Agriculture in Robertson County: Ripe for Growth

Farmer shares why it's time to get growing as an "agripreneur" in Tennessee.

By
Kevin Litwin
On Thursday, May 13, 2021 - 14:06
Robertson County, Tennessee

Agriculture in Robertson County is “much more than just cows and plows” – or so says Willis Jepson, a company partner at Jepson Family Farms in Orlinda, TN.

Robertson County has 1,200 farms that cover more than 200,000 acres, including Jepson Farms, which spans an impressive 6,000 acres.

“My family has farmed this area since 1906, so I’m a seventh-generation farmer and have two young sons who make the eighth generation,” Jepson says. “We grow corn, wheat, soybeans, dark tobacco, honey and watermelons, and (we)  experienced a good total crop in 2020.”

The farm has 10 full-time workers – a number that grows to 80 during harvest – and Jepson says agriculture supports many jobs in Robertson County.

“There are a lot of ways people can be involved in agriculture other than planting a crop,” he says. “Someone at a restaurant or working at a grocery store – those are all extensions of what we’re doing on the farm.”

Food, Fiber and Fuel

Jepson says farming is a lifetime education, and he learns something new every crop season.

“The unique thing about Robertson County is that there are many different types of farms, and many smart people here are doing a lot of interesting things with regard to food, fiber and fuel,” he says. “The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has a Highland Rim AgResearch and Education Center that is conducting research right at our backdoor to help farmers become better and more efficient producers.”

The Highland Rim center in Springfield, TN has been a key location for developing genetic improvements in soybeans as well as finding  advanced methods for curing dark tobacco.

“I talk with the AgResearch Center agents quite a bit because I’m always embracing new topsoil health methods and clean water technologies for growing my crops,” Jepson says. “I even have people doing consulting work for us, which is another part of the ag industry that people might not know about.”

Jepson adds that technology is also moving some food production indoors, where entrepreneurs grow crops hydroponically. Meanwhile, the farm-to-table movement is creating even more opportunities for locally oriented farms.

“Farmers markets are really popular now. Know your farmer, know your food,” he says. “In the future, there are going to be opportunities for ‘agripreneurs.’ There’s room for people to enter agriculture, but it’s a lot of work.”

Robertson County, Tennessee
Nathan Lambrecht

Ready to Farm? 5 Things to Know

Jepson offers these five pieces of advice to those looking to enter the agriculture industry in Robertson County:

1. Join the 4-H: Robertson County has a great 4-H/Youth Development Program aligned with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Call Timmy Mann, an extension agent, at 615-384-7936 for more information.

2. Get thinking:  Agriculture in Robertson County is a vibrant industry with several innovations, and there are many opportunities for young entrepreneurs to develop products, methods and ideas.

3. Pick the right location: If you want to help change the world, agriculture in Robertson County has the power to help you do it, with continuing advancements in food, fiber and fuel technologies.

4. Pursue an education: Get a degree in agriculture at the University of Tennessee (which is where Jepson graduated in 1999). At the university, you can study food & agricultural business, environmental economics, aquaculture, bioenergy, food processing, climate-smart agriculture and food genetics, just to name a few programs.

5. Up your tech skills: Modern farming in Robertson County is getting more technological, and many young people can enjoy working with software, sensors, mobile apps, web-based apps and much more to help advance the industry.

Thinking about planting roots in Robertson County? Check out the new edition of Experience Robertson County.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.