As a boy growing up on the family farm, Topper Thorpe knew that’s where he wanted to be. In the Mesilla Valley of southern New Mexico, the operation was one his grandfather started to put together in the early 1900s, where the family grew cotton and alfalfa, raised hogs and ran a small dairy. Eventually, they added a sheep operation, and they then ran stocker cattle on the land. “I always thought what I’d do is come back to farm,” Thorpe says.
By the time he finished high school and started attending New Mexico State University (NMSU), he was managing the farm. The college campus was close by, so he continued in that role while studying agricultural business. Thorpe joined Advanced ROTC in college, so after earning his bachelor’s degree in 1964, he spent two years in the Army, serving his time in Fort Hood, Texas. Just before leaving the service, Thorpe married; he and his wife, Sandy, he would eventually have three children. Today those — Destre, Terra and Slade— are all involved in the ag industry; Sandy has passed away.
While he served in the Army, Thorpe still hoped to return to the family farm, but in his absence, things there had changed. “Our operation was a relatively small one,” he says. “When I went into the service, my folks leased the operation. During that time, there was an influx of people and houses into the area that began to raise issues in terms of management practices, and part of the place was sold off. With all of the changes occurring in the area, it looked like there wasn’t going to be the opportunity there that I’d hoped.”
But Thorpe was undeterred. “I knew that I wanted to be involved in ag in some manner — that was my interest and my love,” he says. He had always wanted to go to vet school, so he returned to NMSU to take the necessary pre-veterinary courses. After completing those credits, while waiting to be rejected for vet school, he completed a master’s degree in agricultural economics.
In 1968, out of school again and on the hunt for a job, Thorpe had an opportunity to become a market analyst at a company called CattleFax, which was a brand new information, analysis, research and educational service that would serve cattlemen throughout the United States. “CattleFax needed an analyst, and they talked to some of the NMSU professors, who gave them my name.” He knew little about the new organization, but he gladly took the job.
The company was so new that Thorpe was the first analyst there; the whole company was just a handful of people, working out of the original American National Cattleman’s Association office in Denver. “We were charged with developing an independent database from data provided by members, providing timely market information and forecasting market trends,” he says. That database was one of the primary reasons that CattleFax was founded; it was to be independent from the USDA figures, which many in the industry had lost confidence in. “The feeling was that they were not getting accurate information from USDA, and people didn’t trust the government figures. So the forefathers in CattleFax felt like it was time for the cattle industry to develop its own database. Part of the obligation of the members was to provide data that would be more timely and accurate than what was available anywhere else.” They reasoned that beef producers would be more willing to report confidential data to their own industry organization, and this has proved true, Thorpe says.
He went on to become the executive vice president and CEO of CattleFax, serving more than 30 years. In 2001, he retired. Looking back, he says the greatest satisfaction of his job came from the people he was able to meet and work with. “The staff, the board members, the members out in the country and others involved in the beef industry — meeting and working with those people was what I enjoyed the most.”
They, and many others, really have to share in this award, he says. “Receiving this recognition is an honor and a privilege, but it’s not something you accomplish by yourself,” he says. “It starts at home with family, teachers, neighbors, friends, fellow staff and the good Lord, who help guide and support you along the way. As individuals, we have some abilities, but without help and support from others we don’t get much done. And there are many others out there who are extremely well-qualified for this honor. It’s very humbling to be the one named.”
Today, Thorpe has returned to farming and to livestock production. Back in New Mexico once again, he and his wife, Leeann, operate a small irrigated farm and run some stocker cattle. And he still reads CattleFax reports regularly.