Andy Milstead always knew he wanted to be a farmer, the same as his father and grandfather had been here in the hills of Tippah County, Miss., not that far from the Tennessee state line.

“But,” he says laughingly, “my mother wasn’t too happy about my career choice. Dad died in 1999, and Mother thought I ought to put my ag econ degree to work and get a job with a company that had a good retirement program.

“So, after I graduated from Mississippi State University in 2002, I went to work for a big co-op in another state — and it took just two days for me to know that kind of life wasn’t for me. I didn’t have the slightest doubt about what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I knew the farm was where I wanted to be.”

He came back to the family’s home place outside the town of Walnut, rented a small amount of acreage, and has gradually expanded his row crop/cattle backgrounding/trucking operation.

“I’ve been fortunate,” he says. “Things have just fallen into place, and the operation has grown every year. I’ve been able to pick up additional land almost every year, and am now at a size that I’m comfortable with.”

Ten years later, he says, “I haven’t regretted one minute of it. I’ve been blessed to have been able to grow, to add a full-time employee, and to be making a living in the community where I grew up. Even my mother now accepts that farming is what I was meant to do and that I can put my degree to work in running an efficient operation and using effective marketing tools.

 “Ben Adams came to work with me four years ago part-time, and as business picked up he was able to join me full-time. He’s been a real asset to the operation.”

Now, Milstead is farming 750 acres of row crops and backgrounding 800 head of cattle annually. From 2004 to 2006, he also ran a small livestock feed business, “but as the farm needed more of my time, I decided to get out of that. We’ve also done some custom harvesting and livestock hauling — I recently bought a truck/trailer rig for that.”

Altogether, he farms about 60 different fields, but all are within a 7- or 8-mile radius, “so I don’t have to do all that much moving of equipment.” The largest field is 65 acres, the smallest 1 acre.

“I’ve grown corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton,” Milstead says. “My grandfather grew cotton, and my father last had cotton in 1981. From the time I started farming on my own, I wanted to grow cotton. Each year, I’d say I was going to do it, but something would happen and I’d put it off.

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“Starting in the fall of 2010 everything just fell into place — the weather was good and we were able to get some land bedded up. The price of cotton moved up and in 2011 I planted my first cotton crop. The weather was great, and even with one field that didn’t do well, I wound up with an 830 lb. average and was able to sell at a very profitable price. I planted Phytogen 375, which performed really well. With the high corn and soybean prices in 2012, I didn’t plant any cotton, but I will have some this year.”

His cotton is ginned at Farmers Gin at Ashland, Miss., and he sells it through Staplcotn. Most of his grain goes to ADM at Memphis.