Cattle producer William Morris has been recognized as the 2021 Hancock County Conservation District Cooperator of the Year.
Morris, a retired chemistry and biology teacher, runs a 35-head herd of Angus, Salers, Hereford cross and Limousin breeds on farms along Bates Hollow Road and State Route 144 in Reynolds Station.
“I’ve been involved in farming all of my life,” Morris said. “I don’t remember a time I wasn’t on a farm. We raised tobacco for a long time, but when the poundage was cut down, we had to be adaptable to new things. Farming is a tough business; if I don’t watch what I spend and how I manage my farms, I’m out of farming pretty fast.”
Gary Baker, a conservation technician with the district, said Morris was chosen for the award by the Board of Commissioners for his strong commitment to conservation in his farming enterprise.
“William has been active in sound conservation practices for years,” Baker said. “It is always good to recognize people who have done a great job. William has taken advantage of the assistance the district can give to our producers, especially in our cost-sharing programs, which aim to help farming enterprises increase their net profit.”
Morris has utilized the County Agriculture Investment Program (CAIP) to great success. CAIP assists landowners with a 50-percent cost share on projects up to a certain threshold. Baker said Morris has used the program to grow his herd, address erosion issues on his land, as well purchasing equipment, and installing gravel and mud cloth to reduce standing water and manure in high-traffic areas.
“The district has been a great resource for me,” Morris said. “They are always ready to help, and do a great job communicating with farmers about upcoming programs, best practices, and application deadlines. The district is a big part of my success.”
Morris said he used to raise primarily Hereford cattle, but through the years has moved more to Angus and Angus-cross cattle as the market for “certified Angus beef” has grown. “You’ve got to go where the money’s going to come from,” Morris said.
Baker said marketing has been behind the growth of restaurants and meat markets promoting “USDA-approved Angus.” He said there’s hardly a way to tell a difference in the taste of the meat from one breed to another.
“Black cows seems to sell better at market, too,” Morris said. “It’s what folks want to bring into their herd. Through CAIP, I was able to bring registered Angus bulls in and bring up my herd genetics.”
Among his herd, Morris currently has 20 cows, seven weaning calves, six newborns, and a bull. Future plans include cross breeding to produce “baldies,” which is a black animal with a white face. “Those cattle are really popular right now. I can’t explain exactly why, it’s just the way the market has gone,” he said.
Morris is very attentive to his pastures and hay-producing fields, utilizing lime to control pH levels, as well fertilizing his fescue, clover and orchard grass fields with 19-19-19 fertilizer. He said he supplements his feeding programs with pellet feed, and in the winter feeds hay that he cuts twice a year.
“I had to cut back this year from the 200 pounds of fertilizer per acre that I usually put down,” Morris said. “Prices have gone much higher. Fertilizer is $1,000 a ton this year, when 10 years ago it was $200 a ton. The price of everything is going up, especially in farming. I’ve got to be creative in how I keep my profits in my calves.”
Baker said farmers all across the nation are seeing prices “through the roof,” which minimizes opportunities to see a profit from their labors, even when using best practices.
“Adjusting the farm budget is a big challenge in the current economy,” Baker said. “Your plans for your farming enterprise is going to be tougher to build out this year, but there are some areas where you can’t cut back on expenses.”
Just as he keeps an eyes on potential erosion problems on his farms, Morris also keep a close eye on his annual expenses to run the operation. Expenditures are tracked through Quicken software, providing detailed reports to Morris on every dollar spent not only on the farm, but at home.
“I have to be open to new things and be ready to adjust,” he said. “If you don’t’ change, you will go extinct. Farming has as many different philosophies as there are people doing it. I am thankful that I learned on the farm about work ethic, and managing how to do things in the most responsible way.”
By C. Josh Givens