For the first 15 years of their marriage, Ted and Janet Parker lived off one income. She made the living, and nearly every penny he made as a beef cattle farmer went right back into growing their farm.
“When I was 18, I borrowed money to buy 20 yearlings, paid that money back, and the next year I bought 30,” says the Seminary, Miss., native, who has now been in the industry for more than 40 years. “Every year after that I’ve always had a few more than I had the year before.”
Over time, Parker’s business has flourished and branched out into seven farms in six Mississippi counties, along with grazing locations across the Southeast and in the Midwest. His dedication to the industry has earned him the 2019 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for Mississippi.
“I am one of those who likes to fly under the radar, and I don’t like being in the limelight,” Parker admits. “I have seen others get this honor, and they were always people I looked up to, so for me to even be considered for it was quite an honor.”
Parker weight gains cattle, purchasing lightweight calves and growing them to feedlot-quality, 700- to 800-pound heifers and steers. He says he draws a lot of his business sense from a stint working as a runner on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 1982. One of his brothers tended his herd while he was away.
“I traded cattle futures for a year, and I wasn’t very successful, but I learned the ropes,” he recalls. “I learned a lot, and I wouldn’t take anything back for that experience.”
When he returned home, Parker built his herd to 125 head, steadily growing his operation on rented land before buying a 250-acre parcel under bankruptcy in Covington County, 12 miles north of where he grew up.
Over the next decade, he gradually expanded to properties in Greene, Hinds, Covington, Lawrence, Pearl River and Jones counties in Mississippi. He now also owns buying stations in Covington and Pearl River counties that he says have become a critical part of his overall business.
Ellen Russell, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Covington County, said she nominated Parker for the Sunbelt award not only because of his success in the beef cattle industry, but his service in a variety of local and state organizations. The Parkers are active in the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, Mississippi Farm Bureau, Mississippi Beef Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“Ted and Janet have long been considered successful stocker producers, but their dedication to the beef industry and our local community is what sets them apart,” Russell said. “They are always willing to help no matter what the need, whether it’s an individual or community necessity. They are also willing to share their vast knowledge of the beef industry with anyone needing some help getting started or anyone looking to grow their own operation.”
When Parker wants a second opinion on industry matters, namely nutrition, he consults Dr. Daniel Rivera, Extension beef cattle specialist, and Brad Jones, an Extension agent in Stone County, Miss.
“One great thing about Mr. Parker is that he is constantly seeking to learn and not afraid of change or evolving their models of operation to improve efficiency,” Jones explains. “If you take a look at the entire scope of the operation, its history and growth, along with the manner and methods he has implemented, it is easy to justify his nomination for this award.”
Parker says another key to his success has been a strong support system.
“I have a lot of great employees,” he says. “Someone told me a long time ago to surround yourself with good people, and good things will happen. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”