Just a few miles south of the Tennessee state line is the small, rural town of Elkmont, home to Limestone County native Stan Usery. Though some of his peers fled to bigger cities after graduation, Usery planted his roots – and heart – firmly on the farm.
“I always knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture,” said Usery who, alongside wife Kayla and daughter Jessa, is the Alabama Farmers Federation Outstanding Young Farm Family in the Soybean Division. “I wanted to start farming full time as soon as I graduated high school, but my parents were adamant about me going to college. Looking back, I’m glad I went [to Auburn] because it gave me time to mature, ground myself and eventually become a smarter farmer.”
Usery, 32, has farmed in some capacity since he was 15, but it wasn’t until he moved home from Auburn in 2005 that he began his own operation.
Today, he farms around 700 acres, including 400 acres of winter wheat, 450 acres of soybeans, a few hundred acres of cotton and about 50 acres of corn. He also has nine 40-foot by 400-foot broiler houses, which he says work well with row crop acreage.
“Using organic fertilizer from our broiler houses allows me to know exactly what I’m putting on our crops,” the State Young Farmers Committee member said. “Plus, it helps us be more diversified.”
Usery admits examining specific details of his soil and crop conditions is a passion, and he has a genuine interest in plant parasitic nematode research and testing. His key agricultural focus, however, is conservation.
“Our farm is strictly no-till, and we plan to keep it that way,” he said. “It’s not just about being no-till; it’s a long-term commitment. Utilizing a lot of high-residue rotations is a sustainable system that allows me to build soil health. To be honest, I’m as proud of my residue as I am the pretty crop on top of the soil. Being able to pull up a set of roots and see a couple earthworms and a long, straight taprootâ€¦ maybe it’s part of my agronomy background, but that image is one of my favorite things about working the land.”
Being a good steward of the farm’s current acreage is also a measure of sustainability, Usery said.
“I’m pretty established now, but I know I need to continue to look ahead,” he said. “Being a young farmer and trying to grow is a challenge even under the best of circumstances. I could go out and purchase land here and there, but I want to expand in a responsible way. To remain successful, we have to love what we do, but we also have to invest time and resources in a smart way.”
Part of Usery’s interest in securing a solid farming future is his family. Both he and Kayla, a high school math teacher, agree being raised on a farm was a blessing, and it’s a tradition they’re delighted to carry on for their daughter.
“Farming instills a certain work ethic and sense of independence,” Kayla said. “We’re proud we can bring up Jessa on the farm, where she can see the rewards of hard work each day.”