Abbott Myers wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but those plans changed when his father required eye surgery and called him home to manage the family farm.

The decision-making of farming excited him, so he changed his major to agricultural engineering, and the next year started growing soybeans on his own.

Myers, of Dundee, Miss., eventually took over the family farm and has developed it into one of the best in the Mississippi Delta.

As a result of his success as a row crop farmer, Myers has been selected as the Mississippi state winner of the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Myers now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

From his start 42 years ago, he now farms 7,138 acres, including 1,350 acres of rented land and 5,268 acres of owned land.

Irrigation boosts his yields. Last year’s per acre yields include irrigated corn on 527 acres, 176 bushels; rice on 1,836 acres, 186 bushels; irrigated soybeans on 2,443 acres, 46 bushels; and dryland soybeans on 1,497 acres, 30 bushels. Myers plants corn and soybeans in 30-inch rows, and plants hybrid rice to raise yields.

 “We have 480,000 bushels of grain storage and are blessed to be close to Mississippi River grain terminals,” Myers says. “We use the normal grain marketing tools, puts and calls, hedging, basis contracts and forward contracts. Our rice is marketed through a cooperative mill in seasonal or call pools. We do our own market research and make all marketing decisions.”

Hot, dirty work

When Myers entered Mississippi State University, he didn’t want to farm. “It was hot and dirty work,” he recalls. But in 1970, his father faced emergency eye surgery. Back on the farm, he handled planting, spraying, cultivating, hiring labor, payroll and everything else.

“I made mistakes, but I enjoyed making decisions and planning,” says Myers. “I returned to college. Sheryl, my future wife, and I decided to come back to the Delta and farm. I started growing my own soybeans the next spring. I graduated in 1972 and I’ve been farming full-time ever since. I still enjoy designing and building airplanes, but now they are remote controlled model planes.”

He did not find out until years later that his father was proud of his decision to join him in farming. “He told everyone else, but didn’t tell me until I had been with him many years,” Myers recalls.

As his career progressed, he bought more land, started leveling land with laser guidance and added grain storage. In the 1990s, he added zero-grade landforming, a land leveling technique that flattens fields from one end to the other. After the year 2000, he started bringing his son Ransom into the farming operation.

“We farm heavy clay land, buckshot soils,” says Abbott. Such land holds water well but is slow to drain. He drilled 41 irrigation wells and installed five miles of underground pipe. To better manage water and drainage, he installed 107 slotted board risers and four tailwater recovery systems. In addition to surface water irrigation, he added center pivot irrigation systems.

The only land he does not irrigate is either rented or land that requires moving more than 1,000 cubic yards of soil per acre to level. “It costs $1.30 to $1.40 to move a cubic yard of dirt,” he says.

Cotton was a main crop but it was not suited to the clay soils. “So when crop allotments were relaxed, we started producing rice, and rice has been our salvation,” he explains. “Five years ago, we stopped growing cotton and added corn.”

High labor costs prompted Abbott to use bigger equipment. “We eliminated hand labor and updated equipment from six-row to eight-row, then to ten-row and now to 16-row equipment,” he says. With bigger equipment and early maturing varieties, he was able to speed up harvesting. Earlier harvesting also fits well with his no-till planting system.

Wants to add land

He wants to buy more land and add more grain storage. He also plans to use nearby Ark Bayou as a natural storage area for tailwater from his land to reduce the amount of pumping he must use for irrigation. Abbott and a neighbor are also exploring the possibility of developing a wind farm on their land to generate electricity.

“During the winter, we are able to hold water on more than 1,000 acres which improves our water table and brings in waterfowl,” he says. His son Ransom also runs a duck hunting business that brings paying customers to the land each winter.

Abbott is active in many organizations. He was a commissioner in the Tunica County Soil and Water Conservation District. He served as a director of Maud Elevator. He also served as a board member and board president for a private school, the Tunica Institute of Learning.

In the Tunica Rotary Club, he served as president, vice-president and treasurer. He served on the elected board of Tunica County’s USDA Farm Service Agency. In Tunica Presbyterian Church, he has been a deacon, elder, clerk of session and Sunday school teacher.

Among agricultural organizations, Myers is a member of the Tunica County Farm Bureau and the American Soybean Association. He has been a director of the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District. He serves on the Mississippi Rice Council.

Since 2005, he has served as chairman for the Mississippi Land Bank. He is also an elected director of the Coahoma Electric Power Association. He was named the Rice Farmer of the Year in 1999. For the past two years, he chaired the Stockholders Advisory Committee of the 10th Farm Credit District.

Sheryl, Abbott’s wife of almost 42 years, handles bookkeeping and accounting as the farm’s chief financial officer. They have two children, daughter Kathryn Bourne and son Ransom. Kathryn is an attorney and an expert in crop insurance. Ransom is a partner in the farm and is buying his own land.

Sheryl has been an organist and Sunday school teacher at Tunica Presbyterian Church. She served as president of the Tunica Woman’s Club and as president of the Booster Club and Parent Teacher Association for the Tunica Institute of Learning.

Abbott is in the process of turning over day-to-day management to Ransom.

Helps young farmers

As Abbott was mentored by his father and other farmers, he now helps out other young farmers, especially in giving them rice farming advice. “I have been blessed,” says Abbott. “I’m especially proud of the young farmer my son has become.”

Joe Street, associate director of the Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Myers was nominated for the award by Anthony Bland, Extension agent in Tunica County.

As the Mississippi state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Myers will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash award that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 24th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $924,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Previous state winners from Mississippi include:  Hugh Arant, Sr. of Ruleville, 1990; Bill Hawks of Hernando, 1991; Kenneth Hood of Gunnison, 1992; Tol Thomas of Cruger, 1993; Rick Parsons of Vance, 1994; Ed Hester of Benoit, 1995; Bill Harris of Benton, 1996; Robert Miller of Greenwood, 1997; Ted Kendall, III of Bolton, 1998; Wayne Bush of Schlater, 1999; William Tackett of Schlater, 2000; Willard Jack of Belzoni, 2001; Hugh Arant, Jr. of Ruleville, 2002; Rick Parsons of Vance, 2003; Sledge Taylor of Como, 2004; Laurance Carter of Rollins Fork, 2005;  Brooks Aycock of Belzoni, 2006;  Tom Robertson of Indianola, 2007; Gibb Steele III of Hollandale, 2008; Donald Gant of Merigold, 2009; Dan Batson of Perkinston, 2010; Scott Cannada of Edwards, 2011; and Bill Spain of Booneville, 2012.

Mississippi has had three overall winners, Kenneth Hood of Gunnison in 1993, Ed Hester of Benoit in 1995 and Willard Jack of Belzoni in 2001.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Myers farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 12-16.

The judges for this year include John McKissick, a longtime University of Georgia Extension ag economist from Athens, Ga.; farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; and John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years.

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