What is in this article?:
- For Mississippian Brad Spencer, â€˜farmingâ€™s what Iâ€™ve always lovedâ€™
- Irrigation not feasible
- Poultry litter for fertility
- New packing facility
Brad Spencer's farming accomplishments, his community service contributions, and his involvement in state and national agricultural issues were factors leading to his being named this year’s Outstanding Young Farmer/Rancher by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. He placed in the top 10 in the national competition at Honolulu.
BRAD SPENCER farms with his father, Keith, at Vardaman, Miss., growing sweet potatoes, peanuts, soybeans, and wheat. He also has a cow herd and grows watermelons. He was recently named statewide winner in the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s Outstanding Young Farmer and Rancher competition.
Poultry litter for fertility
Brad says he’s “a real believer” in soil sampling to determine fertility needs; “it’s a proven practice for us.” For the past five years, they’ve been increasing their use of composted sawdust poultry litter, and “it has worked really well, both in terms of fertility and adding organic matter. We’ll apply an average 1.5 tons per acre and, if soil tests indicate, we’ll also add some commercial 9-23-30.
“I can tell to the exact row where I’ve used the poultry litter — the plants are more lush and have a richer, deeper color.”
They plant two varieties, Beauregard and O’Henry, the latter a white sweet potato for a limited market; “we only plant 15-20 acres,” Brad says, “but they’re a really good money variety.”
For the first 40 days, he handles weed and insect control; when the crop starts putting out runners and enters the vigorous growth stage, his consultant checks once or twice a week for insects, including cucumber beetles, flea beetles, wireworms, and cutworms.
Other destructive pests, he notes, are deer and wild hogs. “Deer just love potatoes and will paw them out of the ground, and the hogs will root them up. They’ll also get into the watermelons, but they don’t bother peanuts as much.”
Harvest, also labor-intensive, starts about 90-120 days after planting, usually around Aug. 15, and continues until November, six days a week.
“We can harvest about 15 acres a day. I do as much separating and grading as possible in the field, which makes things easier once we get potatoes into the packing shed. The potatoes are loaded in wooden boxes and stacked on an 18-wheeler trailer to haul to our shed, where they’re stacked in temperature-controlled storage until they’re cured (about four to six weeks), after which they’re washed, graded, and packed.”
Brad admits to being “a hard man to work for when it comes to grading — that’s where I really watch things closely, because I want to be sure the very best quality product possible goes to my customers.”
Each year, he says, “Our goal is to be ready for our biggest sales period, Thanksgiving. The second biggest sales period is Easter, with Christmas ranking third.
“We sell both to brokers and to our own customers, as well as to walk-ins and peddlers. Whatever the customer wants, we try to provide it.”
In addition to boxed and bulk potatoes, the Spencers process a lot of three-pound bags for special orders, and can do about 600 of those per hour.
“We can keep 15,000 bushels of potatoes in storage, at 55-60 degrees, the year-round,” Brad says, “but our every-year goal is to be sold out of the old crop just about the time the new crop is being harvested.”
Culls or junk potatoes are sold for feed for cows — “they really love ‘em; when I go into the pasture with a truck full, my cows come lickety-split.”