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.
2013 'a super year for corn'
Last year, he says, was “a super year” for corn, despite the late start with the cold, wet spring. “It averaged 165 bushels, the best I’ve ever had. When I saw the numbers while combining, I thought the yield monitor wasn’t calibrated correctly. One farm averaged 187 bushels, with some spots cutting 240 to 250 bushels. Another farm averaged 184 bushels — that’s really phenomenal for dryland corn in the hills.
“I planted mostly Pioneer varieties last year, 33N58 and P1319, and a small amount of Dekalb 6449. I’ll be all Pioneer this year.” Weather permitting, he hoped to start planting April 1.
Soybeans averaged 32 bushels last year — all Pioneer: 94Y70, 95Y10, and 94Y90. “I’ll be all Pioneer again this year, 94Y61, 95Y10, 95Y70, and two new varieties, 49T80, and 49T97.
“I try and follow a corn one year, soybeans two years rotation. I’m 100 percent no-till — I still remember Daddy’s skepticism when I no-tilled cotton — and it has worked well, saving energy, labor, and equipment hours. I soil test and apply lime as needed. I’ll put out 100 units of nitrogen on the corn, along with 100 pounds each of potash and phosphate.
“Years ago, Daddy and Uncle Bud had 500 head of hogs and we were growing corn for feed when nobody else was growing corn, so I’ve had a lot of experience with the crop.”
There have been a few problems with resistant marestail, Steve says, “but so far no resistant pigweed. I rotate chemistry to try and avoid problems. For corn burndown this year, I’m using Roundup and 2,4-D, and for soybeans, Roundup, 2,4-D, and Valor. On the wheat ground, I used Finesse.”
On the livestock side of the operation, Steve says he runs 200 head of brood cows, mostly Charolais and Black Angus. “I try to wean calves in October-November, then put them on feed for 90 days to pre-condition them and get them vaccinated and ready to go to the feedlot in early spring. In February, I sold 158 head — 99 steers and 59 heifers.
“Most of my sales have been through sale barns, but I’m also trying to do more direct sales in order to eliminate commissions, which can really eat into profits.”
“I have 230 acres of Tifton 44 bermudagrass, and usually put up 1,500 to 1,800 big round hay bales each season. I’ll put out some protein tubs for the cows in the winter and I buy feed for the calves from the co-op.
“I’ve got 59 heifers now that I’ll put with bulls in June and 50 other heifers that are having calves. Although beef prices have been quite high, and the consumer looks at supermarket prices and thinks the cattleman is getting rich, the fact is I’m not putting any more money in my pocket at today’s prices than I was 15 years ago, because costs of feed and other inputs have risen so much.
“For example, 103 tons of feed for the calves this winter was $20,000, and fertilizer, seed, and other costs for the Tifton bermudagrass pastures was $42,000. Then, there’s rent, vet bills, transportation — it all adds up pretty quickly.”