Bill Ryan Tabb could see that learning first-hand from more seasoned, wiser farmers — like his dad — was the kind of intimate assistance not every farmer of his younger generation could get. So he instinctively began pulling peers together so they could support one another and collectively engage the local community in agricultural issues.

For their success on the farm and work in their community of Cleveland, Miss., Bill Ryan and his wife, Leslie, recently received the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s 2006 Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award.

Bill Ryan, 33, said the award brings a lot of perks — including a new truck and computer system — but it’s the prestige that stands alone.

“When you get down to it, it’s a big honor, and you don’t really think about the rewards that come along with it,” Tabb said.

Tabb is the ag co-chairman of Bolivar County’s chamber of commerce; he is on both the county chamber’s board of directors and county Farm Bureau’s board of directors; he is a director on the Delta Council; and he’s a 2004 graduate of the Rice Leadership Development Program.

Both he and Leslie, a nurse, are heavily involved in their local Baptist church.

“The Delta has many young, sharp farmers,” Tabb said. “We’re just trying to get everyone to get involved.

“I’ve been blessed to learn from older farmers — especially on dealing with legislation — because I got involved. But while there’s a lot of promise, the commitment level is very high because our numbers (farmers) are dwindling and our voice has become crowded out by competing public interests.”

Tabb is a 1996 graduate of Mississippi State University. He began farming near Rosedale, Miss., where he was raised, soon after he graduated.

Since he and his dad, Billy, began operations, farming acreage has expanded considerably and yields have gotten larger.

The Tabbs now grow 900 acres of rice, 4,000 acres of soybeans and 600 acres of wheat/soybeans, most of which is no-tilled. More than 500 acres they own have been adjusted with precision leveling to reduce management costs and conserve water.

Conservation practice on the farm and in general is a passionate issue for the Tabbs.

Since 2001 the Tabbs have been part owners of several thousands of acres — once 80 percent cropland — now designated primarily under the Conservation Reserve or Wetland Reserve programs for wildlife habitat improvement. More than 400,000 trees have been planted on the property, situated near or alongside the Mississippi River.

Tabb said value of the land, once marginal cropland, has risen significantly since wildlife allowances have been put in place.

“In 1996, the idea of conservation on the farm was new in agriculture,” Tabb said. “Now you see more conservation measures in farm bills.

“Farmers these days are smarter, more conservation minded. But you have to be because of tighter profit margins. We have to be more efficient. There’s no other choice.”

Tabb said ag scientists’ work toward cultivating early-season soybeans has been instrumental in his farm’s higher soybean yields and cutting costs with less irrigation and less disease/insect resistance applications.

“We grew Group 5s in 1996; now 70 percent of our soybean crop is early Group 4s planted in March. Yields are up and cost needs are down.”

Leslie, a Cleveland native, said being married to a farmer was difficult in the beginning because of her husband’s work schedule. She didn’t know what to expect, she said.

“I learned a lot discussing the issues and with working with the Farm Bureau.”

“To work full time and be a farmer’s wife takes a lot of hard work, particularly during the spring and fall when I am gone all day,” said Bill Ryan. “It just takes a special person to marry a farmer.”