How Three Families Put the College's
Expertise to Work
by Haven Miller and Laura Skillman
he original land-grant concept of delivering solid, research-based
information to a state's residents has few better examples in the
country than the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
With advances in new crop opportunities, a world-class faculty,
and a brand new state-of-the art plant science building, the College
is positioned to continue making a significant impact on farmer
Three farms in the western part of the state are representative
of the hundreds that make up the frontline of Kentucky row crop
agriculture, the place where ag innovations become farm gate dollars.
These three farm familiesall well-stocked with UK ag alumsrecently
shared their stories.
Alum Clift Says Ag College
Research Saves Time & Money
Clift '91 of Caldwell County believes the research-based
data generated by the College year after year has the potential
to save him and many other Kentucky farmers a huge amount of time
The value to me is that unbiased information, Clift
said. Whether it's variety trials or sprayers or precision
agriculture, the main job of the University is to take the product
or the technology and test it for us and see if it works. That
way you don't have 5,000 farmers in Kentucky go out and buy technology
that doesn't pay for itself.
With his wife Renee, Bill owns and manages C & C Farms. The
Clifts also operate Clift Farms with his father, William Clift,
and his uncle, Clifton "Junior" Clift. Combined, the
two farms raise more than 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans and
175 head of beef cattle.
We use GPS and have been field mapping, and I'm trying to
build a history, Bill Clift said. On our river ground
I've been able to take the yield maps and see areas that need
drainage, but we're still waiting to see what our actual return
might be on the GPS equipment before we jump totally into it.
In addition to the College's testing of new technologies, Clift
believes its research on genetically engineered crops is critical.
Because of the genetically modified crops we use, it's extremely
important research, he said.
Over the years Clift has had a strong association with UK and
the College of Agriculture. He uses the Cooperative Extension
Service for everything from soil sampling to yield data to recommendations
for his beef operation. While enrolled at the College in the late
'80s and early '90s, he majored in production agriculture and
took classes in ag economics, agronomy, and animal sciences.
Some 12 years later, he places a high value on his College of
I think the main thing the ag college did for me was to
prepare me to think for myself and to know that if I needed information,
I'd know where to go to get it, he said.
His most valuable UK class is likely the one he didn't take, Clift
Steve Riggins (Ag Economics) taught a futures class, and
everyone talked about how hard it was and I thought well, I don't
need it to graduate, so I didn't take it, he said. But
it wasn't long before I got out of school and realized how much
I needed it.
For Clift, farming is more than earning a livingit's living
the life he wants with Renee and his children Cody and Camryn.
He says it's the best life there is.
There's no better place to raise a family than on a farm,
because when my kids get home from school I'm not at an office
someplace, I'm out working in the field, and they can come out
and join me, he said. In farming you're closer to
God's creations and you put the effort into it, and then you can
see the profit from it."
For example, we have cattle, and theres nothing like
going out on a cold snowy night in February and you've got a cow
trying to have a calf. You help her have it, and you see that
calf come to life. There's nothing better, he said.
McAtees Grab Hold
Wayne McAtee '66, '67 left for the University of
Kentucky in the early 1960s, his intention was to get his degree
and return to Trigg County to farm. That journey home took about
10 years. McAtee earned bachelor's and master's degrees in animal
sciences at UK and met and married his wife Joyce while both were
working for professor (and future dean) Oran Little. Joyce Wood
McAtee also has two UK degrees: both a bachelor's degree (1961)
and a master's degree (1966) in home economics. From Lexington,
the McAtees headed to Iowa State University, where he earned a doctorate
in animal nutrition and she earned a doctorate in human nutrition.
In 1973, after a stint in the Army, the couple returned to Trigg
County to begin farming.
The McAtees farm 600 acres, with 460 used for grain. They also
have a complete (farrow-to-finish) swine operation of 140 sows.
The McAtees have three children, Michelle, John, and Andrea. Two
are UK graduatesJohn McAtee '95, who majored in math, and
Andrea McAtee '98, a political science major. The McAtees
other daughter, Michelle, graduated in 1991 from North Carolina
State University with a degree in psychology.
All of the McAtee children either have their doctorates or are
working on them. Michelle received her doctorate in clinical psychology
from State University of New York in 2002, John is pursuing a
doctorate in math at Indiana University, and Andrea is at the
University of North Carolina working on a doctorate in political
Wayne McAtee says the UK College of Agriculture has been his constant
companion as he has traveled his career path.
I told somebody not long ago that the UK Ag College is a
daily part of my farm operation, McAtee said. Anytime
I need information, I access it through the Internet.
I think the single most important thing the University provides
is information that is reliable, unbiased, and continually moving
forward, he said.
McAtee has participated with UK specialists in numerous research
projectsmost recently, a variable rate nitrogen application
study with Lloyd Murdock, Extension soils specialist, and Paula
Howe, Agriculture/Extension soils specialist.
The project used six years of yield maps generated from the McAtee
farm in an effort to predict nitrogen requirements so nitrogen
application could be adjusted by area.
