FULTON, Mo. – Veteran Cody Waters of Fulton is armed to farm.

He is one of 300,000 veterans expected to return to Missouri in the next decade, according to University of Missouri Extension state health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch. She works with the growing number of veterans who want to return because of the quality of life in rural Missouri.

Conventional and organic farming present new opportunities for returning veterans. “The vision of farming is changing. We’re experiencing new types of farmers,” Funkenbusch said.

Waters enlisted at a young age, served, graduated college, and now farms, holds a full-time job, has a young family and serves as a captain in the Army National Guard.

He began farming at 14 in Vienna, Illinois. Throughout high school he had 20 sows and rented 100 acres of cropland.

He enlisted, with his parent’s consent, at 17. Both of his parents were Vietnam veterans and the family has a rich history of military service.

At 18, he reported for basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was Sept. 11, 2001, and he was admiring his newly issued military identification tag when the base went into lockdown mode. Someone uttered, “Boys, we’re going to war.”

Waters spent 14 years as a combat engineer in the Army National Guard, with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was mobilized to Baghdad from 2003 to 2004. Between tours he was in Army ROTC and earned a civil engineering degree from Mizzou with the help of the GI Bill. “The GI Bill was a lifesaver,” he said, noting that he does not have the obstacle of student debt that many beginning farmers may face.

In 2011 and 2012 he was deployed to Afghanistan to serve in the Missouri National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team. He found that farmers are the same regardless of geography. “They always want to know a better way to do things,” he said. Waters’ group built infrastructure and trained extension agents in Nangarhar Province.

Most Afghan farmers have just a half-acre of land and no electricity, he says. Good ground costs $20,000 per acre and the land must be irrigated to produce crops.

He met his future wife, Nicole, in 2002 when she was in high school and he was home on leave. She now holds a doctorate from MU and wants to be an osteopathic physician.

They have navigated his tours of duty and earned degrees while raising two children, Tommy, 9, and Cole, 3. Their mothers, veterans, co-workers, neighbors and parishioners at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Fulton provide a strong support system, Nicole says.

They purchased 55 acres of farm ground along Stinson Creek in Callaway County in 2009 with the help of loans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and USDA’s Beginning Farmers program. They also rent about 250 acres of additional cropland. Waters continues to farm 75 acres on his home place in Illinois.

He buys inexpensive equipment and relies on his mechanical ability to repair equipment. “If you’re going to be a farmer, you better be a mechanic. It ain’t pretty,” he says as he points to some equipment. “But it’s paid for.”

He also buys “land that other people don’t want” and tries to improve it with innovative approaches.

Waters is a project manager in facilities management design construction for the State of Missouri. He serves as a captain in the 1140th Engineer Battalion of the Missouri Army National Guard.

Eventually, Waters hopes to farm full-time and spend more time with his family. “With God, all things are possible,” he says.

For more information about programs for returning veterans who want to farm, contact Funkenbusch at 573-884-1268.

Read more http://extension.missouri.edu/news/DisplayStory.aspx?N=2380


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