It’s daybreak in northwest Tennessee as Jay Yeargin walks into the farm office. Shortly after stepping through the door, he’s joined by his dad, Ronnie, and mother, Janie. He leans up against the office counter top listening to his mother give a crop and cattle market update as employees make their way through to clock in for the day. On this mid-summer day the diversified crop and livestock producers will be estrous synchronizing half the cow herd and getting fertilizer on crops. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, there is always a lot going on.
Yeargin Farms was started by Jay’s grandfather, Charles, a factory worker who had a passion for production agriculture. The pull was so strong, he started looking for sharecropping opportunities in the 1940s.
“He saved up to get some equipment together and started farming on rented land for a share of the crop,” Jay says. “When he could, he
would buy land.”
As Ronnie got older, he helped his dad on the farm while he went to school at the University of Tennessee (UT) Martin just 20 minutes up the road. There he met Jonie and the two returned to farm full-time after getting married. When the couple had Jay it was only natural he followed in his father’s footsteps, spending his free time working on the farm and eventually attending UT Martin.
“I’ve been part of the farm my whole life—I had probably been driving tractor and trucks before I should have,” Jay laughs. “But I really started when I graduated high school and purchased my first 60-acre farm for row crops.”
It was at UT Martin Jay met his wife, Alice Ann, the granddaughter of dairy farmers who carried Jay’s respect and understanding for production agriculture. When the young couple graduated from college in 2004 and returned to the farm, the family began increasing their cow herd numbers and row crop acreage.
As an only child with a calling to take over the family business, Jay is steadily gaining more responsibility in the management of the farm since his return. He runs the majority of the operation, heading up the row crops and filling in on cattle work.
“Alice Ann and I just had our first son a little over a year ago, and if he wants to farm in the future, then we want to make sure it is set up so he is able to do that,” he adds.
Patience and communication have been key for the transitional process.
“Everyone needs to be on the same page, working toward the same goal to avoid problems. Our whole family gets along pretty well, so that makes it easy to make decisions together. We usually meet every morning at the farm office to discuss the day and things like the markets and business.”
Part of their business strategy is to diversify with row crops and a cow-calf herd to spread risk in alternating markets. The operation has taken steps to make the two entities more complementary in recent years, grazing cattle on cereal rye cover crops or corn stalks as soon as corn is harvested each fall.
“We had to get more efficient in the way we were grazing cattle in the winter. With the amount of rain we receive and since we don’t have a lot of grazing acreage, it can get really muddy,” Jay says. “We also do rotational grazing on our fescue so things don’t get soggy.”
The cow herd is a mix of purebred polled Hereford cows and commercial black baldies with Angus influence. The herd is split 50/50 between spring and fall calving to make the most of their land and labor resources.
When choosing genetics, they look for animals with good weaning weights and feed efficiency, Jay adds. “Since we calve out on multiple locations with no barns, calving ease is really important to us,” he adds.
Prior to weaning, calves are put through a preconditioning program and bunk trained for an easier transition. Occasionally, calves will be sold in preconditioning sales, but the farm usually takes bids from buyers directly for truck loads.
The northwest Tennessee location is a benefit for the operation, close enough to feedyards that trucks don’t have to make rest stops to feed and water cattle, and close enough to the Mississippi River to capture unique grain marketing opportunities.
Both Jay and Alice Ann feel a responsibility to share the message of production agriculture. Both are in leadership positions in local and state organizations. The couple has also devoted their time to one-on-one conversations with consumers.
“People are so removed from the farm and it is important for them to see where their food comes from,” Alice Ann says. “Some of our outreach has been focused on getting consumers out on a real farm to see what is going on.”