Meet Kevin Rentz, a 4th-generation farmer carrying on his family’s agricultural legacy in Decatur County

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 24, 2024

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Kevin Rentz lives in a quaint, ranch-style house with his wife, Amanda Rentz, and their two children. Their looping driveway, front-porched home is tucked away in rural northwest Decatur County. The house has fine curb appeal, but the behind the house is where things get interesting.

The land Rentz’s residence sits on, as well as hundreds of acres of farmland in his backyard, was originally his grandfather’s. Now Rentz uses it to carry on a family farming history that spans four generations.

“My great-granddad moved here originally, from Baker County, and bought his first piece of land,” Rentz said. “Then my Granddaddy, he’s the one that really started growing the whole deal.”

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Rentz is the owner and operator of Rentz Family Farms. He is a fourth-generation farmer and grows his crops on the same land that has been used by the Rentz family since it began farming in Decatur County nearly a century ago.

The family’s agriculture legacy in Decatur County started with Rentz’s great-grandfather, Giles Oliver, and it almost ended as quickly as it started. Giles bought 800 acres of land in Brinson, without really being able to afford it, according to Rentz.

“He almost couldn’t pay for it,” Rentz said. “And then he made the best crop they ever made, and he just paid it all off the next year.”

Oliver ran the farm until he turned it over to his son Marvin Rentz, Rentz’s grandfather. Marvin took over and turned the family farming business into an agricultural centerpiece in Southwest Georgia.

“Granddaddy built pretty much what you see now,” Rentz said. “He was the man behind the push.”

Marvin bought his first piece of land in the 1940s— the plot Rentz now lives on— for $50 an acre. With the newly purchased real estate, Marvin expanded the business significantly.

With more land, he could grow more crops. With more crops, he could reach more customers. But with more customers, he needed more ways to reach them.

So, Marvin started Rentz Farm Supply Trucking in the late 1960s, an in-house shipping service that they could use to distribute their products more efficiently and at a higher rate. The business boomed, and the shockwaves reached the community.

“He and Elberta Crate became the largest employers in Decatur County,” Rentz said. “My Granddaddy probably employed seventy-something people back in the 60s.”

Marvin was beginning to create a family farming empire. While the trucking company was picking up, Rentz Farm Supply, another branch of the farm that started in the early 1960s, was active in South Georgia. The farm supply business was centered around offering farming services such as spreading and selling fertilizers and chemicals, acting as a “retailer,” according to Rentz.

Alongside that, Rentz Irrigation, a center-pivot irrigation business, was also active. The method of center pivot irrigation was just starting to catch on in Decatur County, according to Rentz, and the company supplied irrigation technology to farms in the surrounding area. Rentz Irrigation would eventually be sold to Rentz’s uncle, Don Rentz, and cousin, Jimmy Rentz, and is still run by Jimmy today.

“He was the largest insured with Georgia Farm Bureau Insurance in the state of Georgia at one time,” Rentz said. “It was a pretty bustling operation.”

Marvin continued to run the farm and its branching companies until the mid-2000s, when he reached out to Rentz and Rentz’s father, Dennis Rentz, for help. In 2005, Rentz joined the farm, and Dennis joined the trucking business to assist Marvin. In 2006, Rentz took the farm over with Marvin still involved. In 2008, Marvin stepped away.

“In ‘08, we had a great crop, but there was a tropical storm that come through and blew down all our corn,” Rentz said. “And my granddaddy, we were putting on a piece of equipment on the header to try and help pick the corn up off the ground. He was frustrated and, I mean, he pulled up and said, ‘Listen, I’m retired. If you want to rent it, you can rent it. If not, I’ll find somebody else.’ I was like, ‘Ya I want to try.”

Rentz and his father became partner operators of the farm and trucking business, and in 2009, they changed the name of the company to “Rentz Family Farms.”

Rentz’s expertise and experience weren’t necessarily in farming when he took over. He grew up on and around the farm, and farming is in his blood, but he worked in the irrigation business growing up.

“I always had an interest in agriculture, but I was never really involved in the farming because there was so much other family involved,” Rentz said. “But I was around, you know, I rode four-wheelers around here, and I was all over the farm even though I wasn’t out there trying to drive tractors — even though I knew how — I watched the fieldwork from a distance. I guess it was in me… I was excited [to take the farm over], I was ready for the challenge.”

Rentz said his early career at the farm was up and down, but he had support from other farmers in the community to help him gather his bearings and learn how to run the business.

“I’ve always had some good people since I started that believed in me,” Rentz said. “Tommy Dollar, locally, has been a really good ally and helped me through some things. Mr. Robert Cohen, who worked at Dollar Farm Products, he was good and helped me a lot… he was somebody I got a lot of advice from.”

Since starting, Rentz has brought a fresh perspective to the farm and its operations. He said he made a number of changes early on and has continued to push the farm forward, using what he learned working at Rentz Irrigation to make improvements.

“The irrigation, I think, was the worst thing in ‘06,” Rentz said. “That’s something I’ve really, since I took over, seen the difference in the amount of water a crop truly needs. That’s kind of my bread and butter. I still run every pivot on this farm.”

He made a myriad of other changes such as hiring crop consultants and growing specialty crops. In 2011-2012, he won the Georgia Peanut Achievement award for that year’s highest peanut yield, and in 2017 won the Georgia Young Farm Family award for outstanding farming at a young age.

“That’s how much we advanced since ‘06,” Rentz said. “A lot of it was the change in the way we were doing things. Things started getting really good for us. I got aggressive and I had a young crew working for me, they were aggressive… Those guys are still with me today. Without them, we couldn’t be where we’re at.”

Above all else, Rentz hopes to see the family’s farming legacy continue through the next generation.

“I’ve got a son and a daughter, so I hope they carry on the tradition too,” Rentz said. “My biggest concern now is building this all up and them keeping it together, you know, after I’m gone.”