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Three of a kind

The Neal brothers from Wilson County find themselves continuing the farming legacy their great-grandfather, “The King of Corn,” left behind.
Story and photos by Allison Farley 7/29/2021

 

The Neal’s brothers great-grandfather, William Haskell Neal, is honored with a historical marker outside of his home on Trousdale Ferry Pike in Lebanon which is less than 2 miles from their farm.
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Nestled in the tranquil hills of Tuckers Crossroads, you will find three brothers working hard to carry on the family’s farming roots while paving forward a legacy of their own. Kenneth and Ina Neal raised their four children to love farming life so much so that siblings, Pal, Perry, Pam, and Phil, all either own part of the cow/calf operation or work on the farm daily.


Pam is currently a nurse and owns a portion of the farm. The brothers — Pal, Perry, and Phil — all live within two miles of their childhood home where their mother, Ina, still tends to a large garden and helps raise bottle calves at age 88. 


Today, the brothers farm a total of 6,500 acres across Wilson County, including 80 once owned by their great-grandfather, William Haskell Neal, who is commonly referred to as the “King of Corn” due to the two-eared corn breed he developed called “Neal’s Paymaster Corn.”


“Every once in a while, there would be a mutation, so he would find a small ear beside a good ear, and he saved those seeds from the ones that had the extra ear,” says Pal, a Wilson Farmers Co-op board member. “Eventually, over the course of 15 or 20 years, all of his corn had two ears. That was when he worked with the University of Tennessee to do research and started selling it.” 


The variety helped farmers increase yields and generated millions of dollars for the state. This accomplishment led him to be the first inductee into the Tennessee Agriculture Hall of Fame housed at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum in Nashville. 


“He never did really get rich off of it,” says Pal, the oldest sibling. “He had a big family so he just made a living, got some name recognition, and passed his love for the land and farming on to his children and their children.”


Each brother followed his own path, but they chose directions that have led all of the brothers to the same destination: working full-time on the family farm.


After high school, Pal attended Cumberland University in Lebanon so he could still be near home. After college, he returned to the farm full-time with his wife, Sheila, who became a nurse. Over the course of their 38-year marriage, Pal and Sheila have raised a family with three children, who today all live within 2 miles of each other on the family property.


Phil, the middle brother, used his animal science degree from Middle Tennessee State University to bring a knowledge of genetics and nutrition to the operation as the family transitioned from a diversified business focused on tobacco and other crops to primarily a cattle operation. Outside of the farm, Phil played many sports including semi-pro softball, and he enjoys quail hunting with his beloved dogs.


“I’ve slowed down on the ball playing now after 40 years of softball,” says Phil. “Today, I spend most of my time in a tractor cab or with my dogs.” 


Youngest brother Perry sought his education in the wild open spaces of Wyoming and New Mexico on large Western ranches where he learned the craft of training and breaking horses.


“I never really wanted to leave Wilson County permanently,” says Perry, an equine enthusiast. “But I wanted to experience a little more of the real-world on a ranch that had 200,000 plus acres. I learned a lot to bring home.”


Following his traveling and training, he returned to the farm and landed a job working with noted country music star Charlie Daniels on his ranch in Wilson County. 


“The Charlie Daniels operation was really big in buying and selling horses,” says Perry. “During that stretch, I just worked three days a week with Charlie's farm and spent the rest of my time on the family operation and raising my two boys. But during my time there, I’d go out and ride and got to work with some really good cowboys, and I learned a whole lot.”


Now, the workload on the farm is split pretty evenly with each brother looking after five to six farms.


“We’ve got our own farms that we look after day-to-day, but then we all come together to cut hay, work cows, and complete the other tasks that take all of us,” says Perry.


This teamwork mentality comes from their childhood spent pitching in on the farm with their dad, who served on the board for Wilson Farmers like both Pal and Perry.


“We grew up with it, and when we were young that’s all we did,” says Pal. “Our dad encouraged us a lot when we were just getting started. He helped us financially as we each got some land together, and we were able to share equipment.” 


“We have had to make changes and overcome obstacles,” says Pal. “But the fact that we have roots and history here in Tuckers Crossroads makes us want to make a way for the future because it is something we enjoy.”


 
 
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