What is in this article?:
- Steve Skelton: Overcoming tragedy to keep farm going
- Support of family and friends
- Wheat added to boost income
- 2013 'a super year for corn'
"Although I’d grown up on the farm, and farming was all I’d really ever known, I hadn’t been involved in the business end of it," says Ashland, Miss., farmer Steve Skelton. "I was the seed man, the planter man, the chemicals man, and my father took care of the financial end of things. When he was incapacitated in an accident, all of a sudden I was faced with doing it all. I was thrown into a position with the farm for which I’d had no preparation.”
WHEN HIS FATHER was suddenly incapacitated by an accident, Steve Skelton was faced with the responsibility of assuming operation of the family farm.
Wheat added to boost income
He is growing wheat this winter for the first time, trying to generate a bit more income. That 450 acres will be double-cropped to soybeans, and he’ll have 600 acres of full-season beans and 550 acres of corn.
“We quit cotton in 2006,” he says. “Daddy and Uncle Bud had always grown cotton, and I grew up with it. I remember all too well being on a sprayer seven days a week, trying to stay ahead of the boll weevils.
“The best we could hope for in yield was a bale and a half, and with prices as they were and input costs as they were, it just wouldn’t pay. In 2006, we averaged 1-1/2 bales, a good crop, but went in the hole $20,000. We parked our two 4-row pickers under the shed and finally sold them in 2011.
“I couldn’t get used to all the free time when we weren’t growing cotton any more,” he laughs. “But, that didn’t last long — other work quickly filled the gap. Every now and then, I think about growing cotton again, but the thought quickly passes. There’s no way I could make the kind of investment needed to get back into cotton.
“Too, it’s practically impossible to find farm labor any more, particularly those you can turn loose with expensive equipment. They want to do everything in a hurry, which too often leads to costly mistakes. And young folks just don’t care anything about farm work.
“I’ve just bought a new 1790 John Deere planter, which has auto-steer and individual row controls. The technology is new to me, and it will take some learning — but I’ll figure it out on my own, and I’ll make sure it’s operated properly and things are done right.”
He has four John Deere tractors, an 8220, two 7430s, and a 4650, and an old International 7140; a John Deere 9770, with a 30-foot draper header, auto-steer, and yield monitor; a John Deere 67000 sprayer; two grain trucks, and four new hopper bottom trailers.
“I don’t have any on-farm storage,” Steve says. “All my grain is sold at Cargill, ADM, or Bunge in Memphis. I do some forward contracting, although I’m not big on contracting a lot of corn ahead because I’m always worried that drought or aflatoxin, or both, might hurt yield enough that I couldn’t meet my contract.
“I don’t know what to expect from the wheat, given that I have no previous experience with it. Some of it looks a little ragged after the hard winter we’ve had, but I’m hoping it will turn out OK.
“In most years, corn will average 125 bushels. All my farms are non-irrigated hill land and everything is terraced — I have no bottom land. Except for a couple of farms, irrigation just isn’t feasible, and I’m not sure I could justify that kind of investment.”