says.
“Then,” he adds, “they’re gonna keep calling you.”