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Morgan Family - Heartbeat Feature Winter 2016

 

Crops, cattle span three generations of the Morgan family


By Joann Pipkin

Alas, the rain clouds give way on this mid-autumn afternoon. Mother Nature’s canvas paints the horizon in shades of gold and rust; a farmer’s bounty lies in waiting for another day.

As the Ozarks Mountains open to the western prairie, a couple of turns off bustling Interstate 49 lead to quiet country ways. Corn and soybeans yearn for the bin; cows and calves graze peacefully in the pasture.

It’s here we find where faith, family and farming cultivate the soil hand in hand.

It’s here where agriculture shines as bright as the harvest moon.

It’s here where three generations of Morgans reap the bounty their faith, family and farming has sowed.

While Jason Morgan guides the day-to-day operations of the family farm, his dad, Jim and son, Jade, both play key roles in this multi-generational Barton County crop and cattle operation. The family farm also includes Jason’s wife, Angie, and daughter, Lauren, as well as Jade’s wife, Jenny.

Paving the Way
Jim Morgan checks soybeansPatriarch Jim Morgan started farming full time in 1959, soon after graduating high school. Aside from the six months he served his country in the United States Army, he’s spent all of his 75 years on the family farm.

In the beginning, the Morgans raised row crops, cattle and hogs.

While today the farm focuses on corn, soybeans, wheat, prairie hay and cattle, hogs played a vital role in its diversity until the mid-1990s.

“The hogs were good to us,” Jim says.

Yet, that segment of the livestock industry endured its share of pains two decades ago. “When hogs hit 9 cents and corn went to $5, they were gone,” Jason quips.

Farming is all Jim’s son Jason ever wanted to do, and he joined the operation full time after high school. He’s quick to credit raising hogs as a means for helping him come back to the family farm.

For Jim, it wasn’t a hard decision to let Jason take over the bulk of the labor and decision-making in the operation. “I’ve seen too many people that wouldn’t let the son have a say so,” he says. “If something happened to dad, they couldn’t go ahead. I said I’m not letting that happen. So, I turned it over to him. He was probably in his early 20s when I stepped back and let him make decisions.”

Now with Jason’s son Jade in his early 20s, the Morgan operation makes room for another generation.

Armed with his associate’s degree in agriculture business from Crowder College in Neosho, Jade is back home full time on the family farm.

Jason is hopeful Jade’s purchase of a fertilizer truck will not only help the farm save on expenses, but also assist in further diversifying their operation.

Jade Morgan & fertilizer truck Jade Morgan's purchase of a fertilizer truck helps diversify the family's operation.

“Basically, when you look at what the cost is to hire it done and the acres we ran over, we were giving that money to someone else,” he explains. “I think that money would help us take care of the truck.”

Angie adds, “I think that’s a good example of bringing Jade in. Buying that truck was one way to help Jade join the operation.”

Jason admits it’s not always easy to shift responsibility to Jade, mostly because his own dad plays such an integral role in the operation. “That’s why having the fertilizer truck (is so important). It adds a new role to our operation and minimizes the cost of custom application.”

Jade has an interest in grid sampling and variable rate fertilizer application, and he wants to bring that technology into the operation as well.

“(Grid sampling) will help save on fertilizer and produce more on those areas that have not been getting (the nutrients) they need,” Jade explains. “And, some of the fields are wasting fertilizer.”

Jason says for at least five years he’s worked to grow the operation to make room for Jade, and in doing so his goal is to be more open to technology and his son’s ideas.

“Young guys have new ideas, and I don’t want to just shut them down,” Jason says. “I want him to bring those ideas in and see if they will help us.”

Jade adds, “I think the key is trusting the technology not to go overboard to where you have more things to do than you can get done, sticking with some of the older ideas but implementing the technology instead of just putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Working it Together

Three sets of hands are better than one, but in all actuality it’s all hands on deck at the Morgan operation with each family member playing a key role on the farm.

“They can’t get me out of the combine,” Jim quips.

At the helm of the giant green machine complete with auto steer, Jim has become accustomed to today’s technology as he brings in the farm’s bounty.

“My dad had a combine with a three-foot header, an old International,” Jim recalls. “When I was a kid, I’d get in the combine and I said, ‘well, I’d rather look at a 30-foot header than a three-foot header.’”

Most comfortable in the seat of the combine, Jim admits he won’t drive a truck. When the farm started using a semi to haul grain, he stepped aside from that job.

Jason Morgan filling drill Jason Morgan oversees the operation and handles much of the wheat planting.

Jason is chief corn planter, sprays, handles anhydrous application and mows hay in addition to keeping the operation running like a well-oiled machine.

Jade manages hay hauling and plants most of the farm’s double-crop soybeans in addition to fertilizer application.

