The Graveses are also considering buying a new John Deere cotton picker with the on-board module builder system.

“With the savings we’d realize from reducing equipment and labor, we figure it would pay for itself,” Mike says. “As things are now, we have to basically shut down our soybean operation while we’re harvesting cotton. The new picker would free up time we could spend on soybeans. We’d need new planters, but with that picker we could cut our cotton equipment from 10 pieces to four, with a significant reduction in labor. We think it would be a win-win situation — but we’ll have to watch what cotton prices do.”

They recently added a new John Deere 8320R tractor with GPS and auto-steer. Other equipment includes Deere 8400, 8410, 8420, 4750, and 4960 tractors; two 9770 combines; and three 9970 four-row cotton pickers.

“We have a John Deere 1790 40-foot planter,” Mike says. “All our corn is on 30-inch rows and soybeans on 15-inch rows. The planter has RowCommand, which prevents planting the same area twice. With seed at $250 a bag, that can represent quite a saving. We also have a Kinze planter.

“Our Deere 4720 sprayer has GPS/auto-steer and swath control, which eliminates any overlaps and double-spraying — another cost savings.

“We do all our minor equipment repairs and maintenance, but for anything major we get the John Deere mechanic to do it.”
Changes in equipment and production systems have enabled the Graveses to get more done in less time, he says. “We used to plant maybe 100 acres a day, going from sunup until sundown. Now, we can easily plant 300 to 400 acres a day.”

“All the equipment today is better and faster, with less downtime,” says Allen. “We hardly ever have to run at night, and we’re able to have more family time.”

They have a 90x170 foot equipment shed that houses most of their machinery, and another storage facility for seed, chemicals, and smaller equipment.

The Graveses have two full-time employees, Joey Holloway, who has been with them for 26 years, and Greg Grisham. They use some part-time help at busy times in the spring and fall.

This year’s cropping plans include about 2,000 acres of soybeans, 1,100 acres of cotton, and 1,100 acres of corn.

“ With cotton prices slipping, though, we could switch some acres out of that into corn or beans,” Mike says. “On our soils, we really can do better money-wise with corn than beans.”

“We planted some wheat last fall, the first we’ve had in years. We have about 400 acres on marginal land that came out of CRP. It’s really not good soybean ground, so we may just leave it idle after the wheat comes off. We rotate our corn and soybean land, and some of the cotton land, but we tend to have continuous cotton on fields that are best suited to it.

“We no-till everything, unless we rut up fields during harvest or we change crops and need to do some tillage. We like to come back and plant on the same beds.

“We hardly ever plant corn before late April or early May. We never get in a hurry on corn planting; three years ago, we planted into June and made 165 bushels, which was excellent for non-irrigated corn.”

They’ll plant mostly Pioneer corn varieties, Mike says — 1615, 1745, 2033, and on droughty hill land, 1184. “We’re also trying a new variety this year, 2088.

“For cotton, we plant primarily Deltapine 0922, a Roundup Ready Flex variety, which has been very good for us. We plant some Asgrow 4403 soybeans, but mostly Pioneer 94Y70 and 94Y20 — all Group IVs that we space out to facilitate harvest. We’ll start with the early 4s and end with the late 4s.”