2018 Master Farmer Jim Farris, Vincennes, Ind., learned the value of hard work and diversification at an early age. He applied those lessons after returning home from Purdue University to farm with his dad in 1984. He continues to apply them as he leads a successful farm and business operation today.
“My dad, Joe, made it through the 1980s, and put five of us through college, too,” Farris says. “We had all kinds of crops, most of which required hand labor. I learned the value of hard work, and of diversification. We always had several sources of income.”
As he was growing up, Farris says they raised watermelon, cantaloupe, staked tomatoes and other crops. Each sibling had a 4-H steer to help generate income. “Dad made sure that us kids did the work on the vegetables. We split the income five ways, and it went toward college.”
When Farris returned to the farm, they kept staked tomatoes and sweet corn in the operation. Today, he and his wife, Karen, primarily grow corn, soybeans, wheat and double-crop soybeans.
To diversify and add income, Farris worked off the farm for nine years at the Pioneer corn research facility near Princeton. Then he sold Farm Bureau Insurance for 12 years, maintaining the farm at the same time. He backgrounded calves as an additional way to diversify, and did that until three years ago.
Farris’ uncle Dale Dellinger, a popular DuPont Pioneer dealer, retired 10 years ago after 30 years in the business. Farris took over his customer base. He and his family have grown the operation ever since.
Today, the Farrises’ son Jacob is involved in both farming and the seed business.
“Jacob manages the seed warehouse here on the farm,” Farris explains. “We started with three bulk bins for soybeans. The trend is moving quickly toward bulk soybeans. One advantage is that we can treat them as the customer wants before he picks them up.”
Farris invested in sophisticated equipment to treat soybeans. He can add a variety of treatments to match what the customer needs, depending upon where the soybeans will be planted. Soybean treatment has become a big part of what Farris does during the spring, when customers are ready to pick up their seed beans.
Farris also spends time working with customers year-round. The business provides a full suite of services and products offered by Pioneer.
Farris is on his fourth corn planter since returning to the farm. All four have had one thing in common: They were set up for no-till.
“We’ve been no-tilling on our soils since I started farming,” he notes. “We drill most of our soybeans, especially on rolling ground. We added a split-row planter in 2017 and use it primarily on soybean test plots.
“A lot of what we do involves test plots so we can learn about the products we are selling to customers. Some of them are side-by-side comparison plots. We want to know how they perform, and we want to learn how to best manage hybrids and varieties.”
Since their ground is rolling and variable, they also grid soil sample and apply fertilizer using variable-rate technology.
“We’re working with cover crops to see where they fit,” Farris says. “We have to do whatever we can to control soil erosion and maintain water quality.”
Jim Farris at a glance
Location: Vincennes, Knox County
Education: Purdue University
Crops: Corn, soybeans, wheat and double-crop soybeans
Special enterprise: Large Pioneer seed dealership that Farris developed over past decade and operates from farm; dealership was originally started by his uncle, Dale Dellinger
Employees: Jacob Farris, son
Tillage methods: Crops have been no-tilled since 1984, when Farris returned from Purdue; uses cover crops as much as possible
Children: Jacob Farris, farms full time and is part of seed business; Kyle Farris, in law school at Valparaiso University; Holly Farris, first-grade teacher in Washington, Ind.
Leadership roles: Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors vice chairman; Knox County Extension board; Knox County Purdue Ag Alumni treasurer for 30 years; Purdue Ag Alumni state board for six years, retired; helped establish Bill Treese Scholarship for students attending Vincennes University and transferring to Purdue through Ag Alumni; junior varsity basketball coach for South Knox High School; Community United Methodist Church
Nominator: Wally Linneweber, Vincennes
Notable: Farris’ brother-in-law and good friend Larry Holscher was named a Master Farmer in 2017; their wives, Karen Farris and Kathy Holscher, are sisters