Nearby Vardaman, Miss., is the center of a major sweet potato production area, and acreage for that crop keeps expanding into adjacent counties.

“I’m probably the only farmer in the area who doesn’t grow sweet potatoes,” Jan says, “though I do rent some of my land to those who grow them. I’ve got 350 acres rented out this year for sweet potatoes — they’re an excellent rotational crop for cotton.

“Beyond that, we like to do a two-year cotton, one-year corn rotation on all our cotton ground. We see a significant benefit in cotton the year following corn.

“We started growing corn in about 1996, as much for the rotational benefit as anything. We were working a lot of fields that had always been in cotton, and the ground needed some change.

“Our corn is primarily Pioneer varieties, although we’ve added a good bit of Dekalb this year in order to spread the risk. We’ll average about 130 bushels, which isn’t bad for dryland corn. We’ll do better than that on the cotton ground, but not as good on the heavier soils.

“All the corn is up and growing; we’ve applied nitrogen and sprayed it, so we’re pretty much done with it until harvest. We’ll probably start cutting it around the first of September.”

Jan says they don’t have any on-farm storage. “Our fields are so scattered, we just haven’t seen a way to make it work. We sell our early corn at the elevator and the rest we sell to Sansing Hog Farm over in the next county. This has been a good arrangement for us.”

Son Jason, who is the fifth generation of Hills to farm here, pretty much looks after the soybeans.

“This year, we’re planting mostly Asgrow varieties, primary Group IVs and Group Vs,” he says. “We started planting May 9 and it usually takes a couple of weeks to get everything done, if the weather cooperates. We’ll usually start harvesting around the 20th of September and average about 35 bushels.”

The beans are marketed through Tom Soya Grain Co.

The Hills soil test regularly to determine fertility needs. “It’s hard to get out enough lime and potash on these soils,” says Jan, “so we’re constantly working with that. We’ve started using poultry litter on all our land, at about 1.5 tons per acre.

“On cotton that I irrigated last year and applied poultry litter, I averaged over 1,100 pounds — which is the highest yield I’ve ever had. And on hay ground where I used poultry litter, I baled the most hay ever, so I’m really pleased at how it has worked out. We’re also seeing a bit of a boost in pH where we’re using the litter.

“For our commercial nitrogen this year, we’re using a dry formulation, which was about the same price as liquid, but is much easier and faster to apply.”