Strategies and Adaptations For Successful Farming Amidst Urban Sprawl
30 Aug 238 min 52 sec

Johnny Verell’s farming operation is expanding. Unfortunately, so is Jackson, Tennessee — the city whose sprawl of suburbs and commercial development is knocking on Johnny’s door. Johnny explains his strategy to survive, or even thrive, when bulldozers and concrete trucks roll into fields he once farmed. (He’s lost 350 acres to development in his backyard, yet he’s still growing!)  A few of Mr. Verell’s tips: Stay in good graces with landlords to partner with them on transitioning to future land purchases after they sell to developers. Maximize the acres you don’t lose to development to fully utilize your equipment and infrastructure investments. Lastly, Inform the community of the economic role of Agriculture — Johnny volunteers to speak at the annual Jackson Chamber of Commerce meeting! 

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00:00 So Johnny Verell and I are standing in a field that might not be a field very soon from now because right over our shoulders is a huge facility that is 00:07 Georgia Pacific's paper plate and paper cup manufacturing facility. There's a four-lane freeway right over there. 00:12 Johnny has lost farm ground to urban and suburban and encroachment developers come out. They pay a lot of money. This is the Sunbelt, after all, 00:20 it's Tennessee. More people are moving here. Industry is moving here. We're talking now about adjusting your farming business in light of all that. 00:28 So tell us what uh, is going on. Yeah, I mean like you can say there's always some new development coming out here. Uh, they're always looking for more and more land for industry. 00:36 That seems to be where we are. It's the industry is what the, you know, Not so much homes. That's right. But the only thing is, 00:41 everybody that works in that facility, there's gonna live somewhere. That's right. 00:44 That's right. So, I mean, you know, the future's gonna be more and more. Right. And I think everyone accepts that. You know, sometimes you don't wanna see that. 00:50 But I guess my play on this is, is how can we work with it? You know, how do we stay in with the people, 00:55 the developers and stuff like that so that they call us when they have some land that they want us to work until they do develop it. 01:00 And so it's just like this ground we're standing on here next way next year, this could be a factory right here. And we know that upfront. 01:06 So that's just part of it. But, you know, you look at, you know, our farmers always trying to plan for the future. You know, 01:11 we're building more grain bins because we're making more yield, right? Yep. So you don't ever wanna build too many green bins or too much infrastructure 01:18 In one location. Yeah. Or you know, that you might not be able to fill again one day. So, you know, it doesn't sound like a lot, but you lose 2, 300, 400 acres at a time. 01:26 Sometimes that's a, that's a big deal. Yeah. That could be a green bin. That's right. So we talked about this with Chad Henderson about trickling fertility 01:34 when you might be having your fields turn into concrete. It's not that he's trying to rape the land, 01:39 it's just that he had landowners say, uh, we are in an option. Uh, it's gonna get sold for development, 01:45 but in the meantime you're still farming it. Um, we don't know what the timeframe is. So he trickled out, fertility's like, well wait a minute, I might have this one year, two years, five years. 01:54 And so he said, I still got amazing crops. I wasn't going out there thinking I'm building this for the next 30 years. I went out there, I'm building it for this year's crop. 02:01 Do you have to think that Way? Same thing. We're doing a strictly infer fertility program on this right here. Just putting all thes we can right in that fur just for that Bain crop that this 02:10 Year it looks like it's doing. It's working. Oh, it's the beautiful bean crop. We get a good rain. We'll be in great shape. Okay. So how many acres do you think you have lost in this last, I mean, 02:19 you've been farming roughly 20 years since you came home from college. Uh, how many year acres do you think you've lost to develop? Yeah, 02:25 Probably about 350 acres just in the last few years. The last year. And you know, I mean, it's probably gonna be that much more in the next few 02:30 Years. Yeah. The pace, the pace looks like, what's your, uh, first adaptation is trying to find land somewhere else. That's right. 02:35 Has that worked? Yeah. I mean, you just constantly looking and like I said, you just kind of gotta move in an area that you don't think of develop. 02:40 If there's power lines and water towers, that's not really where you wanna look. Strong farm 02:44 And big highways. Yeah. Okay. So you moved a little bit west and south probably. That's right. Okay. So you went west and south, 02:50 then all of a sudden you're the carpet bagger, you're the encroachers, you're, you're the new encroachment. 02:54 Yeah. You just try to find people that are going out of business or land that's getting sold and just try to work with people like that. I mean, it, 02:59 it all works. I mean, I'm not the only one losing land. Other people do too. So, I mean, it's, it's a big, it's a big issue right now. You're 03:05 Losing land that's owned by landlords. You haven't given up anything that is owned by you or your father. That's right. And when will that day come? Well, there will be a decision. Yeah. 03:13 Hopefully we never have to see it. So Yeah. But you will see that. Yeah. I think one thing that farmers do, Johnny, and I'm I'm farm guy at heart is I'll be damned I'll never sell. 03:22 I'll never sell. There comes a point when that might be dollar foolish. I mean, really? Yeah. So what's your thought on 03:28 That? And I mean, I guess if that point ever comes up, me and my dad will talk and just try to figure out, you know, maybe we take that farmland and go reinvest it somewhere else to get more 03:36 farmland. Something like that. I mean, you know, farming's in, in our dna Yeah. Our gene. I mean, it's hard to get away from it, but you know, where we, 03:43 where my family has been farming for 60 years doesn't look like it did 60 years ago now either. 03:48 Yeah. I mean, I'm not being any way, uh, you know, uh, derogatory. But to pretend I'll never sell, I'll never sell. 03:54 At some point when its farm ground is valued at five or $10,000 and development ground is a hundred thousand dollars, 04:01 it does become a business decision. That's Right. That's, it does become a business decision at that point. So one thing also about your grain setup. You've got a very large grain setup. 