The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Row Crops and Cattle

Row Crops and Cattle

From the Farmer's Tractor

January 29, 2014

Bo Stone, 42, grows 2,300 acres of row crops (including soybeans, corn and wheat), as well as strawberries and sweet corn. He also raises hogs and cattle in Rowland, North Carolina. Stone and his wife co-own P & S Farms with Bo’s parents. Stone represents the sixth generation to farm this same family land. He is one of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s “2013 Faces of Farming and Ranching.”

How did you get into farming? 

You could say I’ve been farming my entire life. I grew up farming with my dad on our family farm. When I was old enough to help, I started working alongside him on the farm.

After taking a year away from the farm after finishing graduate school at North Carolina State in 1995, I found that I really missed the farm. So I came back to join my dad at P & S Farms – and I have been farming full-time ever since.

How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?

Our farm has changed dramatically over the past 10 years – especially in two specific areas: conservation and the use of technology. We have adopted precision farming techniques that use GPS technology and satellites to guide our tractors and make decisions about how we care for our land and crops. In fact, this comes into play as we use GPS on mobile devices to take soil samples from particular regions and zones on our farm. After the soil samples are analyzed, we download the results into our computerized system, where we create a specific fertilizer prescription that best fits that type of soil. As a result, every acre of our 2,300-acre farm gets exactly the right amount of fertilizer – not too little and not too much.

How will farming evolve in the next five years?

Farming practices will only continue to advance in a way that makes farming even more precise. There is more to come. Farmers and ranchers will continue adopting technology – while it’s already used on many farms today, there is opportunity for wider adoption. I also believe conservation will continue to be a huge focus for farming. New conservation technologies, new types of crop seeds and more use of biotechnology are allowing us to keep an eye on conservation. These biotechnology advances also help further reduce the use of pesticides, while developing even more tolerant crops that can withstand and thrive in various weather conditions, including drought. At the same time, new seed advances allow us to use less water – another big plus for conservation.

What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?

As a farmer, our biggest challenge is adapting to variables that are outside our control – weather (too much or too little rain), volatility in our markets, the changing landscape in farming legislation. These are what keep me up at night – even knowing they’re beyond my control.

How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?

You can look back at food patterns year over year – and anticipate what retailers may look for a year from now. But the best guide is putting myself in a consumer’s shoes – what products do I want to have on my dinner table for my family? What are my friends and neighbors talking about when it comes to food? It is this thinking that drives retailers’ desires to meet consumer demands – so, as farmers, we also think like consumers.

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?

We think about conservation every single day on our farm. We’re a 100% no-till farm, which means we leave residue from the previous year’s crops to improve the soil structure and prevent erosion. GPS technology also plays an important role in how we fertilize, and, in turn, care for our land and crops.

We manage our entire farm to be as conservation-minded and sustainable as possible – from how we create land buffers for wildlife to water management to crop planning. It’s important today and for future generations that we’re good stewards in everything we do.

Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process? 

We sell our strawberries and sweet corn at a roadside stand right on our farm. As a GAP-certified producer, people trust that the strawberries and sweet corn they’re buying on our farm are high quality, healthy and sustainably grown. We have customers come from many miles away to buy products on our farm, and I’m proud of the fact that we make a difference in our community.

What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person? 

After farming on the same land for six generations, P & S Farms has many repeat customers and clients – many of whom have known my family and me for years. Some people – especially those who haven’t spent time on farms or have been away from a farm for a while – are surprised at the level of sophisticated technology we use on our farm (“GPS technology can do that?”). When new customers and others meet me for the first time, I think (and hope) that one of the first traits they notice about me is my passion for my farm and what I do every day to raise and grow quality food. And I can’t imagine it any other way.