Jim, Jason and Jade care for different aspects of the cattle enterprise, while daughter Lauren rakes most of the hay and brush hogs. Angie now works full time off the farm and fills in where needed, although she’s hauled her share of grain over the years. Jade’s wife Jenny is attending Missouri State University where she is earning her doctorate in physical therapy. She also grew up in agriculture and was raised on a farm outside of Golden City.

Growing the Operation
With much of the land in and around their operation tied up in existing farm operations, the Morgans have had to think outside the box — and look outside the county — when expanding their business.

“We farm 18 miles to the east, and then we go six miles west, eight miles south, another eight miles north,” Jason explains. “We always say that we could farm a lot more if it was here. We spend a lot of road time trying to find the acres to grow the operation.”

Travel adds another element to the game when time is of the essence.

“Sometimes with the weather anymore, it seems like everything comes ready all at once,” Jade explains. “So, it’ll be wet and you are waiting to go, and then everything takes off at once. Then, there aren’t enough of us (to get it all done).”

Jason calls it feast or famine, but all a part of dealing with the hurdles the weather brings farming.

The Morgan’s pastureland is equally as spread out as their crop ground.

“It’s a 40-mile round trip when we start calving and are checking all the pastures,” Jason notes.

Morgan's cattleThe Morgan’s Angus- and Simmental-influenced cowherd is primarily mated to Angus bulls. However, they recently added Brangus bulls to the mix to help develop replacements that will better handle southern Missouri’s fescue-based pastures.

Both spring- and fall-born calves are weaned, preconditioned and backgrounded before being sent to nearby Fort Scott Livestock Market at about 700-800 pounds. The operation’s best heifers are kept for replacements.

“With the cattle market going down, those preconditioned calves bring a lot more,” Jade explains. “When the market gets tough those calves off the cow don’t sell as well.”

Ultimately, the added management is simply an investment in time.

Crops or cattle, Jason says keeping a watchful eye on purchases is a must.

“When times are good, you just don’t go get brand new equipment,” Jade chimes in.

Angie adds, “I think being diversified is helpful. It can help supplement (the operation).”

“(Crops and cattle) are usually not both down at the same time,” Jason explains. While corn, beans and cattle prices are somewhat depressed this year, Jason says the farm is coming off of a record wheat crop, which by selling earlier was able to net a better return despite the intensive management they had put into the crop.

The Morgans rely on a crop scout to help manage insect and weed pressure. “He does our irrigated corn and beans, too,” Jason says. The scout also helps Jason calibrate his drill to ensure enough seeds are being sowed to aim for a higher yields.

“There is a lot of time and management into that wheat,” Jason says.

Finding a Partner
The Morgans have worked with FCS Financial for more than 20 years, and while lower interest rates first attracted them to the cooperative, customer service and knowledge of the ag industry has kept them there.

Morgan's with Kim Williams, loan officer Kim Williams, Nevada loan officer, works with three generations of the Morgan family.

“They’ve got good people working there,” Jim credits. “They try to bend the door backward to help you, I think.”

Whether assisting the Morgans with real estate or equipment purchases, Jason says working with FCS Financial is a “no-brainer.”

For FCS Financial’s Kim Williams, the Morgan family brings a generational dynamic to the table. “We don’t see a lot of generational operations anymore,” she explains. “You see a lot of farmers split off, and they don’t work necessarily as a group anymore.”

Jason appreciates the groundwork his father laid for him in the operation. “I could have never started (farming) if it wasn’t for dad taking me in,” he says. “”I don’t know how (a young person) would start farming without help.”

Jade chimes in, “It would be nearly impossible for someone like me to start farming without financial help.”

Following the Path
Managing a diverse operation might be challenging for some in the ag industry today. Yet, the Morgans take their tasks in stride. Their love of farming is grounded on steadfast faith and family.

It’s faith that gets Jason through the tough times. And, it’s important to him for the family farm to succeed.

“The first time I got (Jade) started driving a tractor, it was the same field that I started driving in,” Jason recalls. “That’s pretty cool.”

“That’s all (Jason) ever wanted to do,” Jim adds. “He was probably in kindergarten and he was gonna farm. He started driving a tractor when he was four years old. I got in big, big trouble for that.”

As a youngster, Jason wanted to spend his spring break from school in the field, guiding the tractor and disc.

Years later, his own son, Jade, had his own aspirations. “Since I was a little kid all I wanted to do is farm,” he says. “It’s so cool. You get to drive tractors. I love the cattle industry. If I could be a millionaire doing something else, I would still want to be back here farming.”

Three generations walking the same steps, down the same path — a path rooted in faith, family and farming.

“You want to pass it on,” Jason says of the century-old farm.

“The stories you hear from old-timers, though,” Jade says. “The harder you work the more money you made. Now, it’s about how smart you work. You can go work yourself to death. That doesn’t mean you are going to be successful.”

 

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