04:10 And did you look at the next 20 years and say for the next 20 years, I'm probably Okay here. Yeah. Uh, and then what's the depreciation on this? 04:17 And then I maybe move, I move down the road and do a new modern greens in That. That's exactly right. That's how we looked at it. You, you, 04:23 you always figure on 20. We hope to get 30 or more years out of it. But, you know, even if we don't pick up ground, if I lose 300 acres, 04:29 if I can take points, I'm learning at different classes, different seminars, different trade shows that I'm going to and increase my yield on the ground, 04:37 I still have by three, four, 5%. I can make up that too. So that's another way to look at it too. Maybe not farm more acres, 04:42 just try to be more consistent on what I got in efficiency. What about The idea of getting along with this? Because you know, it's the old thing. 04:49 I was here first. I was here first. Yeah. Do you have that, do you have any of these, 04:52 do you have any of this new development that comes and wants to change? Hey, I moved here now you stopped farming. Do you have any 04:57 Of that? Yeah. You, you see that, like I said, airplanes is a big deal for us. People see the airplanes flying, 05:02 they always think we're putting out something that's gonna hurt on whether it's fertilizer or cover crop. Right. 05:05 So, so air aerial application on crop dusting. Yeah. They, uh, it's very tough. And so then you get some, you get some, some screaming and 05:12 Some yelling. Yeah. But I think one thing I've taken away is, is every time, like the chamber here, Jackson asked me to come speak. 05:16 Every year I get to go speak to like their leadership team, leadership class. I always try to go speak at that and tell our side of the story too. 05:23 And that way everyone sees from a farmer's standpoint, we're out here just to try to make it with everybody else. We're out here trying to make, we're 05:28 We're you're a business. Just like they're a business And we're a factory, just like a factory that's got concrete walls. We got, we got employees, we got machinery, we got everything that they do. 05:37 We just raise a crop every year, not producing one day. You know, our farm, our farming critics don't like to, to, they, they call us factory farms. But you're right, you're a business. 05:45 You've got employees, you're in the business of producing something and also you're good for the economics. Do you talk about the economic side of it? 05:50 Absolutely. It's, it's very big. It's, it's the largest industry for Madison County and Tennessee. Okay. So one of your tips would be if you get asked to be part of the business 05:58 community rather than, than giving 'em the finger and saying, hell no. You say go and and ingratiate yourself 06:03 With them and, and show what, show what really is put into the economy here in Madison County. And I mean, you look at it that way. Usually when I start off the class, 06:10 I always ask everybody before I start, who in here was raised on a farm? Yeah. Might get one person out of 40, but if I say whose parents was, 06:18 you'll get five or six more. And when I say grandparents, most of the class raises their hand. 06:22 So in three generations everyone's pretty much been removed from Yeah. Yeah. Agriculture. 06:26 Yeah. But you talk about the economics of it and you don't position yourself as poor little me. You position yourself as, I'm a businessman out here. I'm 06:32 Here to work with y'all. Yeah. Just like, you know, right here, we're, we're farming in the middle of some factories. Right. Now, what's 06:37 Something that the average farm doesn't think about because they are pretty far removed from urban and suburban sprawl. 06:44 What do you think that like they would never even, like you tell 'em the story when you meet 'em somewhere like, oh, I never thought of that. 06:50 What do you deal with that they wouldn't even think about Traffic. Yeah. Pacing people. I mean, 06:55 it's the same thing you do everywhere else, but when you're moving down the road on the same county roads that we've been driving out for years Yeah. And the county roads are really major corridors now. 07:03 Yeah. Cause you really the housing development. Yeah. But the flip side is, is where y'all are staying right now is eight miles from here. Yeah. 07:09 A lot of times y'all go to different farms. Cross country y'all might be 30, 45 minutes and not even be in a city close to Jackson. 07:15 Yeah. There's some convenience. So there's Convenience that goes with, We went to a nice restaurant last night, uh, 11 minutes from your farm. 07:21 You probably wouldn't see that in some parts in the world. So there's some good and some bad that comes along with it. Okay. 07:25 Get me outta here. We're talking about farming when you are in the path of progress. We covered this once with Chad Henderson. 07:30 I think there's some other tips that Johnny can give us, but the main thing here is this is happening to more places than you might 07:36 think, especially kind of in the Sunbelt. So, uh, any other tips for our listeners? I I just say always try to keep the public informed of what we're really doing. 07:43 Yeah. And uh, realize that uh, if you position yourself as a business, not as the poor little me, maybe it actually might go a little further. That's 07:50 Right. That's right. I think Chas done a great job working with all the people that are building in his area. 07:54 Last question. From the business standpoint, if this developer comes to this person right here, that's your landlord, cause you don't own this field, 08:00 we're standing in and offers him a huge chunk of change. Do they ask you, um, Hey Johnny, I've got a raft full of money right now. 08:08 I'm gonna go buy some farm ground. Do they come to you and say, can we partner? Yeah, a lot of times they will. They say, 08:12 do you know where some land is that we can reinvest in? And I mean that's, that's kind of how the partnership works. It's a give and take. 08:17 You just gotta always be able to roll With it just means you gotta go further. That's right. So they go down the road, buy land, and then you become their operator. Yeah. It has that happened. Yes. 08:24 That's happened. Yeah. So another, in other words, is don't ball out the landlord for selling to Georgia Pacific. Stay in their good graces and say, I'll just, I'll, 08:33 I'll partner with you at the next place. That's Right. Absolutely Doubt it. His name's Johnny Brown. My name's David Mason. 08:38 We're talking about farming right here. Strategies and adaptations when urban and suburban encroachment is on the way. And it seems like it's happening more and more. Damien Mason, Johnny Verell, 08:47 extreme

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