As a decorated Vietnam War pilot, Sam Givhan learned to plan, spread his risks well and then go for it, skills he has applied to making his diversified Alabama family farm the success it is today.
In 1969, when he returned from Vietnam, still serving with the Alabama National Guard, he worked two years with Bush Hog manufacturing, using his master's degree in mechanical engineering to design tillage equipment. During that time, he started farming with his older brother and father, Walter Givhan, who served more than 30 years in the Alabama Legislature. In 1972, he left Bush Hog, and they started the Givhan Land & Cattle Company. His father died in 1976. Ten years later, Givhan and his brother divided things up and he took over the company.
Last year, he farmed 4,200 acres, including 2,323 acres of rented land and 1,877 acres of owned land, growing cotton, soybeans, wheat and corn. Drought hit his corn and soybean yields last year hard, but his wheat yielded 42 bushels per acre and his cotton produced 820 pounds of lint per acre.
His biggest challenge year to year, he said, is dealing with the region's notoriously varying soil types, from lime rock to loamy sand. In just one of his soybean fields this year, soil samples taken showed that the pH varied from 5 to 8. But 40 years of dealing with it, plus his management of sample zones, lets him know when and where he needs to apply lime and fertilizer to get the most out of his land.
He also has 250 acres of catfish ponds, something he started in 1990 and has steadily grown since, producing 1.5 million pounds annually now. He plans to add irrigation to his crop land. He particularly wants to use the water from the catfish ponds, pumping water from wells back into the ponds.
He markets his catfish through SouthFresh Aquaculture, a division of Alabama Farmers Cooperative. He uses forward contracts to market corn, soybeans and wheat through AFC. He markets cotton through the Staplcotn cooperative. He sells his cattle at the auction.
He's had other businesses, too, including a cotton gin and starting a grain elevator. He operates Central Alabama Equipment and Supply.
With his mechanical engineering degree, he rarely sees a piece of equipment he can't salvage something from or turn into a profit-making, time-saving device on his farm. His cotton picker is a workhorse he's kept running now since 1997. He says he might break down and buy a brand-new truck, though, in the coming years, maybe.
Still a licensed pilot, his office is decorated with aviation. He, too, is decorated, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and many other medals for his service. He flies regularly to meetings, including trips to the Sunbelt Ag Expo.
Givhan married Lynne in 1964. Her teacher's salary was a rock for the farm during the early years, he said. They have two sons. The oldest, Sam, is a lawyer with his own practice, but he is also an advisor for the farm. David manages the farm's beef and hay operation.
Givhan served 26 years as president of the Dallas County Farmers Federation and is a former board member of the Alabama Farmers Federation. He is president of the Central Alabama Farmers Co-op and chairman of the Alabama Farmers Co-op board of directors.