by Kaylee Snow
HOLLIS – It only took 21 years for Jane Testerman to land her dream job.
She only wishes it could have happened sooner.
Testerman, who now helps her husband Charlie full time with his three businesses – Testerman Farms, Circle T Trucking, and Testerman and Son Harvesting – says her lengthy career in teaching was only holding her back.
While she spent her days impacting children at school, she was running herself in circles between keeping farm records and working at school.
Testerman was anxious to be outside if it was a nice day. She loved being outdoors.
Testerman’s husband is a fourth-generation custom harvester of wheat and corn. With a partnership between him and his father Doug, Testerman Farms consists of about 2,000 acres of cotton and 3,000 acres of wheat. Additionally, the Testermans have a small herd of cattle and the trucking business, where they haul grain, fertilizer and cotton modules.
Testerman recalls the challenges she faced trying to juggle teaching and agriculture.
“They’d start cutting wheat in May before school was ever out,” she said, “but I was ready to go with them.”
With her husband often gone on harvest, she kept things afloat back home, managing paperwork and directing trucks. The record keeping kept her busy.
“Plus then we had our livestock in the barn, our show stock,” she said.
The Testermans’ three daughters, Blair, 25, Mylah, 20, and Hadie, 14, who are “quite the characters,” all exhibited sheep and pigs, but cattle was their main focus.
“When we got a little more involved in the stock shows, I had to take off work to go, and so that was hard for me,” Testerman said.
A Farming Family
The Testerman daughters have been farming since they were babies, literally.
“Blair had been around the harvesting since she was a little over a year old,” Testerman said. “Mylah was about 9 months old when we started harvesting, and Hadie was a week. I had her, and a week later we left on wheat harvest.”
Rhonda Ellison, who has known Testerman for many years through Harmon County OSU Extension, said, “Jane was expecting their second child during one harvest season, but it didn’t slow her down. As each of their three daughters came along they were each taught the value of hard work, following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents.”
Testerman says the reason she loves agriculture is because of the next generation.
Since the girls have traveled and have grown up around the hired help, they have learned valuable life skills. Testerman is convinced agriculture was the best place for her children.
“They lay down at night and they say their prayers, and they’ll be praying for the hired hands, listing their names off,” she said. “So we taught them a lot of right from wrong by working on the farm and being around the hired help.”
All the girls can run the equipment – combines, tractors and grain carts.
“I mean it’s definitely a family business,” Testerman said.
The girls often get frustrated with boyfriends who do not understand farming.
Testerman will tease the girls, asking, “Why get a boyfriend if you know more than the boy does?”
She knows without a doubt her kids know how to work because of their experiences with agriculture. It has exposed her children to outstanding people as well.
“Agriculture – whether it’s farming, harvesting or livestock showing – all of that puts the kids around good people that are hardworking,” she said.
Her kids understand the need to pray for rain – to keep livestock alive.
“Everybody prays for rain, and it’s not just so our yard will grow,” Testerman said. “They all know where it comes from and that it takes hard work to get those things.”
“We’ve been to every swimming pool from here to Colorado,” she laughed, “and I cook during harvest. Sometimes I’d run a tractor grain cart, and then it got to where we had so many hired hands you can’t afford to eat out all the time, or somebody would have to get off equipment and run to town to get food.”
Life After Teaching
On top of keeping records and directing trucks, Testerman now keeps all computer software up-to-date for accounting purposes for all three businesses. As technology has advanced, she now enters the amount of fertilizer and water used by each sprayer into a computer system. She picks up parts and runs the hired hands around – who say they would rather have Charlie in charge because Jane works them too hard.
“Since I quit teaching, my role has quadrupled,” Testerman said, who describes herself as farm hand and secretary.
She is busier now than she was when she was teaching.
“I learned early on that learning all of those things was not necessarily a good thing,” Testerman laughed, because the more she learned, the more she was put to work.
Because the Testermans have “lots of different irons in the fire,” they have had to cut back.
“We’ve gotten more involved in local farming and trying to stay home more,” she said. “We figured out it was harder to travel so much doing custom harvesting and then tend to your own farming at home.”
Currently, the Testermans still custom harvest 10,000 to 12,000 acres, all within a 60-mile radius of home and the Texas Panhandle. This past year, the crops overlapped.
“We were still picking corn in Texas, picking our cotton here, and hauling the cotton modules,” she said. “So we were spread very thin.”
With 2017’s cotton harvest being the largest since 1933, Testerman said it feels like “the longest cotton harvest ever.”
“We haul cotton round bales for three or four different gins locally,” she said. “We start that in October, and that usually ends in February. We’ve had a couple of years that it ended in March, but this year it lasted until the end of April.”
Testerman’s earliest memories of agriculture come from two places: her dad and 4-H. Her dad, Larry Odom, was the district conservationist for the Harmon County Natural Resources Conservation Service from 1972 to 2008. She exhibited sheep through 4-H, which is where she first fell in love with agriculture.
Now her kids have shown livestock for 16 years, and by the time her youngest graduates, she will have attended 20 Oklahoma Youth Expos.
She laughed and said, “I expect a plaque.”
Some of her fondest memories include her daughters’ stock show success. Blair had two breed champions with her steers.
“In 2013, Mylah won the youth expo with a steer, all her sheep made the sale, and she had the third Chester in the sale,” she said. “In 2018, Hadie exhibited the bronze medallion steer.”
FFA and 4-H are very important to the Testermans, who are currently working with the superintendent to build a multi-purpose facility. Martin Lewis, Doug’s first cousin, passed away this past year and left money to be donated to a good cause, which involved youth and/or animals. The Testermans chose to use that money for the facility, and this enabled the school to start building.
“The school can use it for their activities,” Testerman said. “The community will be able to use it, and then it will be for livestock shows. That way they can host some jackpot shows if they want.”
She also organizes the Keaton Owens Memorial Scholarship in honor of her nephew. She gathers funds each year, which are then awarded to FFA and 4-H students to help fund next year’s show project.
“Agriculture has kind of consumed our household and everything that we do,” she said.
Like all farmers, the Testermans face challenges every day, from drought and erosion to the rising costs of equipment and chemicals.
“The people that think farmers just set their own hours and throw a little fertilizer and water down and the crop grows, it’s not like that at all,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of prayer in farming. Please let it rain. Please don’t let it hail. It seems like I probably count on the Lord above in farming more than any other thing I’ve been involved in … You’re not just doing it for yourself. You’re counting on it for other people.”