It’s 6:30 in the morning and Jason Scruggs is heading to work. He makes a right turn out of the nice, upscale subdivision where he lives with his wife, Alice, and three daughters, all under 10 years old (a fourth is off to her freshman year at college and the oldest is living on her own). It’s a 10-minute drive to home base for the more than 27,000 acres that he and his father, Mitchell, farm in northeast Mississippi, near Tupelo. A left turn would’ve taken him about the same amount of time to reach the nondescript metal garage and race shop where his record-setting Pro Extreme ’63 Corvette resides between races and through the off season.
Today should be a short work day for Scruggs, only 11 hours or so; when it’s planting or harvesting season, 15 hours plus is the norm. But even now there will be at least 20 employees waiting on him for their daily assignments at “the farm,” as Scruggs always calls it, though this is no Ponderosa-like spread. Instead, it’s an ever-growing collection of plots and tracts that stretch over five counties and range up to 2,000 acres at one location. There are many more in the 30- to 100-acre range, though, wedged in-between local industrial and manufacturing businesses and peacefully coexisting among countless residential retreats.
That also means there are five county offices to visit for certifying each and every piece of land, five county farm agents to meet with in the field and five counties worth of paved roads and gravel paths to travel just to reach his crops and workers. It’s easy to see that Scruggs’ plain-Jane, white Chevy pick-up gets a regular workout as his daily driver.
“I never really know what I’m going to be doing from day to day and that’s one thing I enjoy about farming; it’s something different every time you turn around. It keeps you busy,” Scruggs says. “Some people think that farmers just plant for a few months and we harvest a few months and then we’re off a few months in between. But it doesn’t work like that. Farming is, for an operation our size, it’s never ending. One crop leads to another crop, and then we’re hauling our grain off, cleaning all the grain storage tanks out this time of year, washing equipment, working on equipment and getting the fertilizer equipment ready for another season and getting the planting equipment ready. It’s just never ending.”
These days it’s primarily soybeans that pay the bills, with a little corn on the side. The Scruggs used to be known as big cotton farmers, but the cotton crop is down to less than a tenth of their acreage now. “That’s what the market is telling us to do,” Scruggs explains.
Work on the farm is anchored by a fleet of more than a dozen large John Deere tractors that make the daily rounds between sites and typically burn through an astonishing 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel a day, depending on the job and season at hand. To feed that insatiable hunger, Scruggs’ truck often can be seen hauling a trailer outfitted with a thousand-gallon fuel tank from work site to work site.