Another good year in the books

Dec 06, 2021

Despite the obvious challenges of the past two years, the 2021 harvest season has been a good one. Farm, family, and Co-op seem to be the formula for perennial success, as evidenced by these three operations from Tennessee’s Grand Divisions.

Rusty and Jeff Harris – West Tennessee
Harvest time in Tennessee typically falls in mid to late October, and the exact time of harvesting the different crops depends on the weather, and, with cotton, the moisture content in the air.
“I look forward to the harvest season every year, but cotton has a special place in my heart,” says rowcrop farmer Rusty Harris. “The southern history, the white backdrop, and the unique smell of the cotton harvest are just a few of my favorite things.” 
Rusty and his fraternal twin brother, Jeff, grow cotton on 1,800 acres in Chester, Madison, McNairy, and Henderson counties. Rusty has been farming full time for 16 years and his brother, Jeff, for nine.
When Rusty and Jeff’s father, Richard, passed away in 2006, the brothers stepped in to continue working the family farm. With help from their uncle, Billy Wayne Harris, and other local farmers, the Harrises were able to keep the farm productive without skipping a beat.
“I wanted my kids to grow up on the farm the way Rusty and I did,” says Jeff. “Our kids are very involved with farm life, and it’s such a blessing.”
Rusty and his wife, Brandi, have three daughters, Hannah, 11; Haley, 3; and Heidi, 2. Jeff and his wife, Chastity, have two kids, Levi, 9 and Charlie, 7. 
“We rely heavily on our faith and with the support of our local Co-op, it helps us maximize the potential harvest,” says Rusty.
The Harris brothers are First Farmers Co-op members and purchase all their crop inputs from the Co-op. 
“We love working with the First Farmers Co-op team and trust them immensely,” says Jeff. “They are like a part of our family. [First Farmers Agronomist] Ryan Zawacki stopped by on our first day of cotton picking just to see how it was going and if he could help in any way. That’s just an example of how the folks at Co-op truly care about our farming operation and want us to be successful.”

Tim and Craig Byrd – Middle Tennessee
Tim and Craig Byrd, members of both Perry Farmers Co-op and United Farm and Home Co-op, have been farming full time for 11 years in Perry and Wayne counties. The brothers raise corn, soybeans, and cattle on 1,500 acres.
“The opportunity that farming provides excites me,” says Craig. “When it’s time to turn in each night, I can feel good that I’ve done a full day’s work; that’s rewarding in itself.”
Knowing that they both wanted a career in agriculture, the brothers both pursued agribusiness degrees — Craig, at Freed Hardeman University, and Tim, at both Freed Hardeman and the University of Tennessee at Martin.  The Byrds purchase their fertilizer, seed, spray, and crop protection — as well as soil-sampling services — from both Co-ops.
“The Co-op staff is knowledgeable and provides amazing expertise in agronomy,” says Tim. “They know us well, and we enjoy the family atmosphere that shopping at the Co-op provides.”
The Byrds are unique in the fact that they provide soybean seed for Tennessee Farmers Cooperative joint venture GreenPoint Ag. They also plant Croplan, Agrigold, Dekalb, Asgrow, and Pioneer seed varieties, which they purchase from Co-op.
“Farming full time provides us the flexibility to be outdoors and doing something different every day,” says Tim. “It’s a great feeling to make a living by growing things with your own hands.”
The Byrds usually see yields of around 45 bushels per acre on soybeans and around 180 bushels per acre on corn.

Mark Thompson – East Tennessee
“When my son, Cody, was seven years old, he wanted to grow pumpkins,” says East Tennessee farmer Mark Thompson. “That first year, one pickup was all we needed to haul them out at harvest time. That was 25 years ago. These days, we are growing on 30 acres, and it takes several semi-trucks to haul our pumpkins to market.”
In addition to more than 60 varieties of pumpkins, Thompson also grows tomatoes, beans, peppers, cucumbers, soybeans, and corn on his Cumberland Gap farm, in addition to 300 head of cattle.
“The produce season was dry at the start, but it did finally rain when we needed it throughout the season,” says Thompson, a longtime member of Claiborne Farmers Co-op. “This pumpkin crop is unreal. We would like to think that our agronomic practices had a lot to do with it, but I know the good Lord gave us rain at the right time.”
Thompson, a first-generation farmer and graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, serves as chairman for the TFC Board of Directors.
“I think that farming and producing a crop is the closest thing to what God intended for us,” says Thompson. “It’s been a blessing to raise our family and produce crops on the farm.”
Official harvest numbers still being tabulated
In a Nov. 7 report, the USDA National Agriculture Statistic Service (NASS) stated that 94 percent of Tennessee’s grain corn harvest was complete. Only 66 percent of the soybean crop and 54 percent of the cotton harvest was complete.
In the Nov. 9 crop report, corn production for grain yields were expected to average 177 bushels per harvested acre. Soybean production for beans was forecast at 51.2 bushels per harvested acre and cotton was forecast at 880 pounds per harvested acre. The final numbers for 2021 are yet to be tabulated, however good field crop yields were reported across the state when the Cooperator went to print on Nov. 9.
Less than a month ago, USDA NASS reported that corn production for grain was up slightly from the previous forecast and up 6 percent from 2020. Soybean production for beans was up 2 percent from the previous forecast and up 5 percent from 2020. Cotton production was down 3 percent from the previous forecast but up 23 percent from 2020. For more information visit

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