Corn, Soybean, Cattle and Hog Farming
From the Farmer's Tractor
December 26, 2010
How did you get into corn, soybean, cattle and hog farming?
My dad started farming in the 70’s so I have been around agriculture my whole life. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a farmer. In 1992, I talked my parents into starting a farrow-to-finish hog farm. I was a sophomore in high school, most kids my age were playing sports. I wanted to strengthen my SAEP (Supervised Agricultural Experience Program), which is an FFA program. I was very active in the FFA in high school and served as the Tennessee FFA State President in 1995-96. I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 1998 and began farming full time in 1999. I rented several acres that year and still farm the majority of those acres today.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
When I started farming, Roundup Ready and BT technology were just beginning. I was slow to adapt to the technology due primarily to the increased cost, but today, all of the soybeans I grow are Roundup beans and much of the corn is as well. I plant about 60% BT corn. For the readers who don’t understand, Roundup is a broad-spectrum crop protection agent that controls most types of weeds that are found in corn and soybean fields. BT is a gene that is implanted into the corn seed that I purchase. This reduces the amount of pesticides that I have to use to control worms that feed on the stalks of my corn plants. BT has improved yields and helps to keep the corn stalks strong so that they will not break over and reduce yields. In the past two years, I have invested in guidance systems that will guide my tractors, sprayers, and combined across the fields. This technology saves me time by improving efficiency.
How will corn, soybean, cattle and hog farming evolve in the next five years?
In the last 15 years, I have seen so many changes in farming. In the next five, I am sure to see even more. We are beginning to use variable rate technology. Variable rate is not very new, but it is to our farm. The way I am using it will involve many factors. The way I have started using it is by hiring someone to take samples of the soil in 2.5-acre squares all across my fields. These samples are sent to a lab for testing to determine the nutrients that are available. We take the results and apply the recommended nutrients. We are using this for our lime, phosphorous, and potassium. In the future, I will use transparent yield maps generated from my combine to lay over these soil samples. I feel that by doing this, I can optimize my farms much more efficiently and make every acre count.
What is your greatest challenge as a corn, soybean, cattle and hog farmer?
In today’s market place, the price of corn and soybeans is very good. It needs to be, as seed, fertilizer, equipment, and land are all very expensive. In my area we are beginning to have problems with resistant weeds. This means that the Roundup system I talked about earlier is no longer controlling some of the weeds in our fields. I have to spend additional time and money to insure my crop is clean.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
Farming has always been a gamble. Today is no different; the markets that I depend on are very volatile. Our family farm keeps with a crop rotation. We don’t go for the home run, so to speak; in that if we plant soybeans on a field this year, we will plant corn on the same field next year. We have half of our acres in corn and half in soybeans year in and year out. Of course Mother Nature has the final say in this. We often have more soybeans than corn due to wet planting seasons. We also grow several acres of white corn, and this corn is used to make flour. We sell all of this corn to one buyer, and they determine how many bushels they want and offer us a contract for that number of bushels.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
My father began using no-till in the 80’s. We continue to use this type of farming today. No-till is just what it sounds like. We do not work the soil up; instead we plant our crops directly into the residue of the past year’s crop. This practice conserves soil, and as the past year’s crop residue decays, additional soil is built. This past fall, we built several water retention structures to slow surface water runoff. We plant filter strips next to our streams to prevent soil contamination. I have also invested in technology for my sprayer to insure that I do not over or under apply crop protection agents in my fields. This past year was very dry in my area, so I purchased a no-till, sub-soil machine. This new implement should build the amount of water holding capacity that my farms have while minimally disturbing the top soil. I hope this will reduce the risk of drought in the future.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
I mentioned earlier that we grow several acres of white corn. When people think about locally grown, farmers’ markets usually come to mind. The system that I use is also a farmers’ market. We plant 500 to 800 acres of white corn in the spring, harvest it in the fall and store it in our grain bins. In June, I will begin to remove the corn from the bins and haul it to Jackson, Tennessee. Martha White is the final destination for my white corn. This company mills the corn and turns it into flour for baking, and they also produce grits from my corn.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
I have been active in agricultural organizations like the Farm Bureau, Young Farmers and Ranchers, and the Soybean Association for many years. My involvement has led to travels across the country. I enjoy talking with non-farmers – especially on airplanes or in large cities. Many are amazed at the amount of acres that my family and I farm. Our farm is actually an average size farm for my area. I have found that these non-farmers are very interested in learning where their food comes from. I enjoy farming and producing food, and I hope I to convey this to the people I come in contact with, whether it’s on a plane, on the street, or on my computer.