Three generations of Posey family farmers sat around a kitchen table on a crisp early-October morning and talked about passing on traditions, farming philosophy and production techniques from one generation to the next. Topping the list of hand-me-down wisdom was the obligation to leave the land better than you found it.

That environmental stewardship philosophy was a key reason why Jeff Posey, the middle generation, earned the 2010 Farm Press High Cotton Award for the Southwest Region.

Jeff, his father Ted and his son Stuart farm nearly 5,000 acres, mostly in Fisher County, Texas, with a few fields in nearby Jones and Stonewall counties. Jeff’s younger son Joe, a senior at Texas Tech, will come back to farm full-time after graduation next spring. Jeff’s brother David also farms in the area.

“We’re always looking for what works best and what’s best for the environment,” Jeff said. “We’re spraying less pesticide than we used to. And we’re using cover crops where we can. I hate to see sand blow. We keep as much cover on the ground as possible, but we still may cultivate some to fight sand in the spring.”

Reduced tillage, he said, helps conserve soil and water and improves efficiency. “We can get over fields in less time. Drip irrigated fields and one pivot field have not had a plow in them since we installed the systems.”

In addition to conservation tillage, the Poseys are doing all they can to conserve water with subsurface drip irrigation on 600 acres and low energy precision application systems on their other irrigated acreage. They use the best technology available, including GPS and transgenic varieties, to reduce pesticide and energy use, and were early proponents of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program.

The Poseys have farmed in this area since 1912, when Ted’s grandfather moved here. Stuart and Joe will follow that tradition after earning degrees — Stuart in ag business from Lubbock Christian last May and Joe in ag education at Texas Tech next spring.

“I encouraged both of them to go to school,” Jeff said.

Irrigation has made the biggest difference in productivity.

They farm land close to the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. “We have good water available at 30 feet deep,” Ted said. “The water table holds up well and recharges quickly.”

Jeff said the irrigated 2009 crop “looks really good. A late July rain recharged the aquifer and we were able to finish the crop. Dryland production will be good, bad and ugly.”

He said fields rotated behind wheat will make as much as one-and-one-fourth bale per acre. Fields of cotton behind cotton will make one-fourth bale or less. “A lot depends on fruit retention on late cotton. We had a cool September. And we needed one more rain in August to make a good dryland crop.”

Some of the crop was late because of early drought. “We had no moisture in the ground to start,” Jeff said.

Ted said they watch the Clear Fork to judge irrigation capacity. “The river never dried up here until 2002 or 2003,” he said, “when more irrigation came in. This September it quit running and when the river quits running we need to start checking our wells more often.”

They improved water use efficiency with the 600 acres of drip irrigation. They also use smaller, more efficient pumps to irrigate.

They expect irrigated fields to do well. “If we produce less than 1,500 pounds of lint per acre on our drip irrigation fields, we messed up,” Jeff said. “If we make less than 1,000 pounds under pivots, we know we made a mistake. In 2007, we averaged almost four bales per acre across all our irrigated cotton.”

Over the last five years, Jeff averaged 1,450 pounds per acre on all irrigated cotton. Over eight years, average is 1,320. Dryland production for the last five years averaged 650 pounds; 530 pounds for the past eight.

Efficient irrigation and better varieties account for improved yields, they said.

Jeff said they use a little more fertilizer on drip irrigated fields. “We put down all our phosphorus pre-plant, along with some nitrogen. In drip fields we put most of our nitrogen out through the system.”

They flush the lines with sulphuric acid and may begin using it in-season to help lower pH.

Almost all of their cotton is planted strip-till. “Most of our fields are sandy,” Jeff said. “We rotate and strip till to keep sand from blowing.”

He said their crop consultant, Jenifer Schwertner, Crop Production Services, encouraged them to look at reduced tillage. Jeff said he was in and out of no-till for a few years. “I would get disgusted with it and go back to plowing. What got me into it was sand fighting into June.

“No-till is not a cheaper way to farm, it’s just different. At first I tried to skimp on chemical use and weeds got too big and began to take away moisture.”

He said his dad was the one who started pushing for no-till. “It was the older generation looking for change instead of the younger one,” Ted said.

They traveled around to see other farmers who were experimenting with no-till. “We do a lot of listening and learning,” Jeff said.

No-till and rotation go hand-in-hand. Jeff likes to plant cotton behind wheat, into the stubble, but occasionally plants milo for rotation. Jeff had 300 acres of wheat and 250 acres of Milo in 2009.

