Nikolaj Morris, or Nik to his friends, had grown up on a farm near Sterlington, Louisiana. By his early 20s, with a construction management degree in hand from the University of Louisiana Monroe, he was building a good place for himself in the home construction industry.
"I was making a good dollar" and working 80 hours a week, he said. "I was pushing hard. I didn't have time to spend with my family."
Morris and his partner, Crystal, are raising four boys, all under 11.
In 2005, the farm called. Morris' father, Elmo, told Nik that he was ready to retire. "I had always wanted to come back," Morris said. Would he want to return to the farm, his father asked? "I couldn't say 'yes' to my dad fast enough."
Home he went. "I had some money and blew it all on getting started," Morris said, with an uneasy laugh, perhaps trying to cover that bit of truth with a bit of humor. "I tell myself that I invested my money." Elmo and Morris' mother, Carla, had invested in him, too. They taught him a strong work ethic growing up. They told him solid families work together. "They taught me to make wise, diversified investments, to work hard, and it will pay off."
It did -- and his peers soon saw it. In 2016, Morris received the Northeast Louisiana Agricultural Producer of the Year Award.
Morris manages hay and soybeans. He bales about 200 acres of hybrid bermuda and bahia/bermuda mix hay. In 2014, he added 30 acres of soybeans. He planted 350 acres of beans this year -- half irrigated and half dryland. Morris plans to increase his irrigation resources and sees having a farm of 3,500 acres in 10 years. Morris is vice president of Bartholomew Enterprises, a business entity that also includes the farming operation.
Morris will tell you he has been blessed with land -- land held by family dating back to 1875, and land offered by other owners. Family land "made it easier to step back in," Morris said. "The challenge has been financial."
Budget awareness is key, Morris said. The construction business taught him the value of knowing costs and income not only for the business, but for each business unit.
"You have to know [input costs and income] down to the cent to be confident about expanding the operation," said Morris. He keeps equipment costs in check by buying quality, second-hand machinery. Last fall, Morris harvested beans with his own combine purchased from a neighbor.
Morris has sought mentors and peers. He and Crystal are 2016 graduates of the ASA DuPont Young Leader Program. It was an invaluable learning and networking experience. He joined the Morehouse Parish Black Farmers and Landowners Association and sits on the board of the National Black Growers Council (NBGC).
"Working with mentors [and NBGC board members] like P.J. Haynie [Virginia], Bill Bridgeforth [Alabama], and others has been a huge encouragement," Morris said. "The important thing is that these men are here to help me learn and grow."
Dan Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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