It came out 180 degrees opposite of what I was expecting,
McAtee said. It just made sense to me beforehand that the
areas that were producing 200 bushels per acre needed a lot more
nitrogen than the areas that were making 80. But three years'
data from the study doesn't show that. The study has totally revamped
my thinking on nitrogen fertilizer. McAtee has also embraced
other new technology.
There have been tremendous improvements in our cropping
operation just because of technology, the biggest one being in
herbicides that allowed us to no-till, he said.
Our soils need to be no-tilled, but in the 1970s we had
johnsongrass problems that were difficult to control and impossible
with no-till, McAtee said. As herbicides came along,
that changed and we adapted. We followed closely the leadership
of UK in the things that Lloyd Murdock and others were doing in
terms of using no-till.
Six years ago, McAtee began using precision ag technology, starting
first with a yield monitor and adding more technology as it has
Precision agriculture allows farmers to fine tune their
operations. We can quantify things that we suspected but didn't
know for sure, he said.
McAtee, for example, has decided to take one piece of land out
of production because its consistently poor performance was recorded
through Global Positioning System (GPS) yield mapping.
I think precision agriculture is paying off, he said.
I can't say, 'here's what I've changed because of it.
What I'm doing is tweaking things because of precision ag, and
I think I'm doing a better job at the things I've been doing all
McAtee uses the technology in all aspects of the farming operation.
GPS technology really lends itself to the mapping of where
I put manure, how much I put there, what nutrients are applied
there, and what I need to put in to complement the manure and
nutrients to make a crop, he said.
It has environmental implications so you can track what
you are doing and where you are doing it so you don't overdo things,
Since he began farming 30 years ago, McAtee said his yield trend
lines have increased substantially.
"It's been done by this piece of technology bringing it up
this much, the next piece adding a little more, and the next piece
adding a little more. The GPS/precision technology is the current
piece we are bringing in."
Whites Carry On Tradition
of Kentucky Family Farm
Like the rest of the country, Western Kentucky was hit hard by
the Great Depression. One of many farmers who lost everything
was John R. White of Union County. But White
didn't give up, and through hard work and perseverance he and
his son Jack brought their farm back to prosperity.
Now some 70 years later, John's grandsons are carrying on the
tradition. With their father Jack, whom they recently lost, and
their mother Mary Nell, they've built a profitable grain and cattle
operation that has strong ties to the UK College of Agriculture.
My husband Jack went to the University of Kentucky for two
years, and all four boys attended UK, Mary Nell White said.
(Bob White attended UK in the early 1970s, Richard in the mid-70s,
Reed graduated in 1983, and Ryan attended in the mid-90s.)
Two grandchildren are UK graduatesJeremy '97, who
majored in ag economics, and Cindy '01, who is now a registered
dietitian. A third grandchild, Dustin, is now at UK studying ag
Bob, Richard, Reed, and Ryan White, like
Jeremy and Dustin White, were all members of Farmhouse Fraternity.
They remember the College as a welcoming place.
Dr. (Frank) Buck, Dr. (Charles) Barnhart, Dr. (John) Robertson,
and Dr. (Loys) Mather were all good farm boys like we were and
could remember what it was to grow up on a farm, Reed White
Mary Nell White also has ties to the College through her many
years of leadership in local 4-H activities, and she encouraged
her sons to participate in 4-H and FFA when they were young.
It was important that they learn how to get up in front
of people and speak and not be nervous, and all four of them can
do it, she said.
With strong support from their wives and children, the White brothers
grow about 5,500 acres of corn and soybeans, feed about 650 head
of cattle, and bale about 600 acres of hay. They run two combines,
one of them equipped with GPS yield mapping and moisture monitors.
Using mostly conventional tillage methods, the Whites test soil
regularly and weigh the harvest from every field.
We use scales to know exactly how many bushels we're getting
from year to year, and fertilize accordingly, Richard said.
For an operation the size of White Farms, keeping the cost of
inputs low and tracking the flow of every dollar can mean a big
difference in profit at year's end. To help them manage efficiently,
the family relies on expert advice from the College.
In the old days our record keeping was a shoebox full of
bills, but now we depend heavily on Craig Gibson with UK's farm
analysis program, Bob said about the farm business management
program offered through Ag Economics. Sometimes you can't
see the trees for the forest, but Craig helps you see the trees.
The White farm also benefits from information and advice from
researchers and Extension specialists at the Research and Education
Center in Princeton. UK biosystems/agricultural engineers helped
the Whites design their grain handling facilities, and livestock
and agronomy specialists have advised them on a variety of farm
enterprises. One of the newer innovations they're trying now is
The cattle are eating it pretty good, and I imagine we'll
produce more of it next year, Ryan White said.
The Whites of Union County are not just ag innovators, but also
farm leaders. With involvement over the years in almost every
aspect of community agricultural leadership, including the Extension
Council, Ag Development Council, Beef Cattle Association, Ag Advancement
Council, 4-H, and FFA, the Whites exemplify the core values and
traditions that make Kentucky's farm families a cut above the
The ag spirit and many contributions of the Clifts, the McAtees,
the Whites, and other alums like them are an essential part of
the College of Agriculture's success, both now and in the future.
"I think the single most important thing the University
provides is information that is reliable, unbiased, and continually
Wayne McAtee '66, '67 of Trigg County