Last Thursday evening, Farm Bureau held its annual meeting at the Penn Avenue Ag Complex with an estimated 175 people in attendance. The event combined business with a lot of pleasure in announcing the 2017 Farm Family of the Year.
Jeff Pittman and Ken Stoutamire shared leading the meeting with Doug Mayo announcing the 2017 Farm Family of the Year.
This year’s Jackson County Farm Bureau Farm Family of the Year is the Michael Thompson family. J. R. and his son Ronald Thompson were honored as the Outstanding Farm Family in 1988. This year, the award goes to Michael, Joann, and Amy Thompson.
In 1947, two brothers, J.R. and Bruce Thompson bought 80 acres of land and started farming together as partners. In the beginning, they were mainly row crop farmers raising peanuts and corn, with a small herd of commercial cows. Early in the 1950’s they began to increase their herd, and in 1955 purchased registered Angus cows from R.D Bennett. They bought his big cows, at a time when the smaller cows were in high demand, so they were cheaper. What may have been more of an economic decision at the time, founded a herd with a reputation for growth and efficiency in a state with a harsh environment. This put in place the development of a dynamic herd of Angus Cattle that fit the needs of Florida Cattlemen. More than 60 years later, what these two WWII veterans started is still going strong into the third generation. Over that time frame more than 200,000 calves have been sired by Thompson Brothers Angus Bulls with a T freeze-brand on their hip. The efforts of this entire family have made a significant impact on the Florida Cattle Industry.
J.R. Thompson’s son Ronald was the second generation to carry on the family business in the 1970’s. In 1987, Ronald was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS and was gradually unable to manage the farm. In 1993, when Ronald became confined to a wheelchair, his son Michael took over running the day-to-day operation of the farm. Michael’s Mom, JoAnn and his sister Amy share the load of managing the finances of the family business and Michael serves as the general manager of the family farm corporation. They also employ two full-time workers and some part-time help during crop harvest season.
While Thompson Bothers Angus Farm is primarily known for their registered cattle operation, they are also fully engaged in crop production as well. They grow peanuts, soybeans, corn, oats and hay to provide additional income for the farm. As would be expected, much of the farming operation revolves around feeding the herd and rotation with pastures. Michael shared, “There were a few tough years when the four rolls of peanut hay we produced per acre was more valuable than the actual peanut crop.” Now they have added selling sod as they prepare pastures for rotation into peanut production.
Herd nutrition has always been a major element for managing the cattle herd. For previous generations the farm provided much of the byproducts, but when Michael took over help was short and he needed to find an alternative. You might say Michael earned a Master’s Degree in Cattle Nutrition from the University of “We Tried That”. Over the years he experimented with almost every type of bulk by-product feed on the market, and even some experts were uncertain of. He once fed a semi-load of powdered, orange-flavored drink mix. Through his willingness to try different byproducts, he came across one in particular with real merit, “Peanut skins.” Yes, those little red skins on a roasted peanut that are sort of bitter, can be purchased by the truckload and fed to cattle. While it is a pain to handle those fluffy skins that blow in the wind, they provide some real benefit to cattle feeding. #1 they are cheap. Like many byproducts, in the begging shellers just wanted the freight paid just to get rid of them. Now they are sold based on their feeding value. #2 It is somewhat hard to believe, but those red peanut skins do provide both protein and fat. #3 They also serve as a feed limiter. The bitter taste from tannic acid and the bulkiness of fluffy skins keep cattle from overconsuming a blended feed. So instead of having to hand feed every day, Michael developed a feed blend that could be bulk fed a few times per week all winter. Once he had experimented enough to develop the perfect blend, his neighbors started using it too. Today he actually handles enough bulk feed to save $30 per ton and help pay for his full-time feed man. The bulk feed business was not something Michael was looking to develop, but it has become a real benefit to the farm and to numerous small cattle operations in the area that show up each week with every kind of container imaginable to haul low-cost feed back home.
Michael currently serves on the Northwest Florida Farm Credit Board and as a member of the Jackson County Farm Bureau Board. He has also previously served on the County Cattlemen’s Board of Directors. Michael’s greatest asset to the farming community is his willingness to share with fellow farmers. Whether it is suggestions about Angus cattle, ways to feed cattle, or just commonsense farming ideas from years of trying things that did and did not work, Michael is never too busy to stop working for a few minutes to talk. If you ask his opinion, you will not leave wondering where he stands. He is more than happy to share his ideas and if he can help you, you can bet he will drop what he is doing to help, and then work late that night to catch up.
After the dinner was served and Kenneth Stoutamire recognized the staff, door prizes, included much needed hurricane-proof umbrellas, were awarded, and the meeting was adjourned.
Congratulations to Farm Bureau on another successful year and to the Thompson family on being named Farm Family of the Year for 2017 from the publisher and staff of the Jackson County TIMES.