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“My father and I used to have land running all the way to the nearby Alabama state line,” says Bill Skinner, who farms with sons Will and Lee near Macon, Miss. “We were farming 4,200 acres, but we were just spread too thin. Now, my sons and I farm 2,600 acres and we're making as much or more yield on fewer acres, thanks to irrigation, improved varieties, and more efficient equipment and technology.” Skinner and his sons operate about 15 farms.
BILL SKINNER, from left, and sons Will and Lee Skinner say their goal, rather than getting bigger, is to continue getting more production from the 2,600 acres they now farm by adding more irrigation and grain storage, and increasing efficiency through equipment and technology.
It’s Saturday morning, mid-August, and Bill Skinner and sons Will and Lee still have about half their corn in the field waiting to be harvested — but they’ve had two mornings straight of frog-strangling rainstorms on their farms near Macon, Miss., and radar’s showing another big one over in Arkansas, headed their way.
“These prairie clay soils stay wet,” Bill says, “but if we don’t get any more rain, we’ll be back in the fields Tuesday. We want to get the corn out, even if we have to run in the mud.”
This is “one of the best years we’ve had for dryland corn,” Lee says. “It has been running 120 to 180 bushels, depending on the field and the amount of rainfall. We expect the irrigated corn will be on the high end of that range.”
Last year, Will notes, “When we went from harvesting our dryland to irrigated corn, there was a 100 bushel yield difference. With that kind of result, irrigation for corn is a no-brainer.”
Bill, Will, and Lee each have separate farms, but they share equipment and all work together in planting, harvesting, and other operations.
“Together, we farm about 2,600 acres,” Bill says. “About one-third of that is irrigated with center pivots that are fed from ponds that were in catfish. With crop prices as they are, and catfish prices declining, we figured the water was more valuable than the fish. We have about 75 acres in ponds, and we’re currently running five center pivots from the ponds; four are all electric Zimmatics. The first system we installed, a T-L, is being run from an old well. The systems water anywhere from 55 acres to 230 acres.”
They’re in the process of connecting three ponds to make a 40-acre lake, which will allow them to add another pivot and water an additional 360 acres. Pipes run from the ponds to the center pivots; the longest pipe runs are about 5,200 feet.
This year, they have 905 acres of corn, 800 acres of cotton, and 800 acres of soybeans. They had 155 acres of wheat, 100 acres of which is double-cropped to soybeans, and 55 acres to cotton.
“We averaged 55-60 bushels on the wheat, and were very pleased with that yield,” Lee says. “In the fall, we broadcast the wheat, then hip up into rows. After the wheat comes off, we already have beds in place, and we plant soybeans directly into the stubble with our twin-row Monosem and CrustBuster planters.”
For cotton this year, the Skinners have planted all Deltapine varieties: DP 1048 B2RF, DP 1133 B2RF, and DP 1137 B2RF.
Noxubee County, where they farm, had some of the highest cotton yields in Mississippi in 2011. Says Bill, “I’ve been growing cotton most of my farming lifetime, and I could never have dreamed I’d ever see the kind of yields we got last year. It was unreal — plants loaded from top to bottom with beautiful, snow white cotton. The DP 1048 B2RF, which was all dryland, performed really well. Our average for dryland and irrigated was 1,300 pounds, which was outstanding.”
The Skinners use poultry litter as their main fertilizer, applying 2 tons per acre. “We soil test and add potash, mixed fertilizer, and lime as needed,” Will says. “Corn is sidedressed with nitrogen.
“Most of our land is minimum till. After we harvest corn, we’ll spread the poultry litter, disk, and rehip. If we’ve rutted up a field, we’ll go in and work it up.