Hollis Osborne, at age 24, purchased a small Purina feed store business near Jane, Missouri in 1954. He and his wife Nina used their cash savings of roughly $5,000 as a combat officer in Korea and as a part time secretary along with another $5,000 loan to purchase the business and beginning inventory.
Hollis & Nina along with their growing family of 4 children expanded the business and produced a number of separate corporations and limited liability companies that were related in some way to chickens or cattle and crops. The first of these companies was Top Notch Farms Productions, Inc. TNF began in 1959 as a chicken layer business. TNF became the largest chicken laying operation in Missouri for a time with ten houses holding 7000 chickens a piece. Hard work and ingenuity has always been the key at TNF. When Hollis saw that the chicken cages were sagging and extremely small, he created a new cage that made the chickens much more efficient and the collection of the eggs easier.
By God’s wisdom and guidance, the company grew to include 4 more chicken houses on another property called the Fleck Farm during the late 1960s and early 70s. The Osborne family has always been deeply involved in TNF, Paul the oldest son even helped construct one of the Fleck chicken houses during his high school years. Hollis said, “Paul and several of his friends helped put together that house, when we put the cages in, you never saw a more amazed group of kids that the place didn’t fall down.”
Hollis was always looking for new opportunities for growth. With this in mind he was always on the lookout for new properties that were good locations at reasonable prices to expand his enterprise. Whenever he had extra capital he would invest in land. The land was then used to dispose of chicken litter, producing more grass; it follows that the grass should not be wasted. Thus TNF began to purchase cattle to dispose of the grass. The management quickly learned the value of chicken manure. “Always use available resources”, Bobby Compton, TNF’s foreman, was often heard saying “And chicken manure is our #1 resource”. Chicken manure was and continues to be one of the most valuable resources available to TNF.
Bobby Compton, TNF’s foreman from the beginning, oversaw the management of TNF. Around the late 1970s the decision was made by Hollis with input from Bobby and other board members to separate the chicken business from the cattle and farming. So Moark Productions took over all of the chicken business and Top Notch Farms Productions’ operations became centered on wheat and fescue farming with some cattle. The company was known at the time as Moark Farms and still some locals refer to the company as such, due to the early involvement with Moark Productions.
The company continued to buy land whenever it became available if the funds were accessible. The Youngblood farm, Beale/Richards farm, County Line and others were purchased and used primarily for cattle. Throughout TNF’s history it is clear that management has had to be agile concerning Ag Development. Years earlier, Hollis had seen the move from smaller family owned farms to more commercialized industries in several Ag businesses, such as turkeys and pigs. Instead of trying to catch up to those businesses that already had a head start he looked at other avenues and found an opportunity in the chicken laying business. In the 1980s he saw the same trend, from small family owned to commercial, happening with cattle. During the early 1980s TNF had around 300 head of cattle, then in 1986 when the dairy buyout hit, effectively crashing the market, TNF took the opportunity to buy large quantities of cattle. By the end of that time period TNF was purchasing whole herds of cattle, increasing the total to 1500 head of cattle.
The herds were used primarily for producing feeder cows. Around the time the calves were 500 lbs., they would be shipped to the Flinthills by Madison, Kansas to grass feed them until they were 700-800 lbs. Some would be custom fed in a feed lot, while others were sold in local markets. The central business of TNF from 1986 thru 1997 was cattle. Hay and fescue seed were also included on a small level, usually around 450 acres but did not become significant to the business until later years.
In 1995 Bobby Compton retired from TNF and handed the production responsibilities over to his son, Jerry Compton. Jerry, having grown up at Top Notch and working there throughout his young life knew the business and was able to handle the challenges that arose. Earlier in 1995, Jerry along with Hollis again saw an opportunity to expand the business by buying several properties such as Wagoner, Bradley, White, and the North 60 for the purpose of growing crops. A steady increase in demand for grain and fluctuating prices for cattle became the deciding factor in 1997 for switching the central business from cattle to crops. Crops were more stable and had a better market. TNF gradually began to reduce the herd of cattle. Prior to 96 TNF was producing crops such as milo, soybeans, and wheat on a small scale. Then in 1996 TNF started growing corn in place of milo because the demand of the poultry industry, the primary consumer, was switching to corn.
TNF grew wheat and corn from 1997 thru 2000 but then because economics dictated that fescue seed was more profitable than corn, TNF began to concentrate on fescue seed. Fescue seed production continued thru 2007. During 06 and 07 there were a few new land purchases but most of the newly acquired acreage came from rentals in the Diamond area. This marks the first time TNF rented land on a large scale.
Beginning in 2005 TNF started several renovations of pastures. TNF worked with landowners to convert old unproductive pasture filled with K31 toxic fescue to usable farm land. This process took a year or two, then after renting the land to TNF for a few years of corn farming, TNF management would coordinate with landowners to replant MaxQ fescue. MaxQ fescue was not toxic and the landowners could then use the pasture for cattle. One example of this is Joplin Regional Stockyards. In 2010 TNF custom planted MaxQ fescue for Joplin Regional Stockyards and they have had great success with irrigation and pasture renovation.
Fescue seed prices dropped dramatically in 2008 due to the housing market crash, as the primary use for fescue seed is yard seed planting. At the same time corn prices radically increased because of the massive production of ethanol as well as the weakening of the dollar. Due to this change TNF switched its primary crop production from fescue seed to corn. TNF also began renting land in the Sarcoxie & Maple Grove areas, farming around 3800 acres by 2009. TNF expanded again in 2010 to north of Carthage, working with landowners to share crop or rent usable farm land. In 2011TNF learned that growing high yield wheat was possible in Newton and Jasper counties and effectively made the transition from primarily growing corn with soybeans as a crop rotation to growing 50% corn and 50% wheat/ double crop soybeans.
Although crops have become the more central business for Top Notch, the cattle business is still in operation. Currently TNF has over 250 head. The primary focus of the cattle side is background feeder calves, raising the calves on the cow until about 500 lbs. and then moving them to a feedlot to grow to up to 900 lbs. before selling. The cattle herds are managed by Robert Bullis, a local contractor, who works closely with TNF to produce quality beef.
In more recent years, the next generation has become involved in Top Notch Farms. During 2008 Hollis decided to step down from managing Osborne family business interests and Jared Osborne, Hollis’ grandson, has taken on the role of general manager for TNF. Jared provides the necessary communication between the farm production and the ownership. Jerry, as the Production Manager, is able to focus on farm operations while Jared concentrates on the business side of the farm. Throughout TNF’s history the number of employees has usually centered around 3-6 employees, now TNF has grown to employ 14 full time and 2 part time employees. Each employee brings their own strengths to make a solid crew. TNF works hard to hire responsible individuals that strengthen the company with their attitude and abilities. New faces have appeared in the ranks of management and you can see short profiles of each farm employee on the Bios page. Now, thanks to the hard work of its employees and the vision of its leadership TNF farms over 5000 acres of land. TNF is striving to provide landowners and employees with a positive farming experience. New opportunities arise often and we look forward to the changes of tomorrow.