Jennifer James: A Voice for Sustainability

This FarmHer does a little bit of everything to make her family farm a model of sustainability.
Jennifer James
At 18, Jennifer James left Newport, Arkansas, for what she presumed would be the last time. She drove westward, across the windswept delta of her family home and into the craggy Ozarks. She enrolled at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, hoping the school would offer passage to a career as a lawyer or, perhaps, as a congresswoman.

When she arrived, though, she just couldn’t get comfortable. The hill country was beautiful, and every opportunity was in front of her. But something wasn’t right. She couldn’t settle, and her mind often drifted to her home and the rice fields that stretched across her family’s land.

“There was just something about that flat land in the delta of Arkansas that kind of pulled me home,” James says.

So after graduation, she returned to Newport, where she soon started work as a consultant at H&J Land Company, her family’s 6,200 acre corn, rice and soybean operation. As a consultant, she gained valuable experience walking the fields and managing application and fertilizer needs. Today, she uses that experience to inform her work as a financial manager with the organization.

This @SyngentaUS FarmHer does a little bit of everything, from sales to the nitty gritty.

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“The financial side is really where my strengths are, but having that background makes me be able to do the cash flow budgets better,” James says. “I understand what’s happening in the field and how that applies to our financial and marketing needs.”

James isn’t just a financial manager, though. During harvest, she’s also the manager of the operation’s grain facilities. She tracks the grain bins, manages the workers, checks for bin space availability, coordinates with buyers and makes decisions on shipping. She rarely gets an off minute, much less an off day. It’s hard work, but she finds it fulfilling. The sheer variety of her work ensures that her days are rarely dull, and she says it’s rewarding to be a part of something greater than one individual.

“On my family’s farm, we have land that has been in my family for over 100 years,” James says. “We are an Arkansas Century Farm. And, in the future, it’d be great to be a 200-year-old farm.”

Growing Responsibly

James knows that her effort to make the farm last for another century requires a continuous commitment to sustainability. She’s one of Arkansas’ leading advocates of responsible, sustainable practices in agriculture. To spread her message, she relies on a variety of communication platforms; she speaks about sustainability on panels, on social media and on her blog,

“I think it’s our responsibility to continue to tell the sustainability story and to pass down to my son, niece and nephew what we’ve done on the farm—what we’ve been doing for decades and how we can continue into the future.”

Jennifer James

“I think a lot of it is telling the story of the good things we’re doing on the farm,” she says. “I’m very passionate about agriculture and about spreading the word. Today, we have a disconnect in our country. Decades ago, most people lived on the farm, produced their own food, and had chickens or hogs in the backyard. They knew where their food came from. As we’ve migrated into a more urban society, we’ve lost that link. So, of course consumers today are asking, ‘Where did my food come from?’”

James enrolled in the Syngenta Sustainable Solutions program to help answer that question. Through her work in this program, she received recognition for her determined advocacy when Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture named her its 2017 Farmer of the Year, the group’s highest honor for commodity crop producers.

“It was the first time they had given that award,” James says. “It was probably the largest honor that I’ve ever received in my life.”

Sustainability is a top priority at her family’s operation. James tracks water conservation and soil health, and the farm’s vast acreage provides shelter to migrating water fowl.

Her commitment to sustainability transcends the simple consideration of environmental factors. James advocates a multifaceted approach that incorporates social and economic considerations.

In her effort to promote sustainability, James is sure to face challenges. She’s confident, though, that she has the ability to overcome whatever obstacles she might encounter. And she’s consciously passing that effort on to the next generation of ag leaders.

“I think it’s our responsibility to continue to tell the sustainability story and to pass down to my son, niece and nephew what we’ve done on the farm—what we’ve been doing for decades and how we can continue into the future,” she says.