Hector Crèvecoeur in one of his essays titled “Letters From an American Farmer” (1782) noted that “Men are like plants; the goodness and flavor of the fruit proceeds from the peculiar soil and exposition in which they grow.” In this state, we have a distinct area that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers that we call the Mississippi Delta. This area, known for its rich soil and cultural heritage, has a unique quality that draws people from all over the world to visit. While its challenges are many, it also is an area of great opportunity. It is at the heart of Mississippi’s agricultural economy, which remains the number one industry in the state constituting 29 percent of the workforce and is a $6.3-billion industry. Mississippi is the home to over 42,000 farms on 11 million acres. While much has changed in this state and in the agricultural business, there is still a vital role for agriculture and related businesses.
In 1940, M.G. Kains in his handbook for small farm management, “Five Acres and Independence,” aptly observed that “In farming, as in every other enterprises, success depends primarily upon the man (or woman) who undertakes it. Not everybody who starts will succeed.” Kains went on to describe the criteria for success including a natural liking for your business, attention to detail and enthusiasm for your work. In all business enterprises, but in particular farming, there are many things that are simply out of your control. Disease, pestilence, weather and fluctuating prices are but a few of the factors that can make or break a farmer’s business.
Wheeler Timbs was originally a farmer in Moorhead, Miss., (pop. 2,573), and in 1979, he decided to use his farming knowledge to start Indianola Pecan House Inc. which initially sold “in shell” pecans. His son, Tim Timbs, grew up in the family business, and after graduating from Mississippi State in 1984, he joined the company full time. The company now manufactures a full line of confectionary products and gifts and sells them through its four retail stores, an online store and its mail order catalogs. The company has sold its delicacies to customers in all 50 states and internationally. IPH also has license agreements for specialty products with Jack Daniel’s and Mossy Oak. In peak season, the company employees over 125 people around the state. Tim Timbs noted that “Our success over the years has been due to our great employees, support of the local community, and sheer perseverance.” Timbs described a lesson for all entrepreneurs, “No matter how much contingency planning you do, you can never anticipate everything. You have to be willing to face reality when it comes and make the best of it.”
In speaking with Tim, it struck me that the grit and determination that his family has exhibited in growing this business through challenging times probably has roots in the tradition of farming in his family and the Delta. Interestingly, Timbs also shared that while prices for pecans used to fluctuate year to year, they have been on a steady increase since China has started to become a major purchaser of pecan crops. This year, Chinese businesses will probably buy up over 25 percent of the best pecan crops in the United States. Through the economic downturn, Timbs has managed his costs, and as he describes, “We are still here!” I have no doubt that the resourcefulness and the perseverance of the Timbs family will serve them well as they continue to grow their enterprise.
While they don’t always make front page business news, there are many thriving businesses in the Delta just like Indianola Pecan House. I hope that the “peculiar soil” of the Mississippi Delta will continue to produce innovative entrepreneurs like the Timbs family who help break the negative economic cycles and move this region and the state to achieving its full potential.
Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at email@example.com.