“I choose varieties based on Extension data for soils similar to mine. I also do my own test plots, some with seed companies, and some with Extension. I have a wheat plot now with Progeny, have had corn plots with Terral, and will have cotton and soybean plots in cooperation with Mississippi State University. I had a fertility plot last year and have had fungicide trials.

“I get some good information from these trials that helps me with variety selection and other practices in subsequent years. Seed varieties come and go so quickly these days, I try and do all I can to stay on top of what’s available and what may work best for my farm.”

Ben grid samples some land each year for fertility and tries to have everything sampled over a three-year period. Fertilizer and lime are applied variable rate according to the grid sampling.

“I’ve used poultry litter in the past, primarily because of price,” he says, “but for the past three or four years I’ve used commercial fertilizer. I use starter fertilizer on corn, but not on cotton; I make applications after planting to provide the needed rate.

“I don’t always fertilize soybeans — I base that on needs indicated by soil tests. The biggest problem I have with soybeans is iron chlorosis, which turns the plants yellow and can cut into yield. I try to screen for varieties that have some tolerance.”

He usually starts harvesting corn mid-August to Labor Day and gets into cotton and beans about the first of October.

Even though he watches pennies and buys used equipment, “I still want to try and stay on the leading edge of technology,” Ben says, “whether it be seed, chemicals, or electronics. I have yield monitors on my combines, and I’m hoping my next investment can be for GPS/guidance systems for my tractors.”

He does his own marketing, but says this year he will sell some of his cotton through Staplcotn.

“When I see prices I can live with, I’ll go ahead and book some production. I’m still a little gun shy when it comes to the amount to book, but thus far I’ve done OK. I have access to 40,000 bushels of storage on one of the farms I rent, and that enables me to store corn and sell whenever prices are attractive. I moved out the last of the 2011 corn about mid-March.”

Determining the amount of crop insurance coverage to purchase each year “is one of the toughest decisions I make,” Ben says. “Crop insurance is a very difficult product in terms of determining how much I need versus how much I can afford.”

Ben says he’d “love to have more land — I think I could handle another 1,000 acres or so. But there just isn’t that much land that becomes available. I mostly look for land that’s coming out of CRP, but even there the government can pay more for rent than I can — in essence, the government is my biggest competitor for land, and I’ve lost some land because the owner could get more by putting it in CRP than I could pay in rent.”

As he begins his 12th crop year — and living his childhood dream — “I wouldn’t take anything for the decision I made to farm full-time,” Ben says. “Along the way, I’ve benefited from the generosity of my farmer neighbors and their advice and counsel. We all pitch in and help each other. If I need help with something, or need to borrow equipment, they’re there for me, and I do the same for them. They’re just good folks, and I’m blessed to have them as friends.”

He also serves as a deputy commissioner of the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District and on the board of the Monroe County Farm Bureau, and is a member of the Northeast Mississippi Producer Advisory Council.

“We also have some very good dealers and suppliers in this area who are a pleasure to work with,” Ben says. “I’m less than an hour from Mississippi State University, with access to all their specialists and information base, and the Extension staff are always great to call on for advice or help with problems.

“I’ve learned a lot the hard way — but I don’t make the same mistake twice. Farming today is serious business, and I want to do everything I can to insure that I can continue doing it for a long time to come.”