COFFEEVILLE — Coley Little Bailey Jr. was shocked when he found out he had won the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award (YFRAA), and even more so when he found out he had taken third place in the national competition.
“We felt we were outclassed and didn’t have a shot,” said Bailey, a 29-year-old Yalobusha County cotton farmer. “It was a shock to us when they called our name out for the win.”
It was not a shock, however, to Steve Cummings, Bailey’s county extension agent, nor was it a shock to David Waide, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.
“I can’t say enough about Coley and his wife, Jody,” Cummings said. “He’s as good a farmer as I’ve seen. He’s always on the cutting edge of trying new things to cut costs and make farming more economical.”
Waide is ecstatic the Baileys are actively pursuing a career in agriculture.
“Coley and Jody do a great job in a difficult arena,” he said. “They have high yields and maintain profitability at a time when seasoned producers are not able to maintain that same profitability.”
Waide said there were several reasons Bailey was selected as the state winner by the competition’s independent panel of judges.
“One thing is they redesign equipment specifically for their operation,” Waide said. “They have custom-made pieces of equipment they’ve either altered or built from scratch.”
Bailey also uses his Super Cub airplane and global positioning technology to monitor his crops. And, Waide added, he knows about soil conservation. But what has impressed Waide about the Baileys is their attitude.
“They’re hard workers,” he said. “They don’t mind rolling up their sleeves, so to speak, and doing what needs to be done in a very timely fashion.”
Bailey, who is one of about 10 row crop farmers under 50 in Yalobusha County, is the third winner of the YFRAA to come out of Yalobusha County since 1995. Cummings said this fact speaks of the county’s secret: “We have the best farmers.”
“This is Coley’s second try,” Cummings said. “He was right out of college on his first try. He did well then but needed a little more farming experience to be at the top.”
A 1994 graduate of Mississippi State University, Bailey began farming right out of college. He bought into his family’s partnership in 1995 and in 1996 bought his grandfather’s share of the farm.
He now owns 24% of the family farm — about 2,400 acres in Yalobusha and Grenada counties. He credits his family with his success.
“A lot of it would be hard if my family wasn’t already in farming, to have that door for me to come in,” Bailey said.
Since he began farming, Bailey has become involved with his county Farm Service Agency committee, which has kept him informed on available programs. He has also offered some of his land to the MSU Extension Service for test plots.
For winning the state YFRAA, Bailey won a 2002 Dodge Quad Cab four-wheel drive diesel truck, $500 cash, a trip to Reno for the national competition, $1,800 toward the purchase of a new computer, 100 hours use of a Caterpillar backhoe or bulldozer and a one-year position on the state’s Young Farmer and Rancher Committee. At the national level he won a D29 compact tractor from Case IH. The total package is worth about $65,000.
“We’re just really honored to get the award and represent Farm Bureau,” Jody Bailey said.
Waide said the couple represents the philosophy of Farm Bureau.
“Coley and Jody are outstanding young people who have good Christian qualities and they’re family value oriented and are very deserving of receiving the achievement award,” Waide said.
The Baileys live in Coffeeville with their 15-month-old daughter, Mackenzie.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org.