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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.
They plant on beds, Will notes. “If we plant flat and get a big rain on these soils, the seed tend to rot and it’s hard to get a stand. If we plant on a bed, there’s less replanting.
“All our soybeans are twin-row, and corn is about 50/50 twin-row. We were one of the first to use the twin-row system here and it has worked well for us. The beans shade the middles much more quickly — it used to take single row beans all summer to shade middles — and we have much less weed pressure. We’ve also seen a steady improvement in yield. Once corn starts drying down, morningglories start coming through, but they aren’t as much a problem with twin rows.”
Corn varieties this year include Dekalb 6697 on irrigated land; Armor 1545 PRO, “a good dryland variety”; Pioneer 33N55, a non-Bt refuge variety; Golden Acres 27V01; and Dekalb 6427.
The Skinners have 133,000 bushels of on-farm storage. “We’ve been adding bins all along, and we’re in the process of reworking some old bins that date back to the 1960s,” Lee says.
“We handle marketing ourselves. All our corn is sold to poultry operations and brokers, mostly within a 30–60 mile radius. We sell our beans through Cargill at Guntersville, Ala., and our cotton through Allenberg Cotton.”
Their equipment lineup includes three John Deere 9965 pickers, a 9660 Deere combine, a Caterpillar 45 tracked tractor, a recently acquired Deere 8245R with RTK, two Deere 8400s, a 7220, and a 4020.
“We’ve been buying good used equipment to help hold the line on costs and avoid debt.” Bill says. “My father and I worked our way out from under some debt problems during agriculture’s ‘restructuring’ in the l980s, and we just don’t like to take on a lot of debt.”
The Skinners own about 75 percent of their land, and most of the rest is rented from family members, except for 200 acres they began renting this year near Shuqualak, Miss.
“Dad and I used to have land running all the way to the nearby Alabama state line,” Bill says. “We were farming 4,200 acres, but we were just spread too thin. Now, the boys and I are making as much or more yield on fewer acres, thanks to irrigation, improved varieties, and more efficient equipment and technology.”
They operate about 15 farms between them, and except for the one at Shuqualak, all are within a few miles’ radius.
If additional land became available at reasonable prices, Lee says, “We’d consider some expansion, but there’s not much land changing hands here these days.”
Rather than spending money on getting bigger, Will says, “We’re trying to concentrate on making improvements that will allow us to further boost yields on land we already have. We can do that by adding more irrigation, utilization of RTK technology, and other management practices.”
Smart phones, the Skinners say, are among the most useful devices they have.
“They help us save money and make money,” says Will. “With our Apple iPhones, we can follow markets, watch weather systems to time field operations, we can control some of our center pivots with them, and we have soil maps on them. New ag apps are continually being developed for these phones.”