The Bluegrass Buelingos
The Martin-Sorrells are not a bunch that shy away from hard work. While farmers are rarely in need of a lesson on the value of industrious action, the previous professions of these family farmers have certainly been good teachers. Jimmy Martin-Sorrell was on active duty in the U.S. military for 10 years and served an additional nine years as a reservist in the United States Air Force. His wife Katie is retired from the Army, MEPS after serving in 12 states as a civilian.
During his years in the military, Jimmy thought often of his time growing up on several family farms. He credits these memories with seeing him through many tragedies. So, it comes as no surprise that soon after his service, Jimmy returned home to Carlisle, Kentucky, where he purchased a farm operation of his own. Now Jimmy and Katie own and operate the Bluegrass Belties Farm and Orchard with their three children Broedy, Whitley, and Reece.
The farms and farmers Jimmy grew up with had always raised beef cattle. Hoping to continue his family tradition on his own farm, Jimmy purchased a herd of Buelingos, a breed of cattle he had discovered while stationed out West during his military service. The Buelingo is a composite of Dutch Belted Dairy, Shorthorn, Angus, Limousin, and Chianina cows known for their lean marbling, small calving weights, and docility. Over the years, Jimmy has been breeding his herd strategically, attempting to achieve a slighter frame cow. This might seem counterintuitive for a farmer who sells beef, but Jimmy’s reasoning is founded in practicality. “You get more meat yield off a smaller bone cow. People raising 1700 pound cows only get around 62% yield, whereas I’m easily getting 65-67%. When you take that across an 800 pound carcass, that’s a lot of yield,” Jimmy explained.
Jimmy attributes his awareness of important details like this to an enduring military mindset. “In the Air Force I worked with fighter jets, so now I really dig into numbers. Everything had to be very precise.” Lately, Jimmy’s precision has been hampered by the impact of COVID-19 on meat processing plants in Kentucky. The closure of large processing plants like JBS, Cargill, and Tyson Foods means large contracts have been diverted to smaller, regional processing plants. “As a small farmer, I can’t get a processing date because the local plants are taking contracts from big retailers like Kroger and Whole Foods. I have people that want fresh beef and I have to tell them I’m out until I can get another processing date,” said Jimmy.
Delays in processing dates can also add up to increased costs on the farm, since animals must be cared for past when the Martin-Sorrells expected. The feed out dates for Jimmy’s cows, that is the last days Jimmy expects to purchase food for each animal, align with the dates that they’d typically be sent to be slaughtered and processed. “If I have to hold an animal longer, I have to continue their rations, whether that be forage or grain, so that’s going to end up costing me more at the end of the day,” said Jimmy.
While processing delays are the major challenge of the moment, Jimmy also notices a deeper, more insidious thorn in the heels of the farming community in Kentucky. He laments the loss of farmland that he sees occurring at a rapid pace throughout the state. “In Scott County and Georgetown the low-density residential development is just sprawling across the good farmland that I saw in production as a kid. I think that’s an atrocity,” said Jimmy. The worst of the situation for Jimmy is that this development is disproportionately occurring on “good, tillable row crop land.” Kentucky is one of 10 states that are situated at the intersection of a high risk for farmland loss and a low level of policy response, according to the new “State of the States” report from American Farmland Trust.
It would be easy for Jimmy to fall into a state of victimhood, given the many challenges he faces as a small farmer. But instead, Jimmy uses his military experience to guide him. “We’re always dynamic here, that’s part of being a veteran. Most veterans are highly adaptable because that’s the environment during their service. We are looking daily and weekly for new information and we change our direction based on outside influences,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy’s willingness to change with the times illustrates an awareness and acceptance of the reality that businesses of all kinds must now modify their model to fit the needs of the current situation or face closure. Since change seems to be the only constant at this moment in time, Jimmy seems as prepared as any of us to take on the challenges of our new world.
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To help directly support farmers impacted by the current crisis, American Farmland Trust launched a Farmer Relief Fund. 100% of donations to the fund go directly to farmers like Jimmy.Donate