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Matt Ormon readily acknowledges his road from college dropout to established farmer hasn’t been without bumps, but he says, "The opportunity came — suddenly — to do what I knew I wanted to do with my life, and I felt I had to take that chance.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR: Matt Ormon, center, farms in Benton County, Miss. His father, Mark, left, and uncle, Clark, retired from their own careers, lend a hand with farming chores.
It was against his parents’ better wishes, says Matt Ormon, that he dropped out of college and gave up his goal of a business degree in order to become a farmer.
“But the opportunity came — suddenly — to do what I knew I wanted to do with my life, and I felt I had to take that chance.”
The farmer for whom he had worked summers and after school while growing up, Mack Thompson, Jr., had died and his land was going to come up for rent.
“He was a good farmer and I had learned a lot from him,” Matt says. “As young as I was, it may have been a little foolish to take on that kind of responsibility, but thankfully, it has worked out well.”
In the years since, he has gradually added acreage and today has a successful corn/soybean operation, new equipment with the latest technology, a spacious metal shop/storage building, a new home nearby, and the added benefit — and pleasure — of working with his father, Mark, and his uncle, Clark, identical twin brothers now retired from their own successful careers.
Mark for 24 years was the elected chancery clerk for Benton County, Miss., and Clark for 33 years was agriculture teacher in area schools. Both had also farmed small acreages on the side, with row crops and cows (which they dropped in 1996), and Matt grew up in a farming environment, liked the independence and the lifestyle.
But, he readily acknowledges, his road from college dropout to established farmer hasn’t been without bumps.
“In 2006, the year my wife, Carol, and I married, our area was in a pocket of severe drought, and while some of our neighbors who got rains were harvesting bumper crops, we ended up cutting 400 acres of soybeans for hay.”
And there was 2009, when it seemed every day brought a gully-washing rain, cutting into yields and hampering harvest.
“If it hadn’t been for crop insurance when those disasters came,” he says wryly, “I probably wouldn’t be farming today.”
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And then there was the surprising year, 2013, which started badly, with a cold, wet spring that dragged on and on. “We made our burndown applications in the mud,” he says.
“Everything was planted late, and we weren’t able to plant as much corn as we’d intended. Then we had a drought in August — less than 1 inch of rain the entire month — and we don’t have irrigation. When we went to the field at harvest time, we thought we were ruined.
“But yields were really good. We averaged 145 bushels on the corn and 42 bushels on the soybeans. The cooler-than-normal temperatures really made a difference. And as it turned out, it was just as well we didn’t get to plant our intended corn acreage, since prices took a drop. We made up for it with the added soybean acreage.”
Benton County, where the Ormons farm, is the seventh smallest county in the state, with a population just over 8,000. A large chunk of the land area, Mark notes, is taken up by the 55,000-acre Holly Springs National Forest. There is also a lot of private timberland, a number of small hobby/weekend farms owned by residents of Memphis, Tenn., and a goodly amount of land that is steep, wooded hills.
Even so, in the northern part of the county, where the terrain is less hilly, there are a number of large farming operations, several with extensive center pivot irrigation systems.
The Ormons farm 1,200 acres and uncles Paul Ormon and Robby Steele, have another 200 acres. “We all work together and use the same equipment,” Matt says. “We do as much of our maintenance as we can. We try not to hire anything out — our only hired labor is our truck driver, Lee Cossitt.