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. A few more hundred acres of neighboring land opened up over time, which helped me expand quickly when it was profitable to do so.”
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 to get more from direct buyers and a higher price per pound 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.
He commented, “In the past, calving season was during the early spring, when the cold weather also presented a challenge. For this reason we use a wooden box we built with heating pads and a heater for temperature control. This way the cows and newborn calves can get the best possible care.”
Yeargin Farms uses several different ways to market its crops. They deliver their grain to the best market using their own trucks and have ample grain 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. I approached one of the local clay companies about providing reclamation work for them—an important part of their industry due to government regulations—and they agreed.”
When clay mines are closed, he returns the land to a natural state by grading, sloping, liming, fertilizing, seeding, and mulching. And he’s done erosion repair on sites that were previously reclaimed. 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. The extra hay is helpful in the winter for our livestock and helps reduce overall feed costs. If we happen to have an overage of hay, I sell it to other livestock owners.”
All of 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 helps out with every segment of the farm business, contributing her specific educational background and skills to its financial health.
Coming from a farm family in Athens, Tennessee, Alice Ann 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. Alice Ann enjoys community activities involving the county Chamber of Commerce, the local city advancement association, the First Presbyterian Church’s Women’s Circle group, and her college sorority. She also helps plan and host farm tours and volunteers at the local fire department auxiliary.
In 2015, the Yeargin’s welcomed son Patrick to the family. His proud dad said, “He’s already following in our footsteps as far as taking a keen interest in farming. He spends a lot of hours ‘helping’ out with chores and asking a lot of questions. We look forward to a time when Alice Ann can dedicate all her time to the farm and family. My parents also actively work with us on a daily basis and assist us with educating the public about agriculture through our tours and at 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. Yeargin is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Greenfield and serves as a deacon. He’s a lieutenant with his local Volunteer Fire Department as well, 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. We had some fields that yielded as low as 4 bushels/acre. 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. We also learned to carry a revenue protection policy on enterprise units to insure our crop in the event of another natural disaster. 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, preventing more erosion. They employ the no-till and minimum-till method on all of their land and plant cover crops to reduce erosion and enhance the soil. On his livestock operation, nearly all the ponds have been fenced around to create controlled drinking areas; they’re equipped with a concrete pad with a commercial waterer, surrounded by geotextile cloth, and covered with 33c limestone.
He said, “We also buy in bulk and implement two seed trucks where bulk containers can be emptied. We’ve been able to use a vacant warehouse building we own in town to store some of these inputs and equipment when it’s not needed on the farm.”
Yeargin hired a consulting firm to make weekly recommendations on what seed to plant and provide constructive advice on fertilizer and spraying needs. He also grows food plots for the local wildlife. Corn is planted and left to attract ducks during their migration season. He explained, “We try to do everything we can to protect the environment given to us. Our young son already shows great interest in the farm, so the best gift we can give him is land that’s been maintained in a sustainable way.”
As an only child, one of Yeargin’s future goals includes transferring the land his parents own to his and Alice Ann’s ownership and operation over time. He said, “We’d like to make that transition as smooth as possible, continue to learn from them, and take their wise counsel into account. 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 can enjoy some relaxation that doesn’t require a lot of planning or time. He said, “We’ve also been able to take short side trips of a day or two to sightsee in different cities around the country during our professional, industry-related travels—places like the Santa Monica Pier, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas.”
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 have known each other since his involvement with the Weakley County 4-H Club where he was a member and involved in various club activities. He judged teams and the wildlife project group where he planted food and cover plots for wildlife and installed wood duck nesting boxes in the Obion River drainage system.”
He added, “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.”
As the Tennessee winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Jay Yeargin will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida, and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperative. A Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply will be given to each state winner and nominator. Syngenta will donate $500 to the state winner’s charity of choice. Yeargin is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner by Swisher. Massey Ferguson North America will provide each state winner with a gift package and the overall winner with the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or 250 hours (whichever comes first). Southern States Cooperative will supply the overall winner with an additional $500 gift certificate. A Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply will be given to the overall winner. Syngenta will provide a $500 donation to the charity of choice for the overall winner who will also receive a Hays LTI Smoker/Grill. In addition, the overall winner will receive a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition rifle from Reinke Irrigation.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 31st consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,204,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous state winners from Tennessee include: James R. Graham of Newport, 1990; Burl Ottinger of Parrottsville, 1991; Dwaine Peters of Madisonville, 1992; Edward Wilson of Cleveland, 1993; Bob Willis of Hillsboro, 1994; Bobby W. Vannatta of Bell Buckle, 1995; George McDonald of Riddleton, 1996; Jimmy Gaylord of Sharon, 1997; Jimmy Tosh of Henry, 1998; Eugene Pugh, Jr. of Halls, 1999; Harris Armour of Somerville, 2000; Malcolm Burchfiel of Newbern, 2001; Ed Rollins of Pulaski, 2002; John Smith of Puryear, 2003; Austin Anderson of Manchester, 2004; John Litz of Morristown, 2005; Bob Willis of Hillsboro, 2006; Grant Norwood of Paris, 2007; Jerry Ray of Tullahoma, 2008; Richard Atkinson of Belvidere, 2009; Brad Black of Vonore, 2010; Mac Pate of Maryville, 2011; Steve Dixon of Estill Springs, 2012; Richard Jameson of Brownsville, 2013; John Keller of Maryville, 2014; George Clay of Pelham, 2015; and James Haskew of South Pittsburg, 2016, Mike Robinson of Belvidere, 2017, and John Verrell of Jackson, 2018, and Jerry Ray of Tullahoma, 2019.