One man’s love of the land serves to protect 529 acres for future farmers
Jonathan Morris first set foot on the soil of Hayfields Farm at the tender age of eight. Except for the four years spent earning a degree in dairy science at SUNY Cobleskill, he’s never lived anywhere else—or ever wanted to do so. In fact, since his return to the homestead in 1974, he alone has managed the farm. He knows every hill and vale, every bit of pasture and acre of woodland like the back of his hand. He also knows that he never wants it to be anything but farmland.
Growth and transitions on the family farm
The Hayfields Farm of today spans 529 acres and is a far different operation than the hobby farm his parents created in Morris’ youth.
“My mom was the one who pushed to buy the original 168-acre property,” recalls Morris. “She was a teacher and my dad was a minister so more than anything it was a lifestyle farm with goats, chickens, sheep, and a few cows over the years. It was the perfect situation for me and my four sisters to pursue 4-H projects. But while they went off and did other things, I found that I really loved farming.”
After college, Morris returned home and quickly established a legitimate dairy herd of 12 and then 48 cows. “As the herd got bigger, so did my need for land to grow hay and corn,” he says. “As it worked out, land immediately south and then north of us became available. By 1987 we were up to 525 acres. And, I managed it all without any outside help or employees.”
Then, in 2006, Morris was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
A new reality and a new approach to farming
With a diagnosis of MS, Morris realized he needed to make some changes. “I had been thinking about beef production, but the MS diagnosis really pushed the decision,” he says. “I needed something less labor-intensive, so I made the switch.”
Today, Morris maintains a herd of 85 Angus and Angus-cross cattle. By his own reckoning, things are going well: “This spring I sold 34 feeder calves, each about 11 months old, and 550 pounds each. I’ve made some adaptations to my tractors that allow me to get in and out more easily and I even purchased one with a continuous variable transmission—basically a joystick—that allows me to bale without hopping out after each bale. Some might call it a compromise, but this year was my biggest hay production year ever. I made over 600 round bales, and I did it all myself.”
Committed to farming and the land—forever
Many might be inclined to hang things up when faced with a difficult diagnosis like MS, Morris has a different take. “Honestly, it’s the thing that keeps me going,” he says. “I’m going to go as long as I can and make the most of my time and of the land. And I’m happy to know that protecting the land with ASA will also work to make the most of it even when I’m done working it.”
Funding for this conservation project was provided by a grant through the Farm Operations in Transition Farmland Protection Initiative administered by the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets as part of the Environmental Protection Fund.