Meet one of America's youngest farmers. Thomas Neblett, 22, farms 2,400 acres and is surrounded by a crew that parallels his age. Sunrise Planting Co., Clarksdale, Miss., is an extreme exception: “As far as being 22 years old, there’s a lot of guys that work on farms that are my age, but I’m the only guy I know of that’s 22 and running his own farm."
For the complete article on Neblett and the Sunrise crew, see Young farmer in a graying game .
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Thomas Neblett is holding tight to the reins of Sunrise Planting Co., Clarksdale, Miss. Just 22 years old, he lacks the experience of his fellow U.S. farmers, but not the confidence or drive.
Neblett with the Sunrise farm shop in the background: “I had a chance and I wasn’t going to pass it up. I knew I could take a great opportunity and make it even better.”
In 2013, Neblett's soybean acreage (1,000 acres) outpaced the rest of his crops.
Neblett stands in 800 acres of Sunrise corn.
Neblett planted 580 acres of cotton in 2012, but followed the grain winds in 2013 and put his cotton money in corn and rice.
When he’s not in his fields, Neblett is still not far from his work. His family is immersed in agriculture and his friends, at least in some manner, are all involved in agriculture.
Neblett takes a look at his first corn cutting trail of 2013.
Neblett believes young farmers have a distinct advantage over older farmers — comfort and familiarity with technology.
“There’s so much about some aspects of farming I still have to learn: trying to catch on to the flow of the commodity markets and investing my farm money wisely. When it comes to the outside financial world, I’m still wet behind the ears.”
Sunrise’s acreage is split up in 1,000 soybean acres, 800 corn acres, and 600 rice acres.
Neblett’s supporting crew at Sunrise parallels his age: farm manager Ben Wilson, 23, center; and Ben Holdeman, 18, left.
Ben Wilson grew up on Due West Farms, Glendora, Miss., where his father managed for many years.
Farm manager Ben Wilson, Sunrise Planting Co., Clarksdale, Miss. “Ben Wilson handles pressure and gets the job done. I never called him my farm manager until I realized the extent of what he does and how valuable he is. He’ll lay the mud faster than anybody,” says Neblett.
Jack-of-all-trades Ben Holdeman, Sunrise Planting Co., Clarksdale, Miss. Combine, grain truck, buggy or sprayer — Holdeman is at ease. “We get on great. Thomas lets us know what needs to get done and everybody takes care of their work.”
“He’s been on a farm since he could walk. Farming is what Ben Holdeman knows and he literally handles any task on the farm, period," says Neblett.
Neblett and producer Bill Steed, 76, right. Neblett never moves blind and often takes questions to Steed, who is always nearby to offer advice for the operation. Planting seed, shifting ground, or irrigating — Steed is a well of knowledge.
Whenever Neblett mentions Steed, he speaks with deep appreciation: “Bill loves farming more than anyone else I’ve ever met — no question. He lives and breathes farming; this is all he’s ever wanted to do."
"Bill has taught me all the little things I would never have known. It’s pretty simple: I honestly doubt there’s anybody that knows as much about farming as he does," says Neblett.
Neblett stands over a foot of his first 2013 corn.
At Sunrise: Neblett operates the combine; Wilson hauls the grain cart; and Holdeman runs the grain truck.
Where does a 22-year-old get the drive and nerve to man the helm of a 2,400-acre operation? Look to the father. “He (Rives Neblett) wants me to be the best I can be; always pushing me to be better and work harder. I think that has a whole lot to do with why I have my work ethic now. I have so much to be grateful for,” Neblett says.
Neblett checks the moisture from cut corn.
Neblett reads the grain moisture level.
Ben Holdeman waits for Ben Wilson to arrive with the grain cart.
Holdeman gets ready for the corn dust to stir as Wilson nears with the grain cart.
Wilson brings the grain cart around.
Holdeman atop freshly deposited grain. Neblett loves the camaraderie he shares with Holdeman and Wilson. “It makes for a great time on the farm and we’re all close to the same age. Both of them have the drive to work harder, work more and show what they can do.”
Farm manager Ben Wilson pulls a grain cart. Riding in the cab alongside is Shannon Russell — Wilson's fiancee.
Wilson with fiancee Shannon Russell.
Wilson eating sun at harvest.
Wilson and Russell watch as Neblett fills the cart.
Whenever Neblett mentions Steed, he speaks with deep appreciation: “It’s pretty simple: I honestly doubt there’s anybody that knows as much about farming as he does.”
Steed retired a few years ago after working for Rives Neblett for approximately 35 years, but when Thomas Neblett began farming at Sunrise in the fall of 2011, Steed stepped back in the farming ring.
“I’m blessed to have Bill Steed working with me. I respect him almost more than anyone I know and he is part of the family," says Neblett.
Neblett with constant companion Lee. Find Neblett and you can be sure — Lee is not far away.
Valley View Agri, Jonesboro, Ark., workers Matt Billingsley, left, and Mark Billingsley, left, connect Neblett's six grain bins, including one just put up before the 2013 harvest.
Mark, left, and Matt Billingsley.
Matt Billingsley welding atop a grain bin.
Matt Billingsley, Valley View Agri, Jonesboro, Ark.
Mark Billingsley calmly perched on a grain bin.
Mark Billingsley, Valley View Agri, Jonesboro, Ark.
Neblett spraying cotton in a 2012 photo: Cotton is what Neblett would love to grow: It’s the crop that his family legacy is built on, but he’s confident the grain markets will hold strong for the long-term.