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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 ...’”
No pest problems
“To this point, I’ve had no insect or weed problems; the technology pretty much takes care of them. My biggest pests are deer — I pull my hair out over the damage they do. Last year, I had to replant 25 acres to 30 acres of soybeans because of the deer, and still had losses. Thankfully though, they haven’t bothered the cotton.”
He expects to start picking about mid-September, with cotton going to Linwood Gin Co. at Vaughan, Miss., about 70 miles away.
“I bought a used John Deere 9960 4-row picker and module builder for less than $10,000,” Kevin says. “It probably would get laughs on bigger farms, but for my small fields, it works fine. When I started growing soybeans, I ran across a 1974 Massey Ferguson 510 4-row gasoline-powered combine up in northeast Mississippi that was in good shape. I paid $3,000 for it and probably spent another $2,000 getting it into tip-top shape, but I’ve cut a lot of soybeans with it. My tractors, which I already had in the poultry operation, are all under 100 horsepower.
“I’m just holding my breath that the harvest season won’t be as wet as 2009 — although I was fortunate in how things turned out.
“Connie and I had planned a vacation trip last June, by which time I figured I’d be done with soybean planting. But it started raining in May and I couldn’t plant, so we left for our vacation, and wouldn’t you know, all the time we were gone the weather back home was nice.
“The result was that I was late planting beans, which then made them late for harvest, and I was able to get them out without any of the rotting that so many farmers faced. I had an excellent crop and ended up averaging 50 bushels.”
This past winter, he had 100 acres of wheat, which turned out well, and is double-cropped to soybeans.
“We planted non-wheat beans starting May 18 and double-crop beans June 18-20. They’re NK52S2F2 and they’re looking very good, with good yield potential. We’ll start harvesting mid-October.”
Most of Kevin’s row crop land is leased, while most of the land he owns is in pastures for his 350-head feeder calf operation.
“I buy mixed breed calves at 350 lbs. to 450 lbs., grow them out on grass and a minimal amount of feed, and sell them at 700 lbs. to 800 lbs.”
Both poultry and calves have worked well from a cash flow standpoint, he says, adding diversity and allowing him to spread risk. “If I should have a bad year with one of the row crops, I’ve got other enterprises to fall back on. I’m thinking of adding some corn next year to broaden my rotation program.”
A few other poultry farmers in the county have begun showing an interest in row crops, Kevin says, in order to utilize some of the litter.
But for the most part, he notes, litter disposal isn’t a problem. “There are people who will come and haul it away and then sell it to farmers all over the state. More and more farmers are seeing how well it performs, and with the big run-up in fertilizer prices, there has been a growing demand for it.”
Getting back into crops was a gamble, Kevin says. “I had no idea how it would work out. People ask me how I manage to look after so many things, and I tell them I put in a lot of long days, I have good help, and I enjoy what I do. You’ve just got to get out there and try, or you’ll never know what you’re capable of doing.”