by Nelda Rachels-
Boys will be boys, farmers’ boys especially. After cleaning the dairy barn and completing other chores, David and his brother Jeff Coates used to have those epic corncob fights—the ones that left bruises in the wake of lots of fun. Then there was the climbing, no doubt over fences, in and out of ditches, into trees, but especially memorable—climbing to the top of the family barn. David remembers sitting quietly atop the roof after a full day of work and play, gazing out at the bright lights of nearby Martin, Tennessee.
A penny for his thoughts? Getting out of that milk barn, for sure!
Now third generation farmers, he and his wife Pam (McMinn) no longer milk cows but milk the land, so to speak, raising corn, soybeans, and wheat. Sons Landon and Logan, with wife Beth Ann (Ogg) Coates, make up the fourth generation. Beth Ann and Logan’s daughter, four-month-old Olivia Claire, has already ridden in the combine, so a fifth generation farmer may be up and coming.
It all began right after the Great Depression with Hilliard Coates, David’s grandfather. He came from Linden, Tennessee, to help construct the road to Fulton. While there, he met Eunice Gardner, who had been born and raised in the Gardner community. The two eventually married and travelled from Linden to Northwest Tennessee by team and wagon in 1938. They began to sharecrop land around Eunice’s old stomping grounds, but by about the late 1940’s had bought 60 acres on Hawks Road, on which they grew corn and raised cows and pigs—no small feat considering the “pay” and life of a sharecropper back then
David’s father, Ted Coates, grew up farming the family farm. Ted, who married Patsy Winstead, eventually bought an adjoining farm. About 1958, he added a milking operation. In 1967 Ted transitioned from milking to row crops, continually expanding and modernizing with new equipment and methods.
Enter David Coates, who bought the family farm in 2003. Combining the rented and owned farmland, David and his family now row crop about 2,500 acres in the Martin area. Before that, however, there were the tough years of the early 1980s when the rains didn’t come, crop yields were low, and the prices way down. David takes a philosophical point of view common to most farmers. “Farming is cyclical,” he states, “but it gets in the blood and like most farmers, I’m optimistic. I always believe that next year will be a better year.”
Farmers also like a challenge, which leads to the drive to make the family farm better, to see increased production per acre. In 2015, sons Landon and Logan won second and third place respectively in the National Corn Growers Association corn yields in the state of Tennessee. At 263.4 and 258.2 bushels per irrigated acre, the Coates’ Pioneer corn yields were considerably better than the 2015 national average of 169.3 bushels per acre.
Much of those yield successes come from modern innovations. During Grandfather Hilliard’s day, a four-row planter was big time. Now, there are GPS controlled tractors (John Deere Green, of course), planters, sprayers, and combines. Six center pivots irrigate much of the farm, so drought isn’t quite the worry it once was.
Ever optimistic, David is ready for the future. Pam, along with Logan and Landon, are full-time partners on the farm and contribute to its success. Their sons are committed to the family business and unafraid to try new things. David says his family is in it for the long haul. They manage to have a little fun and other interests, too, from worship with the First United Methodist Church in Martin to a love for horses (Pam) and motorcycles and ultralight aircraft (David). Both admit that those latter interests have recently taken a back seat to farming.
These days, David doesn’t climb atop any barns to gaze at stars or the bright lights of the “big” city. He can climb new heights, however, with a recently acquired drone. It flies over the fields to take a look at the pivots and crops—to make sure all is as it should be.
Likely, it will show a well-cared-for farm for many years—and generations to come.