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A dream deferred

Forty years after postponing his agricultural aspirations, Wayne McCreight, with the help of farm manager A.B. Wilhite, is living his true passion
Story and photos by Sarah Geyer 6/28/2018

 

Benwoody Farm owner Wayne McCreight, right, and his farm manager, A.B. Wilhite, stand on the first project completed by the successful businessman, a landing strip for his airplane. A hangar was the second project, followed by the construction of a home, pictured on the far right, for Wayne and Diane, his wife.
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One of Wayne McCreight’s favorite sayings is “when it fits, it fits.”

In the early 1970s, that mantra led to the West Tennessee native becoming an entrepreneur instead of a farmer.

Twenty years later, that deferred dream of farming became a reality for the successful businessman when an opportunity to purchase some Dresden farmland proved to be the right “fit.” Today, that land is part of 800-acre Benwoody Farm, which provides both the owner and his farm manager a place to pursue their passion for agriculture.

Wayne grew up on a modest farm in Shelby County, where his family raised cotton, soybeans, beef cattle, and hogs. He says even as a child, he knew he wanted to be a farmer, and that desire continued to develop in his teenage years while working with his calves and participating in his high school’s FFA program.

When he enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Martin, his plan was to major in agriculture then return to his hometown and follow in his father’s footsteps. However, as Memphis’s urban sprawl began to rapidly expand, Shelby County was transitioning from farming country to suburbs.

“I loved farming and that’s what I really wanted to do,” he says. “But it was apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to come back and farm full-time in Shelby County.”

In 1971, with a college degree in physical education and a new wife, Diane, his college sweetheart, Wayne says his main goal was to find a way to provide for his new family. Instead of resenting the expanding industrialization surrounding Memphis, Wayne saw an opportunity to start his own business, Hamilton-Ryker, a staffing services company based in Martin. Today, the company focuses on three facets: commercial staffing, information technology, and software integration.

“I had an idea and thought I could make it work,” he explains. “It fit with the growth happening in our area and the timing was right.”

The McCreights settled in Dresden, where Diane’s parents relocated after retiring from the Air Force. Wayne committed the next two decades to growing his business while Diane worked as an educator, and together they raised two sons: Kelly and Scot.

“Early on in our marriage, I told Diane that at some point I’d like to own a farm,” he says. “I told her, ‘When it fits, we’ll know it.’”

When Wayne received a phone call in the summer of 1993 from a friend in the real estate business, the couple knew the timing was right.

“He said he had something he wanted me to look at — a piece of farmland right down the road from us,” he says. “It needed a lot of cleaning off before we could develop anything on it, but I could immediately see its potential.”

Wayne spent the next two years clearing the land for the avid pilot’s first project, a landing strip. The next year he added a hanger. By 1999, the couple’s farm included a newly built home, a large pond, a fenced pasture, row crops, and two bred cows.

During the next four years, Wayne continued to enhance the land with more fencing, a cattle barn, and equipment shed. He decided to build a cow/calf operation with a focus on registered Angus.

 “It has been just a steady progression of getting it done,” explains the dedicated businessman, who continued working full-time at his company until 2015. “Getting this farm to where it is now has been like eating an elephant, one bite at a time.”

By early 2000, Wayne realized his expanding operation required some knowledgeable part-time help, so the Martin alumnus turned to the school’s Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) agriculture fraternity chapter for much-needed farm hands.

“Most of the young men we hired over the next two years stayed with us throughout their college experience,” he says. “Those boys really became like family to Diane and me.”

One of those young men was Bolivar native Andrew (A.B.) Wilhite, who worked for the McCreights from his freshman year through graduation.

“A.B. and I had a special bond, so when he approached me about working full-time after college, I was pleased that he wanted to be a part of the operation,” says Wayne. “But we just weren’t to a place yet to justify that kind of position.”

A.B., accepted a job with Lone Oaks Farms in Middleton. Over the next several months, Wayne had the opportunity to purchase a significant amount of surrounding farmland. Within the year, his operation had expanded enough to sustain a full-time employee.

“I called A.B. and explained my situation, sweetening the deal by mentioning that one of the newly purchased farms included a house where he could live,” says Wayne. “Then I added, ‘Whatever in life happens, whether you’re asking a woman to marry you or you’re changing jobs, the time has got to be right.’ I asked him, ‘Is this timing right?’ and he answered, ‘Yes sir, it is.’”

A.B. joined Benwoody Farm as farm manager in 2007. Soon after, he proposed to girlfriend, Hannah, and today the couple has two children, Nella, 5, and Bennett, 2.

“The young man’s got vision and entrepreneurial drive,” says Wayne of his farm manager. “I’m so proud of not only what he’s accomplished on the farm but what’s he doing in the community, too.”

A.B. serves on the board of directors for Tennessee Farm Bureau, as president of the West Tennessee Angus Association, and as secretary of the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association. To benefit the farm’s day-to-day operation, he has received an Artificial Insemination certification from Genex and completed both the Master Beef and Advanced Master Beef programs.

Over the years, Benwoody Farm has continued to expand in acreage. Today, Wayne and A.B. run their herd on 240 fenced acres and raise corn and soybeans on 300 acres, ryegrass and clover for haylage on 100 acres, and cut hay on 45 acres.

A recent purchase of 88 acres has allowed the producers to double their herd which is about a third registered Angus, a third commercial, and a third SimAngus, says A.B., adding that the numbers now include 130 bred cows, 25 replacement heifers, and six herd bulls.

“One thing about business is that even if you have a great idea, you have to turn it over and look at the other side,” explains Wayne. “You have to consider both the

pros and cons and really consider the financial risk of it. Shoot holes in it. Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. Then, at the end of the day, if the opportunity fits, go for it.”

 
 
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