For so long, she dreamed of life away from the farm — where under the bright lights of a big city an accounting and law degree could catapult her to a high-salaried position with a Fortune 500 company.
But for Jennifer James, that dream changed during her sophomore year at the University of Arkansas when, one day, she had an epiphany of sorts that abruptly redirected her dreams back to the star-filled skies over the fertile family farmlands of Newport, Ark.
“I walked into class, looked around the huge room filled with students, and I missed the rural area where I was raised,” she says. “I guess I realized my family, and the family farm, meant much more to me than I had originally thought.”
Not long after that day, she phoned her father, Marvin Hare, and told him she was changing her major to agricultural business, that she wanted to return home, work with him and her brother, and farm.
“I’m sure she could feel through the phone the smile that was on my face,” her father says. “Our farming operation had somehow survived the difficulties of the 1980s, and we had just started to expand a little, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for her to take on the new responsibilities we were beginning to face.”
When home from college between her sophomore and junior years, James worked as an intern for Lawhon Farm Services at McCrory, Ark. “She put on her hip boots every day that summer, learning about scouting and consulting,” her father says. “Then, after earning her Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural business, she came home, put her boots on, and started scouting and consulting for us. During those years, she learned the production side of agriculture by actually doing it. I told myself if she could survive mosquito-infested rice fields in the summer heat, I might have myself a winner!”
LAND, WATER STEWARDSHIP
Today, H & J Land Company is a 6,000-acre row crop operation, grounded in the farming principles and values that have sustained it for over 100 years. The family’s dedication to land stewardship and water conservation has been recognized for decades by their farm neighbors and agricultural organizations across the Mid-South.
Many of their production fields have been improved, thanks to an OptiSurface Designer program that creates multiple option solutions to field drainage problems, conserves topsoil, and is less expensive per acre than precision leveling. The program has allowed them to water straight down rows with increased efficiency.
They switched from levee flood irrigation of soybeans and corn to irrigating with polypipe, utilizing the Pipe Planner program for calculating hole sizes. “Changing over from pulling levees to getting the flexible pipe laid out, and wrapping it all back in, was a great deal of work,” James says. “And it took some convincing — but once we all saw the many benefits the system delivered, it was worth it.”
RECOGNITION, LEADERSHIP, ECONOMICS
Marvin Hare has 51 production seasons under his belt. He has been involved with state and national agriculture organizations for many years, was recently named Arkansas Rice Council Conservation Champion, and is proud to see his daughter paving her own path down a similarly impressive road.
A fourth generation farmer, James was honored in 2017 with the Field to Market Farmer of the Year Award for her outstanding conservation and sustainability leadership efforts. Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture is a diverse initiative, working to join producers, agribusinesses, food companies, and conservation organizations with collaborative goals ingrained in conservation and sustainability. “I was surprised, but extremely honored to receive the award,” she says.
Rod Snyder, president of Field to Market, says, “Jennifer’s pledge to sustainable farming, and her willingness to devote time to industry leadership organizations, underscores her commitment to the conservation of natural resources, and to practices that enhance wildlife habitat, while protecting our earth’s soil, water, and air quality.”
Anyone still farming today has to be doing so sustainably, James says — especially with the thin margins all row crop farmers are facing with current commodity prices. She and her husband, Greg, who joined the operation in 2004 and is now heavily involved in day-to-day farm activities, and her father, often meet to discuss crop mixes, budgets, and variety selection.
“I handle 90 percent of the accounting and marketing responsibilities, anything related to crop insurance, and act as our liaison to FSA,” says James.
FIELD TO MARKET CALCULATOR
In marketing their commodities, they take advantage of options, futures, hedging, and other tools to position themselves for the best possible return on investment. “We also grow specialty products to add value and garner premiums,” she says.
For the last eight years, she has been working with the Field to Market calculator, which became operational for rice in the last year or so. Through a collaborative project with Syngenta, Riceland Foods, and Kellogg, she is working to broaden use of the calculator by reducing the time a producer must dedicate to data entry.
Field to Market has a licensing program for the calculator’s algorithms. “Other companies can license them, incorporate them into proprietary software programs farmers may be already using, and eliminate the need for double entry,” says James.
At times, it seems, there aren’t not enough hours in her day. She is currently the sustainability chairman for USA Rice, vice chairman of the Arkansas Rice Farmer’s Board, and chairman of the North Central Riceland Food Drier Board. She says she feels the need to give back to the industry that has supported her family for generations. “I learn so much being a part of these boards, compared to the time I give to participate.”
She meets twice each year with a peer group of women farmers from across the country. The group has a full disclosure attitude, she says, and members talk about everything from human resource management on the farm to financials. “It’s a group that maintains a no-holds-barred agreement on topics,” she says.
As she continues her industry leadership roles, her management role on the farm, and her role as a mother to her 17-year-old son, Dylan, she manages to stay grounded in the rural lifestyle to which she chose to return that day in the University of Arkansas classroom — her family and the family farm.