One day Casey Hook hopes to become a farming partner in his father Mike’s operation. In the meantime, he’s working to build his own farm. Slowly, but surely, he’s getting there.

“I want to be able to bring something to the table,” Casey said about his farming goals. “I don’t want to say, ‘I’m ready to get in. I want to use your equipment and your acres.’ I understand that’s not how it works. I want to bring something to the table, to say, ‘I’ve added this over the years, and I’m ready to get in.’”

Eventually, Casey, 21, would like to farm about 2,500 acres — not too big and not too little. “I don’t want to work my life away, but I’d like to make a good living and still be able to justify some of the equipment I’m buying.”

Casey began farming in 2009, after graduating from Riverside High School in Lake City, Ark., in 2008. He started out with 40 acres of dryland cotton on land owned by a family friend. He had a less-than-auspicious start thanks to nematodes and lack of rainfall. “I didn’t come out ahead, but I didn’t get blistered too bad,” he recalls. “But I found out I liked it. I found out I liked to farm.”

When Casey told his father he wanted to keep farming after that first crop, Mike had a few words of advice for his son. “I told him he needed to finish college so he’ll have something to fall back on. That’s why he hasn’t been real aggressive expanding his farming acreage.”

After high school graduation, Casey went to Arkansas Northeastern for two years, then went to work on an ag business degree at Arkansas State University. He hopes to complete the degree within a year. The college experience is helpful, according to Casey, but nothing prepares him for farming better than farming. “To me, farming is more hands on. You can look at a book all day, but it’s not relevant until you get out there and see it in the field.”

Casey increased the size of his operation to 130 acres in 2010, including 100 acres of rice. He also farmed the same dryland cotton field as before, but cut back to 30 acres of cotton. “I got blistered again on the cotton. I picked only a bale. But I yielded 175 bushels on my rice.”

In his third year, 2011, Casey got the message. He’s farming 200 acres — all irrigated. Even so, this season once again proved to Casey that every year in farming is a challenge no matter how many risks you can manage. “I have a field of soybeans that has been through a flood, a tornado, a hailstorm and wind damage. It’s been up and down. I think whatever I made last year may go into paying for this crop. But that’s what you get into when you get into farming.”

Casey tries to pattern his management style around his father’s. “My dad is known for producing under high yield environments, and that is something I try to pick up on. I understand that is the only way to ever pick up ground or make money.”