Barley grower for Coors to be inducted into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame
In an industry of complete unpredictability, Bill Markham’s grandfather found a way to help in times of commodity lows and the woes from Mother Nature’s hand.
When traveling on Interstate 25 in northern Colorado near Berthoud, Colo., a sign that touts the family’s Coors barley shows the key Markham’s success.
His grandfather and father were some of the farmers who started growing barley for Coors Brewing Company about 60 years ago.
In times like now, when commodity prices are low, that contract with Coors helps the farm make it through — as long as the weather holds.
“Coors always managed to keep the price up pretty good for us,” Markham said. “But it takes a lot of work to raise a barley crop that will pass for brewing barley. If we get a lot of rain in August, right before we’re ready to combine, you get mold in the barley, and if you get mold in the barley … if it doesn’t germinate, you may get your whole crop rejected.”
Markham’s business, M&M Farms, also grows silage and shelled corn, wheat, hay and sugar beets along with a cow/calf operation Markham started. The long-standing working relationship with Coors doesn’t compare to the time the family has worked with Western Sugar.
In fact, Markham’s grandfather was one of the first farmers in the area to sign with The Great Western Sugar Company in 1906. The legacy he’s continues in the sugar beet and barley industry are just part of the reason Markham will be inducted as part of the Farm Credit Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame in February. He’s one of four inductees who was selected based on his contributions to Colorado agriculture, as a producer and advocate for FFA and 4-H.
Markham and his wife, Elizabeth, have two children: Jennifer Schlagel and Brett Markham. Schlagel lives close by in Mead, Colo., and Brett and his family live on the farm, in the house Markham’s dad and grandfather lived in.
When Markham’s family started to grow barley for Coors, they were one of many families, but in the area around Markham’s farm, as the years go by, some of those farms are no longer around.
“There’s still main farm families still raising barley for Coors here, but our population is decreasing a lot because with urbanization, the farm land is depleting, and a lot of my neighbors retired because they all got old, and if they don’t have a son or a daughter who wants to stay on the farm, then their operation is over,” Markham said.
The work Markham does for Coors, along with the rest of the operation, wouldn’t be possible without the family. In the spring, Markham and Brett’s wives, Elizabeth and Christina, help out on however and whenever they can. Elizabeth works for the Berthoud Police Department, and Christina works for JBS.
“In the spring, when you’re trying to get everything planted, it’s really important to keep the tractors running, and I’m very lucky because my wife will crawl in a tractor, she’ll crawl in a truck,” Markham said. “Brett’s wife is the same way. She jumps on a tractor; she crawls in the truck. The wives are really, really good about pitching in, and helping during the harvest season, and irrigating and everything. But this is a family operation. We all work together.”
Another large part of what Markham does is off the farm. He helped lead an effort to get FFA in the Thompson Valley School District.
“We’re very fortunate we got an FFA chapter in Berthoud and in Loveland schools, and I think we have 110 members right now, which is just dynamite,” Markham said. “But it’s so neat to be able to see the blue and gold jackets around the town.”
Markham was also the president of the junior livestock sale in Larimer County. Part of what Markham still does is gathering buyers. If a buyer can’t be at the sale, Markham will represent them.
“Let’s say we have a young man or a young lady who are first-year 4-H members. Maybe their animal won’t sell as good as one that’s been there for five or six years … I have a goal to pick up the bottom side of the sale a little bit, and try to help some of the new kids that are coming in,” Markham said.
His role as an agriculture producer and his role in getting the FFA into Thompson Valley Schools, along with his time and work with the 4-H program is why Markham will be inducted into the hall of fame.
“That was always a goal of mine, I always hoped that maybe someday I would make it,” Markham said. “That’s why this year, when they called me up, I was totally shocked because I didn’t think I would ever make it.” ❖
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