Young farmers Jason and Lindsey Ellzey of Ellisville, Miss., are the winners of the 2009 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award contest.

They were recognized for their farming innovations, leadership skills, and involvement in Farm Bureau and their community.

The Ellzeys will receive a new pickup truck, the use of John Deere and Kubota tractors, and various cash awards. They will represent Mississippi in national competition in Seattle, Wash., in January.

Jason is a fourth generation farmer, who lives on and farms the same land that was once homesteaded by his ancestors. He and his father are full partners in a diversified farm that includes poultry, a cow/calf operation, blueberries, hay, soybeans and timber.

The Ellzeys’ four broiler houses produce about 2 million pounds of chicken each year, and this gives them a stable farm income. The houses also provide fertilizer for their hay and cattle operation.

Jason says things have changed dramatically since he started farming full-time in 1998. A lack of good land to lease, rising input costs, and declining crop prices forced the Ellzeys to rethink their farming and marketing practices.

“One solution we came up with was diversification and niche marketing,” he said.

For example, instead of spraying their wheat in order to kill the ryegrass, they decided to simply plant ryegrass to harvest. This allows them to add value to their product by bagging the seed and marketing it locally to be used as winter grazing for cattle.

“We also set up a demonstration of a new-style round bale mulcher to be used by grassing contractors,” Jason said. “Two of the machines were sold that day, and when the grassing contractors asked where they could buy the mulch hay, we immediately contracted all of the straw that we baled behind the combine.”

In the summer, instead of growing soybeans, the Ellzeys switched to brown-top millet in order to make better use of their sacking facilities. This allowed them to bale straw behind the combine for their new market and to hold dove hunts on the millet fields.

The Ellzeys also began growing blueberries. They put in 10 acres the first year and discovered that, with the addition of the blueberries, time suddenly became a limiting factor. So instead of the brown millet, they once again began planting soybeans.

“The blueberry harvest runs for 45-plus days, starting in late May. This is exactly the time we harvest ryegrass, bale straw, and plant millet,” Jason said. “So with the blueberry harvest only getting bigger and with the rising price of soybeans, we decided to plant soybeans again.

“Although we are not double-cropping wheat, we are planning on planting ryegrass for winter grazing and then mowing it in early spring for cow hay,” he said. “This should allow us to get our soybeans in the ground before blueberry harvest and satisfy our need for cow hay for the year, allowing us to put some dedicated hay fields back in crop production and giving us more time to devote to the blueberry harvest, pruning and weed control.”

The Ellzeys have become very creative with their blueberry operation, which has grown to 40 acres with a yield of 4,566 pounds per acre per season.

Jason says growing up in row crop production has helped him understand the importance of adequate water, fertilizer, proper soil, positive hydrogen, and weed control. He and his father have designed equipment and methods of planting and management that have produced some extremely high yields and vigorous growth from some very young plants.

For example, in the early process of preparing the soil, they incorporate pine bark into the soil before planting. While this is a common practice in blueberry planting, the way they incorporate it is not at all common. Jason says most farmers would simply pile the bark on the ground in rows then run a tractor-mounted tiller over it to incorporate it.

“While this does work, the benefits of the bark, less soil compaction, aeration and water movement, were not maximized,” he said. “Through a redesign of our cultivator and small three-point hitch disk we had, we were able to build nice beds and incorporate the bark throughout the entire root zone.”

The Ellzeys also decided to unroll round bales of mulch with a tractor-mounted bale unroller directly over the prepared beds.

“This gives us a uniform strip of mulch to plant through and promotes vigorous growth due to the lack of competition,” Jason said. “It also saves time, money and the labor of constantly spraying. In addition, it creates a new market for our mulch hay as other farmers are impressed and have started buying our mulch and using it in their blueberry operations.”

Looking toward the future, Jason says he and his father plan to expand the cow herd and make several major improvements to the blueberry operation.

Jason and Lindsey also plan to continue their involvement with Farm Bureau, saying they appreciate the organization’s work on behalf of Mississippi farmers.

Jason serves on his county Farm Bureau board of directors and as chair of the county Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. He and Lindsey have both served on the Young Farmers and Ranchers State Committee, where Jason was vice chair in 2007. Jason was also a voting delegate to the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention and a State Resolutions Committee vice chair.

The Ellzeys are members of the Gulf South Blueberry Growers Association and local civic organizations. They are active members of their church.

Jason and Lindsey have two children, ages 8 and 5.

For more information about the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers program, contact YF&R Coordinator Greg Shows at (800) 227-8244, ext. 4277, or (601) 977-4277.