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Kevin Kemp, who’d grown up a farm boy in the rolling hills of east central Mississippi parked all his equipment after a freak hailstorm 20 years and started a business that he ran for six years. But during all that time, the urge to farm never went away.
"While I was out of farming, I was the most miserable man you ever saw. I came home one day and told Connie, ‘I’m going to start farming again. It’s the only work I really like to do. If it doesn’t work out, at least I can say I tried. I hope you’ll stay with me, but ...’”
Return to cotton
So this year, two decades after that fateful hailstorm put him out of cotton, he got back in, returning to a crop now much different than when he previously grew it.
“A lot of the insect and weed problems that I once had to contend with had been reduced or eliminated by Bt and Roundup Ready. All the technology built into the seed has really made a difference in cotton production. Plus, cotton offered a rotation option.”
Here in the hills, there aren’t vast areas of open land. “I farm in small patches,” Kevin laughs. “The largest field I have is 33 acres. All told, I have 15 fields in cotton and 15 in soybeans. Fortunately, most of the fields are within fairly close proximity, except for 50 acres across the river about 8 miles away.
“With small fields, I’m pretty much limited to 4-row equipment, so I wasn’t facing a massive investment for big machinery. My helper and I pulled equipment out of the bushes, cleaned it up, reworked it, and got it in usable condition.”
May 8, after 20 years on the sidelines, he started planting cotton.
“I planted Stoneville 5458B2RF because all the performance data really looked good. The first week in June we 4 inches of rain in one day; the next week, we had 3 inches in one day, but the cotton came through okay. After that, we’ve had nice rains and the crops haven’t suffered.
“Since this was my first year with cotton, I had to hip up and put it on beds, but next year I’ll no-till it. If I can plant without breaking the soil, that’s what I do. I really believe in no-till.
“I’ve not bought the first pound of commercial fertilizer — the poultry litter has supplied all the crop’s nutrition needs. I probably couldn’t have gone back into cotton had it not been for the cost savings in not having to purchase fertilizer.”
Application rate is based on soil tests, Kevin says, but for cotton it will average 2 tons of litter per acre. “I haven’t even side-dressed with ammonia. I debated about it, but the cotton was growing so well and looking so good, I decided against it. So far, I don’t think I could’ve asked for better performance.”
About his only post-planting expenditure has been for Pix applications.
“In these creek bottoms, with high fertility, I just have to slow things down or the plants would be 10 feet tall. The first Pix application, 10 oz. per acre, got the cotton’s attention, and by season end I’ll probably have made four applications.
“Right now (late August), the cotton looks really good. Dr. Ernie Flint Jr., area Extension agent at Kosciusko, Miss., who has been very helpful with advice, says he thinks it could go 2.5 to 3 bales. But I know a lot can happen between now and when it goes to the gin.