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Rusty's Feed & Seed stays busy despite changes in farming

Last week I enjoyed learning more about rural life and farming when I visited Rusty’s Feed & Seed.

Feed & Seed stores are known for selling farmers products they need. But, I discovered Rusty’s does more than simply sell products. It is a place where people smile at one another and know each other by name.

Tom Dyess, who has worked at Rusty’s for the past 13 years, seems to be a favorite character around Elba. I was directed to speak with him by several people in town. Born and raised on a farm, Dyess told me his father mule farmed because they did not have a tractor when he was growing up.

I was eager to hear about his view of farming. One of the big changes he has seen over the years is in products sold in the store, ranging from the size of fertilizer bags to the type of chemicals farmers buy.

Dyess told me that many customers travel long distances to Rusty's because a lot of fertilizer-producing plants are closing down because so many landowners have left traditional farming to go into the timber business.

He attributes the decline in farming to government policies. Dyess said, "Back years ago, the market price on farm products sold such as corn and peanuts was much higher. When I started here in Coffee County, there was nothing but peanuts and corn growing.”

He explained that Department of Agriculture plans subsidized more in the past for products. Many farmers went out of business as prices they got for their products went down.

Dyess said, “It so expensive for them to buy stuff for farming. Then the prices for products were so low, they just couldn’t make it.”

Another problem farmers face, he said, related to government loans. “A farmer could borrow what they wanted but often they could not pay it back and then they would go under. The government claimed it would help the farmers to loan them money, but then the farmers couldn’t make enough profit to pay the government back and they would go bankrupt,” Dyess said.

Before Dyess started working at Rusty’s Feed and Seed, he worked as a sales representative for a chemical company, selling directly to farmers.  After retiring in 2003, he started working part time at Rusty’s, doing everything from the books to waiting on customers.

He joked,  “When they make me mad I go to the house.  Then when I get over it, I come back.”

Dyess said he enjoys working at the Feed & Seed and attributes the success of the store to their good prices and the personalities of the people who work there.

When I visited the store, I met a man who drove 90 miles just to go to Rusty's Feed & Seed. He said it was worth the drive because they had the best prices and “it is always a hoot and a good place to learn.”

Dyess added that the store has a big impact on the community because there are no other stores like it around.   He said, "Rusty's Feed & Seed is a strong business because of the personalities there. It draws in customers. They treat them right. A satisfied customer is a repeat customer.”