Then and now

Saturday, March 30, 2002

Tribune Editor

Everything you ever wanted to know about farming, you can bet, Steve Jernigan knows or can find out. The son of a farmer who was the son of a farmer, Steve has no sons to pass on the Jernigan farming tradition.

A. A. Jernigan moved to Lepanto in 1910 from Hornsby, Tenn. and homesteaded his land in Lepanto. Coleman Jernigan added to the acreage in Lepanto when he purchased 640 acres in 1939 in what was then woods and later the thriving Buckhorn community. Coleman had 10 children; seven daughters and three sons, but only Steve followed in his fathers farming footsteps.

Steve Jernigan has always farmed, but has not only farmed. From June, 1966 to December, 1968 he served his country in France and Germany in the US Army and for four years left the area to work as purchasing agent for a Mississippi manufacturer. Basically, the rest of his life has been devoted to the family business of farming. Along with the farm, Jernigan has served as Poinsett County Tax Assessor (1980-1990) and the Delta Vo-tech School as job placement coordinator for four years. These side jobs didn't detract from his farming endeavors however, and he sees his life's work as farming.

Currently farming almost 1,000 acres in the Weona area and Lepanto, he raises rice and soybeans. He is married to Judy, bookkeeper at ASU Technical Institute and has two daughters, Kale, a senior at ASU and Kayce, a senior at EPC.

Jernigan is a colorful, enthusiastic person who loves what he does. Easy to talk to, he has a broad knowledge of many subjects, especially concerning farming. Many people have opinions about lots of things, but Jernigan is adamant about the business of farming, agriculture in America, the politics of successful farming and analyzing where farming has been and where it is going.

Looking back over a lifetime devoted to the land, Jernigan noted that "in times past farming adhered to a pattern." "We knew it would be one or two years, good; one or two years bad; one or two years average." Not now. "We have had five bad years in a row." So, what is a bad year? "Prices are lower now for our crops than they were in the 1940's," he said. "Rice is the lowest selling price in 30 years and beans are down to 1960's prices." "With prices for our crop at all time low's and cost of farming sky high, there is no winning on the horizon." In his farming lifetime he has seen the diesel needed to run the equipment go from $.15 per gallon to $.89 per gallon and as high as $1.25 per gallon. Fertilizer that should cost $50 to $75 per ton is $150 to $250 per ton. To sustain these kinds of losses for a long period of time is devastating to the industry.

About the future, Jernigan said, "I am terrified; things must change in the next year or so." "We must offset depreciation with profits." "Equipment wears out and must be replaced." "I feel strongly that if something doesn't change we will go the way of the meat and poultry industry which is Contract Farming'." This would not be good for America or the consumer. Three or four major companies would own agriculture in the world and would turn farming back to the days of sharecropping', he said.

Surely this man of intelligence, experience and love for his profession would have an answer to this dilemma. "Yes, I feel strongly that in the short term, better trade agreements that would put American agriculture on the winning side would go a long way toward solving the problem." "Current trade agreements with tariffs, taxes and regulations on the American side leave agriculture in a lurch and must be corrected to favor our side." "We could stop giving other countries all our technology, education, experience and money and start sending them our products to help the American farmer for a change."

Over the long term, Jernigan says "there is a tremendous opportunity for alternative fuel to move the country away from petroleum based economics; alternative energy sources should be explored and researched as a serious means of balancing the future for farmers dependent on foreign resources, as well as curtailing the high cost of operation based upon fuel consumption, for all Americans in every field." He would like to see farming a strong American entity once more and that includes Steve Jernigan Farms.

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