At 18, Goss made his first mark in farming, renting five acres and growing cotton. He was working for his father full-time, but the rented five acres were separate from the family operation. Goss borrowed the money for his five acres; worked the land entirely on his own; and hired labor to help him handpick the crop. The five-acre year was 1949 — and Goss never looked back, renting 25 cotton acres in 1950 at $5 per acre. He was slowly building his planted acreage each season — waiting until he could afford to buy.

In 1954, Goss put his farming hopes on hold and served a stint in the Army, returning to Lyon two years later with bride Dot and the quiet confidence of a man who knows what he’s capable of. “I got back to Mississippi in 1956 and went to work on a farm near Roundaway. The second year there was a terrible crop for the whole county — even though we actually had a good one. It came Christmas time and normally you’d get a bonus. Well, I got a billfold that year. Let me tell you, I was excited with getting that billfold, ‘Man, ain’t no telling how much is in there.’ So I opened it up, but there was nothing in there. Not nothing! The billfold — empty — was the bonus.”


(For a photo gallery of Goss, see A true American farmer)


Goss’ first five acres of cotton came full circle in 1958 when the man he had originally rented the land from recommended Goss to Bill Heaton, Heaton Farms, Clarksdale, Miss. Goss walked into Heaton’s living room on a Sunday afternoon. “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m not looking for somebody who can work for a month or two.’” Goss signed on with Heaton as a farm manager the same day — and stayed 33 years as manager before setting off on his own with Goss Farms in 1991. “When I started my own operation, I asked Mr. Heaton, ‘Was 33 years enough?’ and he answered with a grin, ‘I think that’ll do it.’”


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All through those years, Goss was building up his own landholdings. He bought his first 40 acres in 1958; land that his home sits on today. From his first 40 acres, he continued to buy in small increments and only what he could afford, as his planted acreage swelled into 1,300 rented and owned acres. “Here’s a lesson: we don’t owe people today, and at my age it’s so comfortable not to owe. On top of that — and I’m very proud of this — the first land we ever bought, we borrowed the money and paid it off early. That’s the way we’ve always operated.”