Richard Jameson of Brownsville, Tenn., has overcome a diagnosis of clinical depression, and with support of his family and the medical community, he is now able to manage the stresses that come with farming. He has also become a topnotch soil conservationist, a successful row crop producer and a community leader.
As a result of his success as a diversified crop farmer, Jameson has been selected as the Tennessee state winner of the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Jameson now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
A farmer for 37 years, Jameson operates 2,350 acres, including 550 acres of rented land and 1,800 acres of owned land, with crops of cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans.
He produces impressive yields. Last year’s per acre yields included irrigated cotton on 290 acres, 1,250 pounds; dryland cotton on 65 acres, 875 pounds; irrigated corn on 400 acres, 190 bushels; dryland corn on 450 acres, 125 bushels; wheat on 550 acres, 70 bushels; doublecropped irrigated soybeans on 200 acres, 48 bushels; doublecropped dryland soybeans on 350 acres, 35 bushels; irrigated full season soybeans on 310 acres, 65 bushels; and dryland full season soybeans on 285 acres, 42 bushels.
He markets cotton through the Staplcotn cooperative. For grain and soybeans, he uses a combination of forward price contracts, seed production contracts and cash sales. He sells much of his corn to an ethanol plant. He also uses his grain storage facilities to hold crops before selling for higher seasonal prices.
His depression resulted in large part from personal and business losses, including the deaths of both of his parents within a nine-month period, severe droughts and aflatoxin in his corn.
“My father was my partner and mentor,” he recalls. “After he died, I felt anxious and hopeless. My wife Jane encouraged me to seek medical help, and my doctor diagnosed my depression. My doctor, along with my Christian faith, prayer, a circle of friends and Jane, helped get me started on the road to recovery.”
Jameson says his own behavior contributed to his condition. “I needed to separate emotion from business decisions,” he explains. “I couldn’t control everything that was uncontrollable in farming, but I could better manage these events. To that end, I added irrigation and changed my marketing approach.”
He uses CAMS (Cargill AgHorizons Marketing Service) for marketing advice. This service provides peace of mind for the stressful chore of selling crops. “Farming is rewarding but stressful, and managing that stress is critical to the viability of my farm,” he adds.
“I now have fewer employees than I ever had,” says Jameson. “These employees are better trained and better paid and have helped improve the efficiency of the operation.”
He further reduced stress and risk by adopting precision farming. He says, “I hired competent young employees and service providers to help me learn how to use this technology. With this technology, young people who grew up with screens in front of them have a bright future working on farms.”
He has been cautious in expanding his farming operation and reluctant to pay too much for buying or renting land. Instead, he focused on improving land currently farmed.
One of his goals was to reduce soil erosion. Jameson has used continuous no-till planting since 1985. Much of his land is highly erodible and, if unprotected, would lose 20 or more tons of soil per acre per year.
His conservation practices include more than 44 miles of terraces and more than 64 acres of grassed waterways. Some of the first contour terraces in West Tennessee were constructed on his farm. He also planted 82 acres of native warm season grasses to benefit wildlife.
Jameson added irrigation on 1,200 acres during the past ten years. Soil moisture sensors help in scheduling irrigation. He is also exploring the use of natural gas to run his five center pivot systems.
“I’m a second generation farmer,” says Jameson. “My wife and I are farming land our ancestors homesteaded in the early 1800’s.” He started farming with his father after graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1976. His family raised beef until 1999 when he sold the cattle to concentrate on crops. Jameson also farmed with his brother until 2007 when he bought out his brother’s interests.
Jameson has been active in local organizations. He serves as an elected commissioner for Haywood County and on the board of Haywood County’s Soil Conservation District.
He served on the boards of Mid-South Farmers Cooperative and the Haywood County Boys and Girls Club. He is active in Brownsville’s First United Methodist Church. He was a founder of Haywood Literacy Volunteers. He served on a local Extension advisory committee and as president of the University of Tennessee Alumni Association in Haywood County.
He has hosted school tours, Chinese trade delegates, USDA Secretary John Block and Extension crop plots on his farm.
He serves on Tennessee Farmer’s Cooperative board. He served on a Tennessee Extension dean’s advisory committee. He served as president of the Tennessee Soybean Association and chaired the Tennessee Soybean Promotion Board. Jameson has also served on the West Tennessee No-Till Farmers Association board.
He served on the Eighth District Federal Reserve Agribusiness Advisory Council and on the board and executive committee of the American Soybean Association. He also received a Conservation Legacy award from the American Soybean Association.
His wife Jane is also active in First United Methodist Church. She works as an instructional facilitator and tennis coach for Haywood County Schools. She worked five years as a math teacher and 20 years as a tutor. She is also active in the Bonnes Amies Club.
Richard and Jane have four daughters. Harriet is a graduate student in urban and environmental planning and landscape architecture at the University of Virginia. Mary is a second grade teacher in Virginia Beach, Va. Martha Jane is a speech pathology major at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. And Patsy is a junior at Haywood High School.
Jameson has learned important lessons in farming. “As I got a handle on my depression, I felt I wasn’t the only farmer going through stress during difficult times,” he says. “I have worked with local pastors, University of Tennessee Extension and suppliers to help recognize signs of stress and how to help farmers. Stress is part of farming and will never go away. But it can be managed and kept to acceptable levels.”
Robert Burns, Tennessee Extension assistant dean, is state coordinator for the Farmer of the Year awards. Chuck Danehower, Extension area farm management specialist, nominated Jameson for the award. “Richard is one of our top farmers,” says Danehower. “He is a leader and excellent in his management of production and marketing risk, and stress.”
As the Tennessee state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Jameson will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash award that goes to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of either another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 24th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $924,000 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; and Steve Dixon of Estill Springs, 2012.
Tennessee has had two overall winners, Jimmy Tosh of Henry in 1998 and Bob Willis of Hillsboro in 2006.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Jameson farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 12-16. The judges this year include John McKissick, longtime University of Georgia Extension ag economist from Athens, Ga.; farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; and John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years.