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.”
In the blood
When he’s not in his fields, Neblett is still not far from his work. His family is immersed in agriculture and his friends, at least in some manner, are all involved in agriculture. “The guys I run with, the guys I hunt or go to the river with — they’re all in farming. We talk about hunting, farming, trucks, and tractors — and that’s just the way it is. I don’t know much else,” he says with a grin.
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When the dust finally settles on Sunrise every winter, Neblett lets the farming mantle slide off his shoulders for just a short while. He parks his equipment, shutters the shop, and goes hunting — deer, duck — or looking for sheds.
Then it’s back to what he loves most. “I don’t believe in too much superstition, but I really do believe that farming is in my blood. As long as I’m able to be out here — I’ll be doing it. I know that farming has its good times and bad times, but I want to be here for the long run. I do it because I love it.”
Neblett doesn’t hide his love of farming — because he almost lost it.
At 17, doctors told Neblett he’d need a kidney transplant within five years. One year to the day, at age 18, the forecast changed and the same doctors told him he’d need a transplant within five weeks. Neblett was left reeling, but his friend Matthew Dunn, Clarksdale, was a kidney match — and two weeks later, Neblett went in for surgery. “Six hours after surgery we both woke up; we were fine and Matthew had just saved my life.”
Recovering after his hospital stay at home, Neblett was consumed — he wanted back in the fields, but the doctors put him on four weeks of bed rest. He was torn between patience and pain on one side; work and will on the other. After a single week of rest, Neblett slipped on his boots, grabbed his truck keys and headed for the farm — work and will had won out. “They gave me two prescriptions for pain medication. I took six of the pills and I was done. I mean, damn, after it hurt so bad and so long, I was used to it. I wasn’t about to start laying around.”
He doesn’t want an excuse, crutch or pity, and doesn’t even bring up the kidney transplant unless asked. He simply wants to keep working his farm. “I wake up and think of myself as a worker first. I hit the fields thinking about what I’m going to do myself with my own hands — not what orders I’m going to give.
“I know I’ve been given opportunity and with that comes expectation. Regardless of my lot in life, whether I was working on this farm or not, I’d be working to the bone. I know I fit this farm. I’m doing the best I can today, and I’m gonna repeat that tomorrow.”
See here for a photo gallery of Neblett and the Sunrise crew.
Follow me on Twitter: @CBennett71