Corn varieties this year include Dekalb 6469, 6208, 6757; Pioneer 33N55 and 33N58; Croplan 6640; and Terral 28HR20. Soybeans are Asgrow 4632, Pioneer 95Y80, Delta Grow 4765; and Progeny 4510, 5610, and 5711 — “The latter has been a very good bean for our black prairie soils,” Dale says. “We look at MSU and company variety trials data for two or three years, and factor in what has worked well for us in previous years, and we can pretty well determine what will work for us.”

Their wheat varieties this past season were Pioneer 26R87 and 26R15, USG 3201, and Magnolia. ”We watch wheat disease ratings closely, and they are a factor in the varieties we choose,” Paul says. “We usually plant several varieties in order to spread risk and harvest period.”

Dale notes that Paul is a voracious reader — “He’ll spend hours poring over data from variety trials. He reads every farm publication from cover to cover, and he picks up a lot of insight into production and marketing.”

They’ve been fortunate, Paul says, “to have Mississippi State University just up the road, and the Brooksville Experiment Station adjoins one of our farms, so it’s easy to go there and see their variety trials and determine what might work well on our farms. All their specialists and Area Extension Agent Dennis Reginelli have been so helpful to us. Charlie Stokes, who worked on our farm during his college days at MSU, is now an area Extension agent just up the road at Aberdeen.

“The university and the Extension Service have reached out to farmers over the years, and we’ve been blessed to have access to all their information, research, and guidance. That’s particularly the case in marketing, which is such a big part of our operation. Their marketing schools have been very helpful, particularly in the use of Board of Trade futures and options, and we’ve benefited from their many seminars and short courses.

“We forward contract about two-thirds of our expected production, and we use options as part of our hedging strategy. We’re now in the most uncertain markets I’ve seen in my lifetime, and it’s helpful to be able to use these tools.”

They have on-farm storage capacity of 73,000 bushels, Dale says, with heaters on most of the bins and stirators. “Whatever we haven’t forward contracted, we hold until January or February, when the basis is better. All our corn goes to poultry operations. We market our corn through Hansen-Mueller, Alabama Farmers Coop, and Peco Farms, and all our beans go to Cargill.”

For the past five years, their fertility program has been almost entirely poultry litter.

“We soil test half of our land each year with Brookside Labs and follow their recommendations,” Dale says. “Our fields tend to be wet in the spring and we usually aren’t able to apply litter then, so we make our applications in the fall. We lose some of the nitrogen overwinter, but even so we’ve seen yield increases over commercial fertilizer.

“Since we started using the poultry litter, soil tests have shown improvements in fertility, particularly phosphate levels were way down. But with 2 tons per year, levels are now where they should be, and micronutrient levels have been improved. If tests show we need potash, we’ll use commercial sources.