By Avery Davidson and Kristen Oaks-White
NASHVILLE, TN — Russell and Amelia Kent of East Feliciana Parish are the 2018 American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award Winners. They are the winners of a new Ford truck, courtesy of Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance, and will also receive paid registration to the AFBF YF&R Leadership Conference in Reno, Nevada, Feb. 16-19.
“I’m still in shock,” Amelia Kent said shortly after winning the award, “It’s humbling and hasn’t completely sunk in yet.”
The Kents raise cattle and custom cut hay in East Feliciana and Tangipahoa Parishes. In those lush pastures and rolling hills, cows happily graze where the green grass grows. The Kents have grown more than cattle here, though. They've raised a business which has earned them the 2017 Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award during the 95th Annual Convention of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation in summer of 2017 after several unsuccessful attempts.
"It feels great to be selected for this honor, amongst peers who are great farmers and great advocates across the state," said Amelia Kent. "It's a farm that we started on our own and built into a family operation."
Russell echoed that sentiment. "It's always a good feeling to be complimented and win an award. If anyone else had won, we would all be happy for each other because we're all friends," he said.
Part of the growth of the Kent's farm has been to expand their cow-calf operation from exclusively selling cattle to feedlots into one that includes custom, grass-fed beef.
"Even though the custom cutting is only five percent of our business, it is a lot more work than that. It's a growing part of our operation that has not only gotten us this award, but will help us grow in the future."
The Kents run nearly 400 head of commercial cattle and said whether it's for feedlots or for their custom operations, good beef starts with good grass.
“Without the grass they don’t grow, they are not healthy, they’re not marbling, they’re not gaining weight," Russell Kent said. "Our income is off of weight. So, instead of like a corn farmer, their income is off bushels per acre. We sell it by the pound, so we’re taking the grass and converting it into meat, which is how we get paid.“
“We frame our entire crop year around grass," Amelia added. "When we live in a setting with an 11.5-month growing season, we care about grass. We plant rye grass proactively in September and October, with hopes of grazing it as early as Thanksgiving. We also grow perennial peanut hay, which is the closest thing to alfalfa that we can grow. We’re able in the leanest part of the grass year to still keep high quality forage in front of these animals.”
In the last year, the Kents have shifted their focus to producing more retail cuts and custom grass-fed beef.
"We’ve pretty much doubled how much we’ve sold from last year to this year," Russell said. "It’s just word of mouth. We harvest a calf and sell it out of the freezer. People like it, come back and want a whole calf. Our volume really has tripled over the last few months.”
The Kents recognized the growing demand for grass-fed beef and as such, began adding that part of their operation to diversify.
“It’s always good to diversify even if it’s a different crop," he said. "Most farmers grow a combination of soybeans, corn, wheat, sugarcane and cotton. It’s not that much different from what we’re doing.”
Amelia said much like all of farming, it's taken a lot of time and a lot of patience.
“It’s a little bit more time involved in terms of selling calves at the yearling age, we’re keeping them a little bit longer," she said. "It’s fitting into our existent management scheme, so it’s not that much different.”
While they still sell most of their calves in contract loads to feed lots out West, Amelia says the grass-fed niche opened the gate to direct consumer sales.
“I always say if the cow-calf cycle is A through Z, with Z being the beef on the plate and the consumer, we rarely get to see that step," Amelia said. "With this method, we do, which has been very rewarding."
For the Kents, the real rewards remain in the relationships with their customers.
“We love what we do," Amelia said. "But to hear someone take our end product home and thank us not only in texts, but thank you cards for a product that they can have full faith in, it reiterates why we do what we do.”
In the field and in the office, the Kents have married their strengths to make their operation a success, crediting, of course, their marriage.
“She is very good at talking to people" Russell said. "I can produce it, and Amelia is better at selling it and marketing it. I can talk it, but I’m a terrible salesperson.”
“We rely on each other," Amelia said with a laugh. "We complement each other. I don’t think we would be able to have the farm that we have without the partnership that we have.”
The Kents qualified to compete on the national level after winning the Louisiana Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award in June 2017. For winning that competition, Russell and Amelia received $35,000 toward the purchase of a Ford truck, along with other prizes.