After graduating from high school, Jay Yeargin purchased a 60–acre farm with a USDA loan for beginning farmers, which allowed him to finance 100 percent of the land. He recalled, “Over the ensuing years, I bought more farm land by working with the USDA and began to lease land as it became available. Knowing my career goal was already set, I enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Martin and earned a BS degree in Agriculture in 2004.”
After graduating from college, Yeargin’s paternal grandmother deeded her farm of 100 acres to him and his paternal grandfather also gifted him 75 acres. He noted, “I’ve gradually increased the number of row crop acres and, out of the land I rent, 80 percent is on crop shares and the balance is cash rented.”
Yeargin now operates his multi-faceted agricultural business in Weakley County on 2700 acres with yields as follows: 1100 acres of yellow corn yielding 145 bushels/acre; 1000 acres of soybeans yielding 55 bushels/acre; 600 acres of commercial soybean seed yielding 45 bushels/acre; and 600 acres of wheat yielding 75 bushels/acre. Custom dozer and track hoe work and mowing: 300–500 hours per year; 60 head of bulls, cows, and heifers; and 700 round rolls of hay/forage/year.
He commented, “As cow calf producers, we market whatever animals are not needed for herd replacement. Calves are weaned and vaccinated before being sold by trailer lot loads at between 450 to 650 pounds. We take pride in selling healthy cattle, taking bids on them from buyers, or selling them through organized preconditioned sales using associations such as Tennessee Livestock Producers.”
Yeargin’s calves are born in two separate time windows: October/November and January/February, with the largest portion of the herd calving in the winter months. He has solved the problem of time management during the heavy requirements of calving season by using a fixed breeding season to ensure calves are born when the farm is not planting or harvesting a crop.
Yeargin Farms uses several different ways to market their crops. They deliver their grain using their own trucks and have ample storage on site. Delivery locations include ethanol facilities, poultry feed mills, and local grain elevators, as well as barge points on the nearby Mississippi River. Yeargin added, “Storage gives us more options and allows us to have our three full-time employees and three part-time employees so we can deliver grain all winter long.”
Yeargin likes to have 20 percent of the crop sold before planting and then sell in increments of 5 to10 percent as the crop progresses and production risk declines. Typically he sells 50 percent of his crop before harvest begins. He said, “We use forward contracts, HTAs, basis contracts, options, and cash sales on grain. We also use a broker, Top-Third Marketing, to help us make marketing decisions and increase our grain price.”
In 2004, Yeargin installed a grain dryer, enabling him to begin harvesting his corn crop at 25 percent moisture and dry down to approximately 17 percent moisture. He explained, “By doing this we can harvest more bushels in August when prices are $.20 to $.30 more and manage the discounts we receive on corn.”
Several years later, Yeargin Farms began the process of growing commercial seed soybeans. He said, “This undertaking helps us capture a price premium that would otherwise be a bulk commodity. The return from the premium outweighs the extra work of handling seed.”
As for the other businesses Yeargin operates—custom dozer, track hoe work, and mowing—they add another 10 percent annually to the bottom line. He observed, “Our area is one in which clay is mined extensively. When clay mines are closed, we do the reclamation, returning the land to a natural state by grading, sloping, liming, fertilizing, seeding, and mulching.”
Yeargin also provides custom mowing, particularly on Conservation Reserve Program land belonging to some of his neighbors. He said, “Some landowners hire me to mow pastures and fields, and if they don’t need all the hay from those fields, I can bale the forage for my own use. I sell any overage to other livestock owners.”
All these efforts are shared jointly by Jay Yeargin’s wife, Alice Ann, whom Jay met in college through their respective fraternity and sorority activities. They married in 2005 after Alice Ann graduated from UT at Martin with a BS in Business. She works part-time as a bookkeeper for a local bank and contributes her educational background and skills to the farm’s financial health. She has been an active member of the Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher and Women since 2005, winning their state Outstanding Young Woman award in 2013. She and Jay also won the State Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Environment Stewardship award in 2011.
