Delta Farmland: A Longstanding Family Tradition

by Josh Miller
Yazoo City

I am the owner operator of Little Onward Plantation.  The farm consists of 3150 acres located in Sharkey, Warren, and Madison Counties.  Cotton, peanuts, and soybeans are the three main crops that the farm produces.  My wife Melanie and I have two boys, Reed (12) and Jack (10).  Both boys love going to the farm, especially our home place in Onward, MS located in the MS Delta.  This is where Teddy Roosevelt had his bear hunt in 1902 at nearby Smeede’s Plantation.  The Teddy Bear was created from this hunt.

 

Our family started farming in the early 1890’s, when my great grandfather, Henry Kline, came from Lithuania to America.  He had a cousin that had already come from Europe, and he joined him a few years later.  When he arrived the MS Delta was still a wilderness, with much of the land still in trees and swamps.  Henry opened Kline’s Mercantile Co. and began farming.   He and my grandfather farmed together until my grandfather retired in 1970.  They farmed up to 5,000 acres from the early 1900’s until my grandfather’s retirement. My grandfather Micky Kline took our family’s row crop operation from mules to mechanized farming.  Our family always considered our home place at Onward to be a very special place.  We have now owned Onward Plantation for roughly 125 years. Onward is the reason I decided to farm.

 

My mother and uncle now own Onward Plantation.  They manage the land and timber on the farm.  We skipped a generation of actually farming the land.  My uncle works for Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA and my mother who still lives in Sharkey County had no desire to farm.  After college at The University of Alabama, it took me almost ten years to get my chance to farm.  Since we had skipped a generation, it wasn’t easy getting into farming.  I worked in the aquaculture industry for most of this time.  During this time, I had a very good mentor, Harry Simmons at Simmons Catfish.  He showed me how to run the business and marketing side of an agribusiness.  He used to say it is the details that makes or breaks that business, and I have never forgotten it.

 

Once I was able to start, it was like a dream come true.  It is very satisfying lifestyle for me.  My favorite time on the farm is planting season.  Most farmers say they like harvest.  Don’t get me wrong I like harvest, but  I love spring.  It is always the excitement of what the year might bring.

 

In 2005 I started Delta Peanut, which was the first peanut buying point in Mississippi in over 20 years.  It stayed open until the 2010, when Birdsong Peanuts opened in NE Mississippi.  I was able to sell my equipment to Birdsong and focus solely on our row crop operation.

 

Over the last ten years, I have land formed about eighty percent of our family farm.  This will be very beneficial to me and my family over the upcoming years when farmers must optimize their yield potentials.  Our farm also manages water during the winter on about 300 acres of flooded fields and flooded timber for wintering wildlife.  Each year we leave standing crops and waster grain for the migrating waterfowl.  I am very proud of the wildlife conservation program that we have implemented into our farming activities.

 

Even if my boys decide not to farm, it is my hope that they will carry on the tradition of five generations owning land in the Delta.  My grandfather once told me as long as you own land, you are rich.  Now that I think back, I see he wasn’t talking about money, but the enjoyment of having a place to go anytime you want.  Onward Plantation has been a proud part of our family’s history.  I pray that it stays this way for many more generations, so that it will continue to be an enjoyment for my family.