#GROW23: West Tennessee Row Crop Farmer John Parrish

Jun 30, 2023

Story and photos by Claire Hill
For the last several years, Co-op has been following select Tennessee farmers throughout the growing season with coverage in The Cooperator and frequent posts on Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s social media platforms to showcase the diversity of Tennessee agriculture. We call this feature “#GROW23.”

The first farmer to be featured was strawberry and tomato producer Steve Scott in last month’s issue. Next, we look at the row crop operation of John Parrish of Medina.

John farms 2,000 acres in Gibson and Madison counties, approximately 60% cotton, 25% soybeans, and 15% corn. Row cropping has been in the Parrish family for many generations, and John grew up raising cotton with his dad and grandad on some of the same fields he still farms today.

“Harvesting and transporting cotton has changed a lot since the ‘70s,” says John. “We’ve hauled cotton on trailers, used a cotton packer, switched to module builders, and today, we have round bales. I wish my dad and granddad could see how much the industry has progressed.”

New inventions have made harvesting and planting cotton easier, John says. Where in the past, the crop was picked and loaded onto trailers to be transported to a baler, today, the Parrishes harvest and bale their cotton with one machine. After baling, they take the cotton to Farmers Gin of Humbolt.

John says the operation is a family affair. His wife, Marty, manages the financial aspect of Parrish Farms, and their son, Justin — a registered land surveyor and owner of Parrish Surveying — helps with a variety of tasks.
Early mornings are common for farmers during planting season, and John typically begins each day at 5:30 a.m. while prioritizing what needs to be done based on the weather.

“The weather plays a vital role in my farming operation,” says John. “Ideal conditions for the cotton crop would be 65-degree nights, 85-degree days, and — if we’re lucky — an inch of rain on Saturday afternoon.”

John and Justin are longtime members of Gibson Farmers Cooperative, where they purchase crop supplies like fertilizer, chemicals, and seeds from the Co-op’s Milan location.

“John is meticulous in his farming and the way he takes care of his land, crops, and equipment,” says Jacob Kee, Milan location manager. “I am thankful that I have been able to work with him over the years, and I’m proud that our products and services help him, and other farmers, be successful.” 

John has a “behind-the-scenes” view of the Co-op system having served on Gibson Farmers Cooperative’s board for two terms. He says that farmers are blessed to have a cooperative system in Tennessee that provides agricultural products and services and is managed by farmers themselves. 

“Jacob has made great seed recommendations for us over the years,” says John. “The science involved in farming is remarkable. We can be more precise in planting and fertilizing, and even control insects with seed varieties.”
John worked for a paving and construction company for 11 years before he began farming full-time. As he was learning the industry, he relied on Jerry Williams, an employee at Gibson Farmers Co-op, for advice.

“The employees at Co-op care about me and our farming operation,” says John. “They provide expertise and truly want what’s best for my crops.”

John says that, as a child, he loved to watch the tractors and pickers during planting and harvesting.

“Even then, I knew that I’d do whatever I could to become a cotton farmer one day,” he recalls. “I guess I have fulfilled my childhood dreams.”

The challenge of farming, he says, is what “gets him out of bed each morning.”

“Us farmers will never be done with our task list, so we must learn to prioritize our work and stay up to date with the weather,” he advises. “Mother Nature can be your best friend or your worst enemy, but regardless, we always manage to get the crop planted and harvested. I enjoy having a hand in growing hundreds of acres of crops and watching them grow.”

Make sure to follow John Parrish and Steve Scott this growing season on Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s social media sites. Look for a harvest recap in an upcoming edition of The Cooperator as we will touch base with John and Steve following their growing season. 

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