Ashley and Dustin Morris understand how crucial farming is to their parish, their state and their country.
They also know it’s not enough for today’s farming family to work hard and bring in a crop. The modern farmer has to be a leader and a spokesman for agriculture. That’s why the couple agreed to apply for Farm Bureau’s 2015 Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award, given annually to the most outstanding young farm couple in the state. Because Ashley and Dustin Morris are such great representatives of Louisiana’s farming community, they were selected as the state’s best young farmers.
“It was a huge honor to win this,” Dustin said. “There are a lot of great young farmers in this state and to be considered one of the better ones is a huge honor.”
The Morris family was one of 14 entries in the annual contest and one of three finalists who were recognized at the awards presentation during the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation’s 93rd Annual Meeting at the New Orleans Marriott.
The top prize was a $40,000 credit towards the Chevrolet or GMC vehicle of their choice, compliments of Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company, $1,500 worth of equipment rental from H&E Equipment Services and a $500 Visa gift card, courtesy of Conquest Completion Services. The couple also won an all-expense paid trip to Orlando, Florida to compete for the national title at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention, Jan. 10-13, 2016.
The application process is detailed, said Carey Martin, LFBF public relations director. Every parish Farm Bureau office may have one entry into the state-wide competition but the contest is designed to let the cream rise to the top.
“We’d love to have a nominee from every parish for consideration,” Martin said. “The purpose of the competition is to identify, recognize and encourage young people in agriculture. The written application is not just a form they fill out with their name, addresses and phone number. It’s an in-depth process that requires good presentation, articulate expression of ideas and quantitative agricultural analysis of their farming operations. Of course, we think the prize of a brand new truck is plenty of incentive for anyone to consider the competition.”
Dustin, 32, earned a degree in agricultural engineering from Mississippi State University. Ashley is a stay-at-home mother providing care for their three children, Addison, 7, Kimber, 5, and Audrey, 2. When the time is right, Ashley may return to the law profession.
Raising three children in any profession is trying but the Morris’s have the division of labor adjusted to their particular needs.
“Being married to a farmer is demanding,” Ashley said. “He works long hours most of the time so that puts pressure on me to be the parent at home. With the way the weather and the markets go, it’s important for me to be supportive. What I bring to the farm is that love and support. Whatever he needs, I can do.”
Dustin, a fourth generation farmer, knew at an early age exactly what he wanted to do: he wanted to farm.
“I’ve known since I was a small child that this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “My grandfather owned a gin and I just loved to go with him and ride on the cotton picker, ride in the truck pulling the cotton picker, going to the gin, being with my dad when we were all one big farm together. That was just a passion to go and see everything that was going on. Something I’ve always loved to do was raise a crop.
“I had my first crop when I was 18. I did the work when I was in school. I was very small, a couple hundred acres. I was there in the summer, which is the majority of raising a crop. I was home every weekend while we were planting and springing pipe. I’d be there through the peak irrigation season in the summer. I didn’t have much while I was in college; just enough to keep me going.
“Just enough to keep me going” has turned into a 2,500 acre corn and soybean operation complete with all the joy and adversity that farmers have come to expect.
“Tractors go down, it’s hot,” Dustin said. “Adverse conditions pop up; the weather, too much rain; things that every farmer faces. You can get overwhelmed because you feel like the world is crashing in on you and you forget that the world is still moving.
“But farmers adapt well. We have to. There’s no ‘off’ button. You don’t get to quit. You just get up and do it again and you fight until you overcome it.”
After 12 years of marriage, Ashley has become skilled at recognizing when Dustin is “having one of those days.”
“I’ll know by the tone of his voice,” she said. “I hardly ever call him at work because I know he’s busy. If he has time, he’ll call. When he hasn’t called all day, he’ll just text and say he’ll be home at 9. I’ll have dinner ready and we’ll talk surface talk. We’ll talk about TV shows, the kids, something easy. We won’t discuss work when it’s one of those days.”
Nothing would please the Morris’s more than for their children to find their way in agriculture.
“I think they could advance agriculture in any profession they choose,” Ashley said. “As an attorney, I’m able to do that, but just by taking them to the farm when he’s planting and they get a chance to see that. They get excited to see the growth.
“We’re introducing it to them and giving them the knowledge to tell their friends who may not know anything about farming. Showing them that is a great way to cultivate them. Farming will always been in their spirit and will bring them back home when they think about it.”
Dustin said at five years old, his son Kimber is a little too young now to understand things like harvest time.
“Every day he asks me, ‘Daddy, when can we ride in the combine again?” Dustin said with a laugh. “I hear it every day, but he doesn’t understand that the corn is not ready and it’s not going to be ready for a little while. He wants to ride the combine every day.”
Dustin understands completely.
“I’m 32 and every day since I was 14 I’ve been asking the same thing,” he said. “When are we going to ride the combine?”
The Morris’s have set their course and are determined to farm into a ripe old age. There’s no crystal ball but they think things will be good.
“I personally think the future is bright for farming in the long run,” Dustin said. “We all hear the same thing: world population means more people. We’re not getting more land, so we’ve got to be more productive on the acres that we have with the technology that we have."
“Today, things are progressing very rapidly,” he added. “We’ve seen things happen fast. I have a positive outlook for farming in the future. We have a lot of hurdles to overcome too with regulations and urban sprawl. There’s good and bad associated with urban sprawl. We have to learn to get along with the general public and convince them what we’re doing is a good thing and providing them with a safe food supply.”