Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year
story by Kelly Harley photos by Tonya Perry
If you’ve ever worked on a farm, you know it’s not an easy job. Even if you haven’t ever stepped foot on one, you can likely imagine the time and energy that goes into maintaining one. It involves manual labor. It depends on the weather, which could affect grain prices and ultimately your crops. Chris Shea knows that farming requires a certain type of work ethic. “When you have a farm, you always have something to do. It’s not a 9-to-5 job, you have to work around the clock, even on weekends,” says Chris.
Chris should know. He owns two farms, one in Effingham County and one in Statesboro, Georgia. The Effingham County-native, with his family, started the 80-acre cow farm 15 years ago and now raises 75 cows. He lives on the farm and between him and his family, they do all the work. They farm the hay for the cows and feed them. His daughters, ages 17 and 11, also play an active role on the farm. “It’s enjoyable. It takes time, but it’s valuable time,” adds Chris. They raise the calves and sell them when they get around six to eight months old, usually at a cattle auction in Swainsboro, Georgia.
Chris’s other farm in Statesboro is a 243-acre longleaf pine farm. He started that farm about a year ago as a business opportunity. He sells the pine straw for people to use for things such as flower beds and then cuts the timber off the mature trees. Chris offers advice for someone considering farming, “If you have a passion, go after it. Do what you love.”
That’s exactly what Chris is doing. His passion for farming, cows and the outdoors started at a young age. He calls himself a normal country boy who grew up hunting and fishing. When he attended Effingham County High School, he participated in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization. FFA was founded by a group of young farmers in 1928 with the mission to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population. The program teaches that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting – it’s a science, it’s a business and it’s an art.
While Chris participated in the program, one of the highlights for him was showing cows. He raised the Red Angus cows that he showed. He participated in local fairs and competitions. He says being part of FFA taught him responsibility and he built lasting relationships with other people who had similar interests, interests that his daughters now share. Both are part of the FFA program and they, too, show cows. “It’s really rewarding as a father to see my daughters do this. I help them with the cows and spend great quality time with them. I even teach them some tricks I know,” says Chris.
Chris isn’t just a farmer, he’s also a businessman. After graduating high school in 1999, he attended Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College in Tifton, Georgia. He then transferred to Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia, and graduated with a business degree. From there his love of buying and selling heavy equipment took off.
“I’ve always bought and sold tractors and backhoes with my father, so in 2004, I went to work for Low Country Machinery,” says Chris. After working as a salesman at Low Country Machinery selling JCB equipment for 12 years, Chris worked his way through the ranks and, in 2016, decided to purchase the dealership. In addition to owning Low Country Machinery, he also owns the subsidiary businesses of Low Country JCB, Low Country Massey Ferguson and Low Country Kubota in Statesboro. Since 2016, Chris says his companies have doubled and he now employees 48 people. Chris says every day is different and he enjoys meeting new people. “Customers are looking to me for advice on what kind of equipment to buy,” says Chris. “It makes me feel good that they put their trust in me. Some people work their whole lives to buy one tractor.”
Chris’ hard work pays off, not only personally, but professionally. In 2017, Chris was honored by being named Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year. The award was presented to him at the 2017 Effingham County Young Farmers Annual Awards Banquet at Ebenezer Retreat Center by Georgia State Representative Jon Burns. Ironically, Chris worked for Jon at a feed store while he was in college. The award isn’t something you apply for, you have to be nominated. “I was totally shocked when I received the award. I thought we were there for my daughter who was getting an award for showing cows,” says Chris. He says the award means the world to him because he went from loading bags at Ijon Webb’s feed store at age 14 to owning his own company.
As a farmer and business owner, he is very aware of the changes in the farming industry and Chris says the farming industry is constantly evolving. Tractors are becoming automated and are equipped with GPS, auto steer and auto spray. He says the smaller farmers are fading out and bigger farmers are coming in. He credits that change to cost in equipment. “A lot of smaller farms are teaming up with other smaller farms in order to share equipment cost,” says Chris. “One farmer might have a cotton picker and the other a combine and they will help each other out. It takes teamwork to keep smaller farmers going.”
Chris doesn’t come from a family of farmers. He learned the trade just by being around friends that had farms and working at the feed store. Of course, FFA played an invaluable role in preparing Chris for what he’s doing now. Chris recommends everyone find something they enjoy doing, especially when it comes to children. “I think everyone should learn a trade. Kids sit behind a shut door and play video games or text on their phones,” says Chris. “If we want to occupy the time of the younger generation, we need to teach them how to do something.”
If you spend enough time with Chris, you might find his passion for farming and helping others achieve their success in farming may rub off on you. If it’s not farming, it could be his genuine interests in helping his customers or his passion for working hard every day.