He works 19 separate farms, with fields scattered within a 15-20 mile radius, ranging in size from 1.5 acre on the smallest end to 113 acres on the largest. The largest farm has 250 acres total, the smallest 18 acres.

“In the early days, when I didn’t have any help,” Ben says, “the logistics of moving things around and figuring where to leave my pickup so I could get back home at the end of the day, was quite a challenge.

“I learned very quickly that I needed a full set of tools on every piece of equipment in case I had a breakdown and no way to get back to my pickup. Things are easier now that I have help and can plan equipment use and movement more efficiently.” He has two full-time employees and two part-time.

“As I came across equipment with good prices, I added to my machinery lineup. I now have three tractors, a combine, a cotton picker — all John Deere — and two 18-wheel grain trucks. Everything was bought used, and we do as much of our equipment repairs and maintenance as we possibly can. With the high costs of shop work, we need to save money where we can.”

Ben says he’d always had an interest in cotton, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he tried a small acreage. “It didn’t turn out well, and I didn’t grow any more until 2011, when the attractive price outlook encouraged me to try it again.”

He planted Deltapine 0912 B2RF and 1034 B2RF the last of April/early May and averaged 2.1 bales per acre. “Last year was a great one for cotton in this area,” he says. “Some of the highest yields in the state were over here in the prairie region.”

This year, he’ll plant Deltapine 1137 B2RF and 1048 B2RF and Phytogen 499 WRF.

“Cotton is also a good rotation crop for me,” Ben says. “And it’s more tolerant of our heavy soils than soybeans — it’s hard to make a consistently good soybean yield here with no irrigation. A few of farmers in this area run pivots with water from lakes or catchment ponds, and I’d love to be able to irrigate, but the way most of my fields are situated, it just isn’t feasible.

“We, thankfully, don’t have the insect problems that Delta cotton farmers have, and thus far we’ve seen no weed resistance. The boll weevil eradication program took care of that pest. We sprayed once last year for plant bugs, once for thrips, and once for stink bugs.” His cotton is ginned at Hamilton Gin, Hamilton, Miss.

“Weeds have not been a major issue for me, but I use residuals and rotate chemistries to try and head off any resistance issues.

“These black belt prairie soils are much like the gumbo soils in the Delta; the heavy clay is usually too wet to work in the spring, and if we get a lot of rain during the growing season, the crops — particularly corn — can suffer. 

“My worst corn yields have been in years when there was too much rain. In 2009, when it rained so much, we were late getting soybeans planted, which turned out to be a blessing in the fall because the soybeans weren’t mature during the fall rains and we didn’t have the damage or rot that occurred in other areas.”

No-till isn’t an option on the heavy soils, Ben says, and spring tillage when the ground is wet is a no-no: “There’d be so many clods it would be a mess the rest of the year. So, I use a stale seedbed system, tilling and bedding up in the fall and letting rains and freezes mellow the soil over the winter. Then in spring, I burn down and plant. I’ve used mostly Roundup for burndown, but this year have used a combination of Roundup and LeadOff, a new DuPont product.”

This year he has about 250 acres of winter wheat, and if there’s enough moisture after it’s harvested, he will double-crop that land to soybeans.

He’s planning for 320 acres of cotton, 550 acres of corn, and the rest in soybeans.

For soybeans, he plants Asgrow, Progeny, and Armor varieties. If he gets corn planted in a timely fashion, soybeans are planted mid-April to early May.

“For corn, I go with a lot of varieties to spread risk and maturity. This year I’ll have Terral, DEKALB, Dyna-Gro, Golden Acres, and Pioneer varieties.