In 2015, the Yeargin’s welcomed son Patrick to the family. His proud dad said, “He’s already taking a keen interest in farming, spending a lot of hours ‘helping’ with chores and asking lots of questions. We hope one day Alice Ann can dedicate all her time to the farm and family. My parents also work with us daily and assist with our agricultural tours and other functions.”
At the county level, Yeargin is a member of the Weakley County UT Extension Ag Committee, is a Farm Bureau director, a vice president of County Cattleman’s Association, serves on the University Vet Tech Advisory Board, is a director of the County Soil Conservation District, and is a member of the Farm Credit Advisory Board. He’s also a lieutenant with his local Volunteer Fire Department, making weekly equipment checks, attending monthly meetings, and responding to about fifty calls a year.
At the state level, he was given the State Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmer & Rancher Achievement Award in 2017. He is currently serving as vice president of the County Cattleman’s Association, as director and vice president of the Tennessee Cattleman’s Association, and will be its president for a two-year term beginning in 2021. He is also the secretary of the Tennessee Soybean Association with 7000 members across the state. These positions require him to travel to and represent the associations at a number of national events.
As for overcoming the ritual challenges of farming, Yeargin recalled, “In 2012, we were faced with a terrible drought that lowered our yields substantially. Thankfully the cattle side of the farm performed well in 2012 because we were able to source forages for them, and the cash flow helped keep the row crop operation going.”
He added, “That was a light bulb moment to bolster the critical need for diversification. General management issues continue to be the main challenge—knowing when and how to make good decisions in uncertain times and whether to just hold on or to expand.”
Other problems have included flooding and erosion, so Yeargin Farms has built catch basins and other structures to help control water. They also use grass waterways to drain fields and employ the no-till and minimum-till method on all of their land and plant cover crops. On his livestock operation, nearly all the ponds have been fenced to create controlled drinking areas equipped with a concrete pad and a commercial waterer.
Yeargin hired a consulting firm to make recommendations on what seed to plant and provide advice on fertilizer and spraying needs. He also grows food plots for local wildlife. Corn is planted and left to attract ducks during their migration season. He explained, “We try everything we can to protect the environment given to us. That’s the best gift we can give our son.”
As to the future, Yeargin commented, “When feasible, we’d like to purchase new farm equipment, install new technology on older equipment, and build more grain storage. And we hope to increase our livestock numbers by keeping some of the best heifers each year and purchasing herd bulls with desirable genetic traits.”
The Yeargin family has what he jokingly calls a “modular mansion” or full-size house trailer at nearby Kentucky Lake where they enjoy occasional relaxation that doesn’t require a lot of planning or time. He said, “We’ve also been able to take short side trips to sightsee in different cities around the country on our industry-related travels.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of Yeargin’s farming career is the people he gets to associate with. “Between my parents, my wife and son, my agricultural friends and colleagues, my fellow worshippers at church, and my firefighting band of brothers, I’m one blessed individual. They make every hardship bearable and every victory a joy to celebrate.”
Jeff Lannom, Weakley County Ag Extension Agent III & County Director, nominated Jay Yeargin Tennessee Farmer of the Year for 2020. He commented, “Jay and I met through the Weakley County 4-H Club where he was involved judging teams and in the wildlife project group. Jay serves on a number of various local, state, and national committees that represent and promote agricultural interests. From an extension perspective, Jay and his family are excellent people to work with, and they participate yearly in on-farm variety testing and other demonstrations in cooperation with the University of Tennessee Extension. Jay truly desires to make the best better.”
A distinguished panel of judges will visit Jay Yeargin, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, the week of August 10–14. The judges include John McKissick, long-time University of Georgia agricultural economist at Athens, Georgia; David Wildy, Manila, Arkansas, the overall winner of the award in 2016; and Cary Lightsey, Lake Wales, Florida, the overall winner of the award in 2009.