Consultant Chuck Farr has some advice for farmers wanting to cut costs. “Don't walk over dollars to pick up a dime. I've seen more of that this year than I've ever seen before.”

One example is in-furrow fungicides, says Farr, who owns Mid-South Ag Consultants, Inc., Crawfordsville, Ark. “Farmers have used them most of their lives, but this year, a few have not wanted to put them down. But on some fields where they have a history of seedling disease, they've needed to.

“They're saving a few dollars,” said Farr, “but it's costing them in the long run with thin stands and cotton struggling all year long. On those fields, they should have bitten the bullet and spent the money.”

On the other hand, Farr knows what farmers are going through, what with so much responsibility on their shoulders to keep afloat financially.

For that reason, Farr believes a big part of his job as consultant “is to keep an upbeat attitude. That probably goes a long way with the growers, because they're all down, period. I tell them, ‘We're going to be okay. We're going to make it. We may not make the money we want to make, but we're going to be here next year. That's what we're striving for. Times are going to get better.’”

Farr, recently named Consultant of the Year by the National Alliance of Independence Crop Consultants, specializes in corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, rice, peanuts and milo.

“Chuck is as thorough and conscientious with his work as I've seen and has the best interests of the producer in mind all the way,” said Clarkedale, Ark., producer Allen Helms, a Farr client. “He's not out there to cover himself with recommendations. He looks at the economic side of recommendations. I think he's outstanding.”

Cutting costs, not yield

Farr believes a number of labor- and input-saving practices, as well as changes in insect management, are right around the corner. One cost-cutting practice that Farr believes will have a positive impact on profitability is conservation tillage.

Farr has already seen a huge increase in the number of hooded sprayers in the area, but there is still a lot of room for improvement in the number of trips they make.

“I have a farmer who is running a hooded sprayer six times with Roundup and another who is running only three times who is putting a little Staple out with it. That's three applications he's saved right there.”

Farr has learned as much as he can about variable-rate applications of fertilizer and other inputs, but, he says, most farmers “just aren't quite ready for variable-rate applications.”

Ready or not, boll weevil eradication is ushering in a new era in insect control for Farr and his customers.

“In the next few years, you're going to see a lot more information on integrated pest management. The university is doing a lot of work on aphid thresholds versus the number of beneficials in the field. You treat depending on the ratio of beneficial insects to aphids.

“As a community, we have to get educated about these secondary pests,” Farr said. “We can add stinkbugs as a problem pest, and I think plant bugs are going to become our number one pest.

“We don't have a lot of data on some pests, like saltmarsh caterpillars, spider mites. and fall armyworms.”

No doubt, three straight years of low prices and drought have made farmers a bit edgy. They've seen good crops go bad quickly, and when they thought prices couldn't go lower, they did.

“So it's with some trepidation that Farr talks about this season's plantings.

“Rice is looking exceptionally good. We've been fighting stinkbugs the past few weeks. That's a pest that has blown-up on us. And we have probably the best milo crop we've ever had.

“This is shaping up to be one of our better cotton crops, said Farr, who started consulting in 1988. “We've had extremely light insect pressure. The temperatures have been with us. We still have some areas that are hurting, but a lot of fields have caught some rains. But it's not there yet. We've got to get it to the gin first.”

Not every minute of the week is spent worrying about the crop. Nor should it be. Every Wednesday during the growing season, area farmers, sales representatives and others get a break from the stress. Around noon, the pickup trucks begin to pull in front of an old commissary on the Helm's farm.

In what has become a local tradition, Farr's mother, Linda, his wife, Tami, and other farm wives prepare and set up lunch on tables behind the old store, under a shade tree. Farmers, their families and others with an interest in area agriculture stop by to eat and exchange stories while keeping an eye on a half-dozen energetic toddlers.

The tradition began about six years ago and has grown because of the good food and the fact that there are not any restaurants close by. “I get to visit with some of my customers,” Farr said. “Sales people will come by, and with the farmers they see here, they can get most of the northern part of Crittenden County covered.”

Most of the time, the crowd averages 40 people, but the largest crowd hit over 80 people, according to Farr.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the after-lunch discussion drifted to the financial condition of most farmers. “We have to have a good crop,” Farr said. “We don't have any choice. I've never seen farmers in the state of mind they're in right now. They have no equity. Everything is mortgaged.” And so is a way of life, says Farr, who himself farms some rice, wheat and wheat-beans.

“Farmers enjoy being farmers. They enjoy the crops, the 100-hour work weeks during the hottest time of the year, the duck hunting in the fall. But they're losing their livelihoods with poor prices and poor yields. It has nothing to do with the management side. We're doing the management. We need to get over that hump of bad prices and poor yields. They're more afraid of that than anything else.”

Even getting over the hump this year is not going to turn farmer finances completely around, noted Farr. “That's just going to get us into next year. We keep thinking we can hang on, that one of these crops is going to do something. This is the third year.”

Farr, whose father was a vocational ag teacher in Crawfordsville, holds a bachelor of science in agronomy from the University of Arkansas and a masters of science in plant science from Arkansas State University. He and his wife, Tami, have two children, Charlie and Taylor.


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com