Sept. 25, 2019
Permanently Protecting the Family Farm
Chris Barnett is the third generation of his family to farm Barnett Farms in Montgomery County, Tennessee, west of Clarksville. Chris grew up on this farm. “I worked cows, cut hay, worked the tobacco and corn – did just about everything.” His brother Mark also operates a family farm in the area. “The farm is dear to our family.” That’s why protecting this farm inheritance in perpetuity through a conservation easement appealed to Chris.
His grandfather’s original farm was on part of the land that is now Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division (U.S. Army). Construction on the Army Camp began in 1942 and within a year the developed reservation included 102,414 acres. When this happened, Chris’ grandfather, O.T. Barnett, moved to land where the current farm is located, on Cooper Creek Road, Woodlawn, TN. Mr. Barnett bought additional farmland to add to his original purchase and, over the years, brought together this 350+ acre farm.
Chris is protecting Barnett Farms in two ways: through the Fort Campbell ACUB program and with the Land Trust for Tennessee.
Fort Campbell is partnering with neighboring landowners for land conservation through their ACUB program or Army Compatible Use Buffer. The ACUB conserves open space and ensures compatible land in the vicinity by protecting land that is incompatible with the military mission from development. In turn, the ACUB program “protects the installation’s ability to train soldiers and conduct aviation operations by conserving open space and ensuring compatible land use in the vicinity.” The program identified priority areas: agricultural lands immediately surrounding its airfield and heliport, and lands which are facing the most significant encroachment threats from residential and commercial development. The ACUB program “creates land conservation partnerships between the Army and outside organizations to protect land from development that is incompatible with the military mission. Funding is provided to acquire conservation easements from willing landowners to preserve natural resources and limit land development.
In essence, the Fort Campbell plan purchased the development rights on Barnett Farms – forever – through ACUB funds. Chris also has a conservation easement on the farm through the Land Trust for Tennessee. He still has the ability to retain any and all agricultural buildings and add a few residences to the land, but it will remain essentially an intact farm in perpetuity.
These conservation plans have added financial benefits for Chris. For donating ~300 acres in a conservation easement through the Land Trust for Tennessee, Chris got a Federal income tax deduction – a specific amount that he could use all in one year, or spread out over several years. For selling the development rights on ~350 acres, Chris was compensated financially through the ACUB program.
Chris has a multi-faceted farm operation. He raises row crops – field corn and dark-fired tobacco. His grandfather grew tobacco on the farm and so did his late father Ray Barnett. He has another farm under conservation easement that is all organic. There he raises organic field corn and burley tobacco as well as cattle. He boards horses; he grows coastal Bermuda hay, with a newly established crop of 30 acres under center pivot irrigation. He also grew some Timothy this year.
In addition to working the row crops, Chris is a committed horseman. Chris went to UT Martin where he was on the Rodeo team, and his favorite event is tie down roping. After college he roped professionally for about 8-10 years, traveling all over the country. In fact, when he originally built his barn about 25 years ago, he built it for roping. Then he got married and had his first child, so the extensive traveling came to a halt.
It was his father-in-law who suggested he build stalls on the side of the barn to board horses. Originally, he built ten stalls, but as the boarding operation grew and became successful, he has made additions, now with over 30 stalls in the barn. He boards about 70 horses on the farm; about half are stall-kept and half are pasture boarders. The stall boarded horses get grained twice a day, hay, and turnout. He offers both a lighted outdoor riding arena and an indoor riding area.
Boarders are mainly military personnel, but he also has civilians boarding their horses. The boarders come from a variety of riding disciplines (not just ropers), from dressage to barrel racing. There are plenty of trails through wooded areas for riding. His barn manager Carmen does most of the horse barn work and Chris, in turn, provides housing for Carmen’s family.
Chris has a seasonal position, September – February, with American Snuff Company in Clarksville as a tobacco buyer. He has worked for the tobacco company for 17 years, first with American Snuff, and then for RJ Reynolds when they bought the company.
He’s involved in community works, too, serving on the Montgomery County Tax Board and teaching a 9th grade Sunday school class at his church. He works with the Montgomery County Soil Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. He has put in miles of fencing and cross fencing to ensure proper rotational grazing for both cattle and horses. He has installed water tanks for cattle to give them fresh water and keep them out of ponds. He’s very conscientious about protecting water resources and preventing erosion from runoff on his property. His row crops are “conservation tilled and planted.” He maintains grass strips [grassed waterways] between the row crops for water runoff to prevent erosion.
Chris has two sons, ages 11 and 15, who may one day be the head farmers here. In the meantime, they enjoy playing football and like to hunt on the farm, which has abundant wildlife. His daughter, who turns 17 in August, “will be President one day,” he predicted. She does quite well in school with a 4.0 average, as well as extracurricular activities. She is Lt. Governor in her Key Club division, which covers a four state area. She is president of the student body at Rossview High. She is attending camp at Vanderbilt this summer. Her desired major is political science and her plans are to obtain a law degree.
Chris’ wife Laura has the doctorate in the family. Laura Barnett, Ed.D. is the principal at New Providence Middle School in Clarksville. “Like her father, she has a lot of wisdom,” Chris said, and he often takes her advice on a matter. “When I want to know something, I ask her.”
Managing a 650-acre farm requires more help than just family. Chris is involved in the migrant workers program, the H2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program. (For more information, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website www.uscis.gov) He has about 15-18 employees who primarily work the labor-intensive tobacco crops. He says he couldn’t do all this farm work with just his two hands.
When it comes to fertilizer, Chris says that “tobacco stalks make amazing fertilizer!” When the growing plants are fertilized, they take it up really fast and lock it up in the stalk. So after the harvest, the stalks are spread on the fields where they provide organic matter and fertilizer to replenish the soil. And, of course, horse manure is great fertilizer, too! He spreads it on fields, as well.
These days, diversification is the way to make it in farming, and conserving the land, protecting its fertility and water resources, is the way to keep farms productive. “They’re not making any more of it [farm land],” Chris commented. So protecting existing farm land is absolutely essential, and permanent conservation easements are the way to do it. Plus – they are financially beneficial to the farm owner!
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