Orangeburg, South Carolina
Jim McClain had always dreamed of two things: flying and becoming a cowboy.
Now, as a United States Marine Corps veteran and the owner of The Flying Leatherneck Ranch in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Jim can rightfully say that he is has achieved both.
The Early Days
Jim grew up working in the tobacco fields where his father was a sharecropper, an experience that inspired him to desire owning his own land one day. After high school, Jim went into the Air Force, completing a tour in Vietnam before pursuing a college education at Arizona State.
When the Marines needed pilots, Jim said he, “couldn’t raise his hand fast enough.” Along with flying in OV-10s, A-4s and F/A-18s, Jim also served as an infantry officer commanding L2/7 and director of public affairs for 12th district and 3rd MAW.
From Flying to Farming
While his military career came to a close in the early 90s, Jim’s career in agriculture was just beginning. In 1991 he and his wife Linda purchased the 600 acres that is now The Flying Leatherneck Ranch, where they farm Coastal Bermuda hay and Black Angus cattle. Jim and Linda started with 50 head of cattle and 150 acres of hay. Today, they’ve doubled the size of their hay operation, growing on 300 acres. “What you see here today is a far cry from being a sharecropper to being a land owner” Jim said.
AgSouth Farm Credit has been there to support Jim and Linda as they grow the ranch. “Without AgSouth, I would not have been able to expand the operation. I would not have been able to replace the equipment, and you really need good equipment to get out and do the job on any given day,” Jim said.
Quality is a priority at The Flying Leatherneck Ranch. Unlike many of his southern hay producing peers, Jim grows irrigated hay, a practice that he learned from his time in Arizona and California.
Irrigation reduces the risk of low production due to lack of rainfall, allowing Jim to produce a consistently high-quality product.
“What sets this operation apart, is the presence of the center pivot irrigation. No one has taken it to the scale that Mr. Jim has. It has given him control of some of the risk,” said John Till, Jim’s relationship manager at AgSouth Farm Credit.