They’ve also planted cotton behind hay grazer and Ted said that rotation worked well. They contend that rotation pays with better production from the subsequent cotton crop. “The problem sometimes is convincing a landlord that rotation will pay,” Jeff said. “The key is not average yield, but how much money you make per acre.”

He said concentrating water on cotton with part of the field in a rotation crop improves the odds of making a profit. “We can spend half as much on seed and spray and sometimes make as much cotton as we would have without the rotation crop,” he said.

They follow a continuous cotton culture on drip irrigation acreage, however. “Landlords want cotton on that acreage because it will cash out better than wheat or milo.”

They plant all stacked gene cotton and say the combination of Roundup Ready Flex and no-till works well. In 2009 they planted “mostly Dyna-Gro 2750. We also planted DPL 0935 in dryland fields and some Stoneville 1880,” Jeff said.

“We found out four years ago that planting stacked gene cotton costs no more than one insecticide spray. And without Bollgard we stay right around a treatment threshold so we lose some production.”

They spray less pesticide than they used to. “It’s a green technology,” Ted said.

They’re also moving to 30-inch row spacings to increase efficiency. “We started switching to 30-inch rows in 2003,” Jeff said. “I had seen 30-inch rows in south Texas and was impressed. We’re not 100 percent 30-inch yet, but we’re about 80 percent with 20 percent 40-inch rows.”

When Joe comes back to the farm, they’ll make the switch complete. Jeff said several large crops in the last few years required them to get help stripping cotton and neighbors were using 40-inch equipment. “When Joe comes back we’ll buy another stripper.”

He said 30-inch rows “are more forgiving. In irrigated cotton, if we don’t have a good stand, the skips are closer together. In dryland, a two-and-one skip pattern, plants are close enough to take advantage of almost every rain. With dry years, plants take advantage of available moisture. We have the same number of rows.”

He said converting to 30-inch row equipment is expensive.

They also are adding GPS technology. “When we put in the first drip system we knew accuracy was necessary. Our dealer told us we had the fifth GPS guidance system in the country,” Ted said. “It’s amazing how far GPS technology has come.”

They have units on three tractors and are looking at spray rigs with guidance systems. “If we go to a self-guided sprayer with a guidance system we will need to use it on all our acreage,” Jeff said. “Now, we don’t hesitate to use an airplane if we get behind.”

They have their own RTK system they share with one other producer. “We have swath control on one spray unit and when we get a new planter it will have GPS on it. That will be a significant advantage to eliminate planting overlaps.”

Jeff said he never considered a career other than farming and spent a lot of time as a boy working in the fields. His sons followed that trend. “Stuart and Joe would go with me every day until they started kindergarten,” Jeff said.

Both sons used farm income to help pay for college. “I paid for school while they helped on the farm,” Jeff said. “But one year dad had a 60-acre pivot on rented land he let the boys have to earn college money. That was in 2007 and they made enough money off that crop to pay for the rest of their college education.”

Stuart said he majored in ag business because it offered him the shortest route to get back to the farm.

“I started farming full time in 1983,” Jeff said. “I made good dryland cotton in 1985 and 1987 and then didn’t make another good one until 1994. Still, I never considered doing anything else.”

He did hold some off-farm jobs in lean years. “I got by with trucking. Then we added irrigation and I came back to full-time farming.”

He said changes he hopes to make in 2009 include switching everything to 30-inch rows, working on more efficient nitrogen fertilizer application and to improve on wheat and milo production.

“I need to get better at milo and wheat farming,” he said. “I’m always alert to something that is new and better.”

Posey gives back to his community and the industry. He serves on the Roby CISD school board and has served as president for the past four years. He’s on the Cotton Board and has been a board member of the Rolling Plains Cotton Growers board for five years, and is currently the president.

He’s respected by his peers as well. In a nomination letter for the High Cotton Award, neighboring farmer Randall Bankhead praised Posey for his efforts. “As time goes on there are fewer and fewer young people coming back to the farm. Many farmers in our area wonder where our next generation of farmers will come from and who will lead our industry into the many challenges ahead. Jeff and his wife Phiny have raised two sons who not only want to continue these farming practices, but also want to expand on these as they look at what might be next in technology and efficiency on the farm."

“Jeff is not only a good steward of the land and resources, but (he is) also raising a new generation of young leaders willing to improve our industry. I believe Jeff is an innovative grower that truly exemplifies the characteristics of a good leader.”

Posey offered a bit of advice to young farmers. “When you think you’ve got it all figured out, you get in trouble,” he said. “Take pride in what you do and do the best you can. The rest will take care of itself.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com