A young fourth-generation farmer with a bright future, Heath Long of Tichnor, Ark., developed a successful and extensive crop farming business in only 17 years of farming. In addition, he works part-time at a fun job during winter months as a guide for duck hunters.

As a result of his success in growing rice, soybeans and wheat, Long has been selected as the Arkansas state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Long now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced Oct. 16 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

Last year, he farmed 2,243 acres of rented land. His crops produced impressive yields. They included rice on 869 acres yielding 180 to 190 bushels per acre, soybeans on 1,137 acres yielding 53 bushels per acre and wheat on 198 acres yielding 74 bushels per acre.

“We farm stout soil, heavy clays well-suited to rice, and a lot of it is bottom land,” he explains.

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This year, his Long Planting Company is growing corn for the first time. “Corn prices have been rising and rice prices have been decreasing,” says Long. “We also have problems from deer eating soybeans, and corn is less susceptible to deer browsing. Also, we expect less wear and tear on equipment by growing corn. With rice, we have levees to maintain. Even when we pull these levees down, the levees in rice fields will wear out a combine.”

This year, he cut back his rice acreage by 20 percent, and he says this is typical for many rice farmers.

“All of our crops are irrigated except for wheat,” says Long. “We use levees to irrigate rice and furrow irrigation for our other crops. We’re using electricity to replace diesel for our irrigation pumps. It’s just a lot cheaper to run the pumps with electricity.” He also installed underground pipe risers to improve water management.

He plants soybeans in twin rows on top of beds with his grain drill. “Before I bought my Great Plains drill, I planted soybeans flat,” he says. “My seeding rates were 60 pounds per acre, but with twin rows, I plant 45 to 50 pounds of soybeans per acre, and I’m making the same yields I did with higher seeding rates.” The soybean twin rows are spaced 7.5 inches apart on beds 38 inches apart. He’s using the same planting system on his new corn crop.

“Our new grain drill monitors how much seed we are planting and eliminates much of the guesswork,” says Long. “Our 36-foot grain drill allows us to quickly finish our planting.”