Forty years ago Ted Parker borrowed $5,000 to rent forty acres in Oloh, Mississippi. He now spends his days operating six farms in six different locations in six counties in the piney country of south Mississippi.
He recalls, “In those early times I continued to borrow money to purchase more cattle. My wife worked full time and I also worked two jobs. We put everything into the business to make it grow. It was something I was passionate about, and I felt blessed to find this lifelong calling as a young man. Fortunately, I was also able to eventually find a lender who understood cattle financing and this type of agriculture.”
Recognized as the Covington County Cattleman of the Year in 2015 and the National Beef Stock Award Winner of the Year in 2018, Parker finds fulfillment in getting his animals healthy and producing the highest quality beef he possibly can for consumers. On a combination of owned, leased land, and contract grazing over a number of states, it takes about forty-five days to straighten out the cattle, getting them healthy through the weaning stage. They don’t gain weight quickly over this period of time. But over the next 150 days they start to gain two to three pounds from grass or cheap feed. Parker purchases calves weighing from 250–550 pounds and sells them when they weigh 700–800 pounds.
Ted Parker Farms LLC plants several thousand acres of rye grass and crab and Bermuda grass and supplements this source with feed that’s a mix of corn, cottonseed, and other ingredients. Parker also incorporates the Wal-Mart waste fruit and vegetables into his feed ration on a daily basis, finding that the cattle perform well on this combination. He adds with a chuckle, “It’s fun to watch a cow bite down on a whole onion and savor every bite.”
For the past ten to fifteen years Parker’s been buying cattle in large numbers fifty weeks a year from his own state, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and some from Tennessee. He sells primarily to feed yards in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas and a few to Nebraska. He notes, “None of this would be possible without the invaluable contribution of our twenty-five employees, our two sons, Gent and Carl, and my wife, Janet.”
Gent, 28 and Carl, 26 have worked with their dad all through their growing up years. Now Carl operates the cattle buying station and manages the Seminary Farm. Gent is in charge of all the trucking, the shipping of the cattle, and helps manage the grow yard in Edwards, Mississippi. Both are involved in the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership program. The Parker’s also have border collies they use to pin cattle with. Ted says, “I used to raise and train these dogs, but now Gent does it.”
Janet, Parker’s wife of thirty-two years, has worked in the Parker Farms LLC office for twenty years, overseeing the business end of the cattle operation. She helps keep everything ship-shape and organized and serves on the Mississippi Beef Council Board as well as the local Farm Bureau County Board. Ted comments, “We really appreciate the mission of the Farm Bureau in our area. They’re the best at promoting and protecting rural American enterprises. I’m in no way political, so I’m glad they are willing to throw their hat in the governmental policy ring and act as advocates on our behalf.”
Parker is a member of a number of industry associations that include, but aren’t limited to, Covington County Cattlemen’s Association, the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Association. He’s also a founding director and multiple committee member of The First, A National Banking Association and a member of the Seminary Baptist Church building and finance committee. He’s also been involved in the activities of the Farm Bureau, 4-H, FAA (county level), and has participated in Mississippi State Extension services trials and research. Janet is a board member of the Farm Bureau, a member of the Republican Women’s Association, and a teacher and finance committee member of Seminary Baptist Church
Three years ago Parker started a buying station in Seminary where local farmers can bring their cattle to be sorted by sex and quality, then weighed, and priced. This operation has grown from 50 head per week to around 400 per week. It’s been a successful alternative to purchasing from a stockyard.
He says, “We get healthier cattle, and the farmers come away with a check without having to pay a commission or extra shrink fee.” In January 2019 he built another buying station in Lumberton in Pearl River County and sales are booming. It’s an enterprise that will likely expand in the future. He adds, “Stockyard quality has declined pretty dramatically over the last few years, so farm fresh yearlings are healthier and start growing faster than stockyard cattle.”
Needing more room (a yearling grow yard) to stockpile cattle for short periods of time until they were ready to sell or ship, Parker recently purchased a defunct dairy in Edwards, Mississippi that was next to land he rented and planted rye grass on. “I currently put up about 15,000 tons of corn silage annually, purchased from a local farm that supplies the feed to the grow yard. This helps reduce my cost of gain per pound, and I’m able to turn over my cattle inventory faster. So I now have the capacity to feed 2500 head of cattle under roof, which has reduced the cost of gain.”
Parker has taken timber by-products from paper mills to spread on the land to improve soil quality and has spread chicken litter and cow manure to create lush pastures and help prevent erosion. He’s also fenced off creeks to keep the cattle from accessing natural water sources.
