MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss. -- The two men began what would be lifelong passions within two years of each other. At the time, probably neither of them would have imagined that more than 40 years later, they would still be finding ways to turn the passion into profit.

It was 1958 when Ed Hester of Benoit, Miss., planted his first row crop into the fertile soils of the Mississippi Delta. It was 1960 when Dr. Harlan Rogers of Collins, Miss., entered the cattle business and established what would become a nationally-acclaimed herd of registered Charolais cattle.

It was May 1, 2003 when both men were named Mississippi’s Farmers of the Year in an annual recognition program sponsored by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and the Mississippi Network. Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove declared April 28 though May 4 as Agriculture Appreciation Week and May 1, 2003 as Farmer of the Year Day.

Hester tops in row crops

Ed Hester is no stranger to Mississippi agriculture and hardly a newcomer to award programs that recognize the innovative and resilient characteristics of farmers. He was named the Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year in 1995 and most recently received Mississippi State University’s Alumni Award for Outstanding Contribution to Production Agriculture.

Hester farms cotton, rice and soybeans on 4,800 acres near his home and headquarters in Benoit. Through more than four decades of farming, Hester tried and succeeded with many innovative practices. He often teams with various research and educational organizations to evaluate new technologies, inputs and production practices.

His farm is a popular stop for local, regional and even international tours showcasing Delta agriculture.

These days, with the research and documentation to back it up, Hester points to several changes on his farm resulting in greater efficiency and significant per acre savings.

His cotton land is rowed up, planted and monitored with a laser guided global positioning system (GPS), which allows him to make site specific applications for inputs such as fertilizer, weed and insect control. He estimates chemical costs with the GPS guided system are only 23 percent of the chemical costs with standard, across-the-field chemical applications.

Hester credits land leveling and efficient irrigation as the practices that brought him the greatest increase in yields.

Hester has and continues to be a leader in Delta agriculture serving various leadership roles in such organizations as Farm Bureau, the American Soybean Association, the

Mississippi Rice Promotion Board and Delta Council. Hester and his wife, Louise, have two children.

Rogers rules the ranch

Dr. Harlan Rogers never settles for second best. His registered herd of some 350 Charolais bulls has some of the highest EPD (Expected Progeny Difference) scores in North America, but the success didn’t happen overnight. Rogers, a retired dentist, and his wife, Dortheann, founded Rogers Bar HR Ranch in 1960. He was a pioneer in applying systems to rank cattle based on feeding efficiency, weight gain and carcass evaluation. When EPDs were introduced, Dr. Rogers’ bull herd was already performing in the top ranges of the EPD scoring system.

His cattle are known for their feeding efficiency, a trait Rogers says is a must for profitable cattle production.

"A 20 percent increase in feed efficiency can be worth $70 (per head)," says Rogers. "Cattle that are gaining rapidly are gaining efficiently."

Rogers makes top use of the resources available in his area, which is known for timber and poultry production. With a strong forage program and the use of poultry litter, he takes cutover timber land and converts it to pasture land.

He has long been a proponent of using poultry litter as pasture fertilizer, but says it wasn’t always so easy to acquire. "We used to beg people for poultry litter," he says. "I was a dentist, and I used to trade (dental) bridges and all sorts of stuff to get litter."

He estimates it now costs about $7 a ton for the litter, but believes it’s worth at least $40 a ton in fertility benefits.

Rogers’s advice to other farmers looking for longevity in the profession is to "set some goals for what you want to accomplish and stick with it."

Dr and Mrs. Rogers have four sons.

About the awards

The Mississippi Farmer of the Year winners are selected by a panel of judges from outside of Mississippi. Their decision is based on information provided by the nominees on a comprehensive questionnaire dealing with all aspects of their farming operation.

The program began in 1986. In 1991, the award was named to honor Louis N. Wise, a past vice president of MSU’s Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, who died in 1990.

The 2003 awards were presented at a recognition banquet at the new Hunter Henry Center at MSU.

Eva Ann Dorris is a freelance journalist and syndicated columnist from Pontotoc, Miss. She can be reached at eadorris@aol.com.