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Herbert Word is surrounded by history — history of the generations of family that preceded him as farmers on the picturesque rolling hills and bottom land he and his son, Herbert III (Trey), now farm in Monroe County, Miss., near Okolona. They now represent the fifth and sixth generations of their family who have farmed here.
Football scholarship at Mississippi State
Herbert also went to Mississippi State on a football scholarship and got a degree in education, with a minor in science.
“I was thinking in terms of an agribusiness career, but figured if it came to it I could teach and coach. I always knew, though, deep down, what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be: I wanted to farm, to be right here on this land. Even while I was in school, I’d drive back to the farm every week to help out.
“When I got my degree, there were no teaching/coaching positions in this area, and the top salary for those jobs was only $6,500 a year, so I quickly decided that wasn’t for me.
“By that time, my uncle was sick and later died, and my father had only beef cows. I drove gravel trucks and did other jobs to earn money, and after my uncle died, I farmed his land for a year, then was able to buy it. I later bought out my father and bought the home place that was my grandfather’s. I’ve been farming on my own since 1976.”
That was about the time, he says, that Delta farmers were transitioning from four-row to six-row equipment, and farmers here in the hills could go there and buy used equipment at reasonable prices.
“Sledge Taylor, now a farmer/ginner at Como, Miss., and I share a common Word ancestor ‘way back. When his father, Bill, was changing out his equipment, I went over and bought just about everything I needed from him — cultivator, planter, do-all. I also bought an International 806 tractor at Planters Equipment Co. at Belzoni. They laughed and told me it was all worn out. I’m still using it today to haul hay.
“I got a chisel plow and disk at an auction. Somewhere along the way, I got hooked on auctions. Since 1980 I’ve been a licensed professional auctioneer, and I do quite a bit of that work during the winter months.”
“Farming in the ‘70s was good and I expanded. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was farming a lot of acres, but then I started losing rented land because landlords decided to put their land in the Conservation Reserve Program, or they died and their heirs didn’t want to continue renting the land for cropping.
“At one time, I had more than 30 landlords to deal with and farms scattered for seven miles up and down the road from here. The logistics of it and the management just got to the point that we were faced with getting bigger, borrowing a lot of money, and hiring labor, or downsizing to what the two of us could handle ourselves.
“We decided we didn’t want to take on a lot of debt and a lot of headaches, so we converted all but 10 acres of our owned land to pasture and hay, and kept soybeans on the rented land.”
For 15 years, Word says, they’ve had no hired labor. “We do it all ourselves. We buy only used equipment, and 80 percent of the maintenance and repair work we do ourselves. If there’s something we can’t handle, we’ll swap out work with family and friends. And (he laughs) I’ve got all those spare parts lying around everywhere.”
Over the years, for their cow-calf operation, he says they have bought two Hereford herds from farmers exiting the business and bought his grandfather’s Angus herd.
“Then we started mixing in Brangus and Simmentals and now Trey and I have a mix of breeds. We save our own heifers. I’ve never bought a cow at auction; we’ve either raised our own, or bought out other herds.