An interesting sideline of Parker’s is the contracting out of yearling cattle to the National Cutting Horse Association and several other cutting groups in Mississippi and Louisiana. He says, “It gives the cows some low stress exercise and provides additional income and cash flow. Being smart animals, however, it only takes them one time to figure out the game.”
A common challenge Parker faces on a regular basis is farm labor, which, according to him, is becoming more increasingly difficult. “We’re just grateful we have such a dedicated group of employees working with us now. Surrounding yourself with good and able people guarantees that good things will happen. I see that first-hand every single day and emphasize the importance of it to my sons.”
As with every agricultural undertaking, the weather and the market are two very unpredictable factors. “Both,” Parker says, “are so volatile and variable. My cattle are marketed by forward contract, hedged in the futures markets, and sold on a weekly cash basis to feedlots in some of the plains states. Getting the best possible price for the cattle is one of the biggest challenges. There are certainly never any guarantees in this type of work. All you can do is your best and hope for a positive outcome.”
But the rewards of owning a successful stocker cattle operation are consistent and tangible. Parker says, “Getting to do what you enjoy is such a gift and not all that common these days. It really doesn’t seem like work when you’re so invested in producing a good product, the best you’re able to create. I’m always looking for new opportunities and better ways of providing high quality beef for consumers while improving the efficiency of my farms.”
During those few relatively slow periods of time in the Parker family schedule, they like to hunt deer, turkeys, and alligators. They also enjoying fishing and cooking. “We’re big beef eaters here, of course, so there’s a lot of steak and brisket at our house.” They also enjoy taking the occasional trip out West to enjoy the big mountain country and visit New Mexico where Parker Cattle LLC grazes some of its herds. “It’s beautiful out there and something a little different from the equally beautiful rolling hill topography of the pine belt,” he adds.
Looking back at his forty years in the cattle business, Parker says, “Circumstances, conditions, and events are always changing, so you’ve got to be flexible and change with them. Time never stands still, especially where technology is concerned. I tell my boys to get up early and go to work on time every day, and the good Lord will bless their efforts. That routine involves patience, gratitude, and persistence. He adds, “It’s so rewarding to see our sons taking ownership of the family business. It’s not just a job for them, but a way of life that they earn and appreciate.”
Ted Parker was nominated for Mississippi Farmer of the Year by Ellen Russell, Extension Agent/County Director of Mississippi State University Extension Services. She comments, “Mr. Parker is a premier cattleman who has selflessly contributed his time and expertise to the community through many different agricultural avenues. He has wonderful farms that use cutting edge technology and is always looking for ways to improve his operation.”
As the Mississippi winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Parker will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida, a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply. Parker is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a tractor for a year from MF Product, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a smoker-grill from Hays LTI, and a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute edition 22 rifle from Reinke Manufacturing Co., Inc., the irrigation company, through its partnership with Henry Repeating Arms.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 30th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,120,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous state winners from Mississippi include: Hugh Arant, Sr. of Ruleville, 1990; Bill Hawks of Hernando, 1991; Kenneth Hood of Gunnison, 1992; Tol Thomas of Cruger, 1993; Rick Parsons of Vance, 1994; Ed Hester of Benoit, 1995; Bill Harris of Benton, 1996; Robert Miller of Greenwood, 1997; Ted Kendall, III of Bolton, 1998; Wayne Bush of Schlater, 1999; William Tackett of Schlater, 2000; Willard Jack of Belzoni, 2001; Hugh Arant, Jr. of Ruleville, 2002; Rick Parsons of Vance, 2003; Sledge Taylor of Como, 2004; Laurance Carter of Rollins Fork, 2005; Brooks Aycock of Belzoni, 2006; Tom Robertson of Indianola, 2007; Gibb Steele III of Hollandale, 2008; Donald Gant of Merigold, 2009; Dan Batson of Perkinston, 2010; Scott Cannada of Edwards, 2011; Bill Spain of Booneville, 2012; Abbott Myers of Dundee, 2013; Danny Murphy of Canton, 2014; Allen Eubanks of Lucedale, 2015; Paul Good of Columbus, 2016; and Mike Sturdivant of Glendora, 2017; Lonnie Fortner of Port Gibson, 2018.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit Ted Parker Farms, LLC, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of August 5–9. The judges this year include Cary Lightsey, Lake Wales, Florida, who was the overall winner of the award in 2009; John McKissick, long-time University of Georgia agricultural economist at Athens, Georgia; and David Wildey, Manila, Arkansas, the overall winner of the award in 2016.