What is in this article?:
- Thomas Neblett, Sunrise Planting Co., Clarksdale, Miss., 22, is literally one of the youngest farmers in America. With the average age of U.S. farmers at 60, and with estimates that over half of American farmland will change hands in the next 20 years, Neblett seems all the younger.
Producer Thomas Neblett, 22, is holding tight to the reins of Sunrise Planting Co., Clarksdale, Miss. “I had a chance and I wasn’t going to pass it up. I knew I could take a great opportunity and make it even better.”
Young Sunrise trio
Neblett was 20 years old and in command of 2,400 acres. “We started with a big fat loan; got a bunch of equipment and off we went. I’ve loved every minute of it ever since.” At first, it was touch-and-go, with Neblett trying to keep his footing amid the spinning variables of modern agriculture, and each day he was learning something new, tucking the information away, and moving quickly to the next lesson.
He was ready for the boots-on-the-ground work — on the tractor or in the field, he knew what to do. But as a beginning farmer, in control of an entire operation, he admits that physical knowledge is never enough: “There’s so much about some aspects of farming I still have to learn: trying to catch on to the flow of the commodity markets and investing my farm money wisely. When it comes to the outside financial world, I’m still wet behind the ears.”
But Neblett also believes young farmers have a distinct advantage over older farmers — comfort and familiarity with technology. For Neblett, computers, precision agriculture, and social media are a given. There is no learning curve because he doesn’t know any other path. “One thing that makes it easier for a young farmer is technology. Older farmers have had to go back and learn new technology after years of doing without. But as a young person, I’ve come into farming and met technology I’m already familiar with. GPS, iPads, and cellphone apps are all normal to me and common for my generation. I rolled right into precision ag as a full believer in its benefits and worth. Simply put, I’ve not had to change any of my farming ways.”
See here for a photo gallery of Neblett and the Sunrise crew.
Neblett’s supporting crew at Sunrise parallels his age: farm manager Ben Wilson, 23; and Ben Holdeman, 18. “They’ve both been on a farm since they were born and I definitely couldn’t do it without them. They both know so much about farming and I don’t get in the way of that; I just let them know overall what needs to be done. My crew is not afraid to speak up. When they see a simpler way, they tell me. Yes, my decision is the road we take, but when they tell me something serious, I know to listen because they’ve been farming their whole lives.”
It’s not by chance that the Sunrise crew is so young. Neblett’s strategy in putting together his crew was simple: Find competent, tough workers that he was comfortable being around. For Neblett, that meant hiring young people. Wilson had grown up on Due West Farms, Glendora, Miss., where his father managed for many years. Prior to Sunrise, Wilson was farming in Tallahatchie County and was recommended as hard-working and sharp. He was a natural fit. “Ben Wilson handles pressure and gets the job done. I never called him my farm manager until I realized the extent of what he does and how valuable he is. He’ll lay the mud faster than anybody,” says Neblett.