While mostly hilly northeast Mississippi isn’t usually thought of as a locale for large farming operations (or for irrigation), M.H. Graves and Sons has accumulated a sizeable acreage of highly productive farmland along the Tippah River just west of Ripley, and they’re gradually installing center pivots to boost yields even further.
Mike Graves and his sons, Allen and Tyler are carrying on a family farming tradition that now spans five generations and covers 4,500 acres. A third son, Michael, operates a family-owned grocery store at nearby Ashland, Miss., but Mike says he hopes Michael will one day join the farming operation.
“My great-grandfather and grandfather farmed and had a sawmill here,” Mike says. “They grew corn, some cotton which was hand-picked, and had a truck patch. My father, Hines Graves, was also in the construction business, doing mostly public works-type jobs. He later bought a mechanical cotton picker, and in the early 1960s installed our first grain bin, which we still use if all our other bins get full.
“Dad added soybeans in the late 1960s and kept picking up a few acres more land here and there, eventually getting up to about 500 acres. After I joined the operation, we built up to our present acreage over a 30-year period.
“When my wife, Kathy, and I married, I told her my ambition was to have 1,000 acres of crops. I could never have dreamed we’d be where we are today. When agriculture went through the ‘restructuring’ of the 1970s, times were tough and a lot of people were forced out of farming. Many came to us about buying their land, and we were able to add acres to our operation. We’ve never gone looking for land — if we buy or rent, it’s from people who come to us.
“We had cattle for 60 years or more, but we recently decided to get out of that business. We had just enough cows for them to be a problem, but too few to be profitable enough to justify the expense and labor.”
While Mike says farming has been the career he wanted since boyhood, in last November’s elections he acquired a new title — county supervisor — and he now represents his district on the board that approves and oversees county programs.
“I’ve always had an interest in public service,” he says. “A lot of people encouraged me to run for the office, and I was fortunate enough to get elected. I hope to accomplish some good things for the people I represent.”
Allen and Tyler, who grew up on the family farm, say they’ve always known that’s what they wanted to do. “When we were given the opportunity to buy in as partners, we didn’t hesitate,” says Allen. “But it wasn’t just handed to us — it was a 10-year buy-in process, with a lot of hard work. But we think it was worth it.”