Unique Management Style Keeps Mississippi Farm All in the Family
If Jeremy Jack has a unique approach to running a row crop farm, well, he comes by that naturally. Jeremy’s dad Willard is himself unique among his farming peers in the Mississippi Delta.
Willard came to the Mississippi Delta in 1979 from Canada, settling in the small town of Belzoni and planting his first cotton crop in 1981. The big fellow with a strange accent must have stuck out in the sleepy Mississippi town – but his neighbors respected his commitment to doing things the right way.
“My dad has always farmed with future generations in mind,” Jeremy says. “Even in those early days, he didn’t take on a piece of land unless he thought we’d be farming it forever.”
In theory, those ideals were high minded. In practice, it meant being sustainable – in every sense of the word. The farm – Silent Shade Planting Company – has employed a number of progressive practices and products over the years to promote conservation.
Through the years, the farm has grown. What started as a less than 1,000-acre operation has expanded to roughly 12,000 acres today. But they’ve maintained those best management practices throughout their growth.
They have graded land to stop soil erosion. They’ve used moisture meters and electric wells with timers to make sure they’re not overusing water – “that’s just wasting money,” Jeremy says. They soil sample across the entire farm. They utilize variable rate fertilization practices.
The idea is to make sure future generations will be able to live sustainably off the same pieces of land.
“I’ll put it this way,” says Jeremy, “some of the investments that we’ve made on farms, my father will never see the return on them, and I might not either. Really, it’s for the next generation. That’s what we try to pass on to them – that your job is to farm it in a way that somebody after you will be able to do that as well.”
A New Way of Operating
After growing up on the farm, Jeremy flirted briefly with the idea of doing something else for a career. Then life intervened.
After college at Mississippi State University, Jeremy took an interest in politics. “I enjoyed the lawmaking side – not necessarily the elections side,” he says. He earned a master’s degree in agricultural business with a focus on ag policy in 2006.
Jeremy had even moved to Washington D.C. briefly to start his young career. Then he got a call from back home on the farm. His dad had been diagnosed with cancer.
“He was at that point where he said, if you want to come back and farm, come back and farm now,” Jeremy recalls. “But if you don’t want to, then don’t. But there might not be a farm to come back to.”
Jeremy came home.
“D.C. was a nice place, but it wasn’t a place where I could see raising a family,” he says. “I enjoy farming, and I think I’m pretty good at it. But what I like most is the lifestyle of raising a family and teaching my kids how to work and the value of money and doing these family-focused things that farming allows for.”
Now 36, Jeremy and his wife Elizabeth have two small children – ages 3 and 2 – to look after. “We stay busy these days,” he says, with a chuckle.
And he’s brought that emphasis on family into the farming operation as well. Silent Shade has established a Board to help with decision making across the entire operation. Willard serves as the Board’s Chairman. Jeremy is the CEO. Jeremy’s wife Elizabeth works as the Head of Human Resources and Public Relations. His sister Stacie Koger operates as Silent Shade’s CFO. And mom Laura Lee Jack is the Operations Manager for the operation’s trucking business.
It’s a management style that Jeremy learned about in 2008 and 2009, when he participated in the Texas Executive Program for Ag Producers (TEPAP), which was hosted by Texas A&M University. “It’s a wonderful program,” Jeremy says. While there, he learned from Texas A&M professors about different styles of agricultural operation management. Elizabeth and Stacie also attended the school to get a feel for the ideas Jeremy brought back to the farm.
The general philosophy Jeremy took away from the school is that he should be running his farm like the small business that it is. The result – a Board comprised of family members – has been good to Silent Shade Planting Company, which has continued to thrive over the years. And Jeremy says there’s no sign of the operation slowing down any time soon, despite a rocky start to the 2019 season.
Like most Mid-South farmers, Silent Shade struggled with a deluge of rain in the run-up to, and during planting season of 2019.
Asked if there is anything special or unique about the coming season, Jeremy laughs and says the focus will be on “just surviving, really.” But through the flooding and potential replants, not much will change philosophically at Silent Shade.
“We’re not going to cut on any of our core beliefs. Prices are volatile and the weather is volatile, so we want to make sure we’re sticking to the basics. We want to make sure we can make those moves with precision and execute,” he says.
“We’ve had a lot of growth over the last few years, and now the farm has transitioned from a small business to what I would call a medium-sized business, and that’s why we’ve put these processes in place with a board, a governing council. That’s sustainability. The more process we have put in place, the easier it can be handed down to the next generation.”
Precision agriculture is ingrained in the day-to-day operations at Silent Shade, helping with conservation as well as efficiency. Jeremy Jack was asked to name his three favorite precision tools, and he did not hesitate in answering.
Granular – Recently acquired by Corteva, Granular is a farm management software program. “Granular is a program that everything runs through on our operation, and it’s so nice to have that program,” Jeremy says. “I’m excited about Corteva buying them, and I think future development of that program just got that much better.”
John Deere Operations Center – A vital data management tool, the John Deere Operations Center helps connect farmers to machines, fields and operators. “It allows me to track all my equipment,” Jeremy says. “We record everything that goes through that tractor or combine – the speed, the fuel-usage, the elevation. So much data goes through, and it’s amazing the decisions we can make with that data now compared to just a few years ago.”
TerraCutta – Designed to provide land management solutions, TerraCutta is a favorite at Silent Shade Planting Company. “It’s a program we use to move dirt with,” Jeremy says. “I can survey with it. I can set up the survey. But the really neat thing about it is that I can multi-grade off of it – so I can make a slope go from a 1/10th slope to a 4/10th slope or 6/10th slope or whatever I want. That’s been really big for us for savings and sustainability.”