Next Generation Farmers

Next Generation Farmers

By Rita Mitchell

Each time Eric Maupin looks out over a green Dyer County field and sees his wife, Jo Ann, coming down the road bringing lunch or recalls that one of his toddler Cara’s first words was tractor, his decision to return to his family farm is reinforced.

The truth is, in spirit, he never really left. Eric planned to get an agriculture business degree at UT Martin and finish with an agricultural law degree at UT Knoxville. At the time, he wasn’t sure the opportunity to return to the family farm would present itself, “but I still had that desire . . . to help farmers.” As it turned out, he completed an agriculture internship abroad and added a communications minor, graduating from UT Martin in 1997.

After he graduated, Eric went to work as the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s first international agricultural marketing coordinator. “My job was to help agricultural companies . . . that felt like they could move their product to an international market,” he says. Focusing on smaller companies throughout the state, he guided them through every facet, from marketing and product regulations to logistics. “I thoroughly enjoyed my job and loved the people I worked with. I stayed overseas a lot . . . months at a time.”

But then his father, Larry, decided he wanted to semiretire after 35 years of farming in Dyer County. The land wasn’t just any piece of ground: Larry Maupin was the third generation of his family to farm it since his grandfather bought it in 1938. The Maupin family had just about everything—chickens, cattle and a farrow-to-finish hog operation, and row crops. Knowing the income from the farm probably would support just one family, Eric and his brother, Stefan, agreed that Eric would be the one to buy out their parents while Stefan remained in his job as Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation associate director of public affairs.

So in 2000, Eric developed a transition plan. He credits the previous generations of his family with laying the groundwork to make his farming career possible. “I could not do what I do without my parents,” he says. “We’re talking three generations that had been here before me to build what we have to this day.”

Now, Eric and Jo Ann (Martin ’04) grow corn, soybeans, and wheat on more than 2,000 acres of land they own and rent. They have commercial beef cattle and produce all the hay the cattle need. They also have a seed sales business and are partners in a business washing livestock trucks.

Jo Ann, who grew up on a dairy farm, provides the bookkeeping services for all the family businesses. They have one full-time employee, Andy Butler, and hire seasonal employees as needed. Eric’s mother, Joan, continues to help.

In 2009, Eric and Jo Ann were named Tennessee Farm Bureau Tennessee Young Farmers of the Year, advancing to the national competition, where they were runners-up. They won the use of a tractor for a year, as well as other equipment and prizes in the contests. Eric credits technology with enabling farmers to be continually more productive. “In the next 40 years, it is predicted the American farmer will have to produce the same amount of food that has been produced since the conception of farming,” he says. Faith is another necessary item in the farmer’s toolbox, says Eric. “Anytime you have to deal with Mother Nature, there are going to be instances when you go, ‘Why did I do this?’?”

Eric’s also committed to being a good steward of the environment. “One of the most important things we can do as agriculturists is preserve the land for the next generation,” he says.

In the end, Eric says he will think he made the right decision to return to farming “if I am able to provide for my family—not everything that they want, but everything that they need—and if I have instilled in my children a good work ethic so they can be productive citizens. Then I’ll think we’ve done a good job.”