He continually seeks ways to enhance his conservation efforts, Keith says. “I utilize filter strips, grass waterways, and other measures to slow or stop nutrient runoff and to keep all the money I spend on fertilizer on the farm instead of washing away.

“This year, I joined REACH (Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat), it’s goal is the creation of a network of cooperative farms with a variety of agricultural practices to illustrate the success of conservation practice implementation on landscape stewardship, while encouraging profitable and sustainable production systems. (reach.msstate.edu)

“REACH coordinator Robbie Kroger is helping me set conservation goals for my farm and a roadmap to achieve those goals. This year we are working with Avail, a product that’s added to fertilizer to make it more effective. We’re comparing a 40 acre treated plot with a 40 acre untreated plot. Runoff will be caught and measured to see if Avail helps to keep more fertilizer on the field and if that additional fertilizer provides a yield benefit. This fall, we hope to put a cover crop test in place to see how cover crops might fit in a long term no-till system.”

Keith says he “had always thought of myself as a cotton farmer, and until 2006 the farm was a bit over 50 percent cotton, the rest soybeans. Cotton was more dependable and I stayed on a cotton/soybean rotation. In 2007, I cut back on cotton acres, and 2008 was the first time in my lifetime there was no cotton on the farm.

“With the significant boost I had achieved with soybean yields, and rising prices for grains, cotton wasn’t the most attractive option. Also, I thought the operation would be more efficient without having to manage two production platforms.

“In 2010, when cotton prices were good, I planted it again, had good yields, and got a good price. In 2011, with cotton topping $1, I was able to contract early at $1.31-1/2. Had my father been alive to see that, he would have been amazed. I won’t have any cotton this year, however, and going forward will grow it only when I can see potential for a good profit.” His cotton is marketed through Staplcotn.

In 2012 as pricing opportunities for grains became even more attractive, for the first time in 10 years Keith added corn to his crop mix. “We had grown corn until 2002, but yields were very erratic and it wasn’t profitable. With no-till, improved varieties, and a lot more available research, it looked like a good option, so I planted 180 acres. Varieties were Pioneer 33N58 and 33N55 refuge, Dekalb 6469, and AgVenture RL9694HB (Bt) and R9795 (refuge).

“Last year was the first time I’d harvested corn with a yield monitor on the combine, and at harvest I could see a huge variability in the crop — some areas were yielding 230 bushels, while others were only 40. The overall average was 118 bushels, which I thought was good on non-irrigated land, considering that we had no rain June 10-July 10, with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees.

“At today’s prices, I can do OK with a 118 bushel average — but I believe there is potential to achieve much higher yields, and my goal is to find ways to do that.”