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Extension Helps Delta Farmer succeed, excel

A man wearing a blue shirt and cowboy hat stands in front of a piece of farming machinery.
Abbott Meyers, Mississippi Farmer of the Year 2013 and Extension client

Abbott Myers’s entire family farmed, but he did not intend to carry on the family business when he entered Mississippi State University in the mid-1960s.

“I was an aerospace engineering major,” Myers said. “I wanted to build airplanes and rocket ships. Space exploration was new. Man had just walked on the moon. I was fascinated by all of that.” 

But between his sophomore and junior years, he got a call that took him back home to the Mississippi Delta. His father, a Dundee row crop farmer, underwent surgery to repair a detached retina and needed his help to make a crop that year. 

“At that time, you had to lie flat on your back for several weeks after that surgery,” Myers said. “I was the oldest, so I talked to my professors, took my exams early, went home, and made the biggest mess you’ve ever seen.”

Surprisingly, Myers discovered he liked the challenge of farming. The hot, hard work he associated with the livelihood suddenly took a backseat to the attractiveness of running a successful business. 

“I never wanted to farm,” he said. “But once I did it, I liked the idea of being my own boss, running my own business, and making my own decisions.”

So he returned to campus, talked to his future wife about it, and joined his father on the family farm after earning a degree.

Although he had a lot to learn, he had many good teachers along the way. His father was one of them. They farmed 30years together before the senior Myers retired.

 “When I started out, I didn’t know anything about managing a budget, labor, growing cotton or corn, social security taxes, FICA taxes, or anything to do with running a business,” Myers said. “I learned a lot. My dad was my first teacher, and he was a good teacher and a good mentor. But I had a lot of good ones.”

Also on that list are several MSU Extension Service agents and specialists, including Hayes T. Farish, DeWayne Wheeler, and Ted Miller. 

Hayes T. Farish, Tunica County Extension agent in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was instrumental during Myers’s early farming years. As farming became more technical, Myers said he relied on the Extension Service for independent, research-based information on chemicals, planting dates, plant varieties, fertilization practices, and more. 

“In the early 1970s, chemicals were just coming on the scene,” Myers said. “Before that, we used a cultivator to take care of weeds. Insecticides were also new. We depended heavily on the advice of Mr. Farish when incorporating chemicals.”

New and better plant varieties came later. Equipment and technological advances made easier, quicker work of the soybean, corn, and rice fields that now sprawl over more than 7,000 acres.  Agriculture is an ever-evolving business, and Extension continues to play a big role in helping the Myers family stay up-to-date. 

“Everything has changed so much since I began farming 43 years ago,” Myers said.  “We don’t even drain rice the way we used to. That seems like such a simple thing that would never change, but it has. Extension has been invaluable to us in this respect. They helped get me started and keep me going the right direction.”

Extension’s dedication to the people of Mississippi is evident in Myers’s success. 

“I worked with Abbott for several years as rice specialist,” said Joe Street, now associate director of Extension. “He has a very impressive farming operation, which he developed from a not-very-productive clay soil. Our research-based information played a key role in helping him make informed decisions.”

Myers’s success was rewarded in 2013 when he was named winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year.  He is now teaching his son, Ransom, the family business and plans to turn it over to him in the future.

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MSU Extension Service
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Extension Matters Volume 1 Number 1.